Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette proposed yesterday we amend the constitution to give the governor the power to appoint the boards of Michigan’s three biggest universities – the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State.
Currently, each has an eight-person governing board elected by a statewide vote of the people. Democrats instantly denounced the proposal as the politically ambitious Schuette playing politics. State Representative Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo called this a “cheap shot at a difficult time,” referring to Michigan State’s sex abuse scandal.
Well, I think the Democratic reaction is bit too knee-jerk. I’ll grant that Schuette is a completely political animal, focused on running for governor. What he’s saying here is both likely to be politically popular and extremely unlikely to happen.
Amending the state constitution takes time, effort and money. But just because the attorney general’s motivation may be political doesn’t make it a bad idea.
I don’t recall many major scandals at any of the Michigan universities – Northern, Oakland, Western, et cetera – whose boards are appointed by the governor. And while the people elect those who oversee the big three, most voters ignore these races or select the candidates based on party.
But while the news media paid some attention to Schuette’s proposal on university boards, they almost totally ignored some other more intriguing proposals he made.
The attorney general also proposed, according to the Gongwer News Service, a five-year ban on lobbying by former state elected officials and key state executives, and wants to make it illegal for lobbyists to give gifts to elected officials.
Additionally, Schuette said he’d require candidates for governor and everyone holding office in Michigan to release their tax returns, and provide the same sort of personal financial disclosure statements that congressional candidates are required to provide.
And he would make the governor, lieutenant governor, and the legislature subject to the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
Not only that, but the attorney general said he would both tighten the deadlines for fulfilling Freedom of Information Act requests, something that would seem to sharply contradict a statement six weeks ago, when he indicated it was all right to a take a long time to fulfill a FOIA request, as long as “some sort of effort” was being made.
The attorney general even said he would explore the possibility of releasing “any documents previously hidden from public view by prior governors and lieutenant governors.”
I think these proposals could go a long way to change a lot of people’s minds about Schuette – if he means them. And there’s an easy way to find out. The attorney general has already been endorsed by the lion’s share of Republicans in the legislature.
He should get some of them to introduce these reforms now, as a package, and he should work to try and get them passed. That, by the way, won’t happen.
For one thing, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof has indicated he will never let the process be more open. Nor do a bunch of term-limited lawmakers want to cut themselves off from lobbying jobs, or open their financial records.
Nevertheless, the attorney general might well please the public if he were to now take on a corrupt legislature in the name of the people.
He should now show us how sincere he happens to be.
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.