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Politicians from a different planet

Mar 31, 2017

More than twenty years ago, the late Texas Governor Ann Richards addressed the annual Gridron Dinner in Washington, a high-society affair where the nation’s top journalists mingle with politicians and Hollywood celebrities.

Richards, who was sometimes described as a “salty old gal,” looked out at the assembled guests, men in tuxes, women all glitter and pearls. “Ah just don’t know why America thinks you are out of touch,” she drawled.

Well, we’re used to the idea of Washington being out of touch with common citizens. But there are days in which I think the Michigan Legislature is worse. Take State Senator Jim Stamas, a Republican from Midland. He sponsored a bill that would allow businesses to keep some of the income tax paid by their employees.

When I first heard about this, I thought it was a joke, some parody of capitalism as seen by classic 19th century Marxists. What would come next? Sharecropping? Reinstating serfdom?

But no, Stamas was perfectly serious. “This is about providing jobs to individuals,” he said. Well, you could say slavery did that too. Nutty bills get introduced all the time, and normally never see the light of day. However, this is now Donald Trump’s America, and the state senate passed this and sent it on to the House.

If I were a Republican strategist, I would be horrified. The optics are terrible, if the Democrats have the smarts to exploit this. To show how crazy the world has become, the most reasonable thing about this bill was said by State Senator Patrick Colbeck of Canton, who is normally so far right he almost might be in a party by himself. But he does have principles.

Colbeck voted no, saying “I’m tired of the businesses being prioritized over the best interest of everybody. There seems to be a push so that all the folks that are putting money into campaigns are the ones getting priority.” What could be more shocking than a legislator who actually tells the truth?

State senators are term-limited for life after eight years, and they have to return to working for a living. Stamas owns a pizza parlor in Midland. I’m not saying he wants to hang on to some of the money his employees have to pay in taxes … but I wonder.

Then we have the Macomb County sinkhole, which is a natural disaster if I ever heard of one. Basically, this was the result of a collapsed pipe which could result in the discharge of hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the Great Lakes and nearby basements.

Macomb County will pay to fix it, but asked for a $3 million grant from the state to build a bypass channel to keep sewage out of the water.

Not only is that clearly in the best interest of the entire state, that’s not even very much money, in terms of our multi-billion dollar state budget.

But State Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said no, sneering he didn’t want people standing in line “for free money for their infrastructure.” This is a man, by the way, who just agreed to give Flint almost a hundred million to fix its infrastructure.

Actually, I wouldn’t say these politicians are out of touch. I’d say they aren’t on the same planet.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.