It's Just Politics
2:40 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Size does matter... in emergency manager repeal

Fourteen point font…

That is what is standing in the way, apparently, of you getting to decide whether or not the state’s emergency manager law stays intact. As Rick Pluta, co-host of It's Just Politics, notes the whole emergency manager repeal was stopped in its tracks, "by an attorney with a pica ruler." And it, quite literally means, size does matter... at least when it comes to petition drives in Michigan.

The back-story

The Board of State Canvassers yesterday morning deadlocked along party lines (two Republicans vs. two Democrats) on whether to put a referendum challenging the state's controversial emergency manager law on the ballot. Though Stand Up for Democracy, the group pushing to put a repeal on the ballot, had gathered more than 200,000 valid signatures (40,000 more than what was actually needed), Republicans on the board pointed to the use of an incorrect type size on the petition itself as grounds for denying it access to the November ballot.

In this week's edition of It's Just Politics, Pluta and I take a look at the politics behind the board's decision... and, I should tell you:  it's a little unsettling.

"Hyper-partisan"

"There's this board, the Board of State Canvassers, it's bi-partisan: two Democrats and two Republicans. They get to decide whether or not a petition - in this case, the petition to repeal the state's emergency manager law - gets on the ballot. This board is not non-partisan. In fact, it is hyper-partisan. [These board members] are chosen by their parties to represent their party's interests," Pluta explains. But, it's not just their party's interests that these board members are representing... they're also representing their own paychecks.

Conflict of interest?

"Jeff Timmer, one of the Republicans on the Board of State Canvassers, [who voted against allowing the petition to go on the November ballot] works for The Sterling Corporation, the political consulting firm that was actually behind the challenge to this ballot's font-size," Pluta explains. "The opponents of the referendum, Citizens for  Fiscal Responsibility, is a Sterling client. Sterling and the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility even share a business address."

But, Timmer isn't the only one with a possible conflict of interest. "There's a Democrat on the board, Julie Matuzak, she voted to to approve a different petition - one backed by unions. And her day job with the American Federation of Teachers was to run the signature-gathering for that petition drive. So, she voted to let a petition go forward when it was her job to get [that petition] on the ballot," Pluta explains.

Doomed from the beginning?

On the same day that the emergency manager petition was not approved, three other proposals were given the OK. It begs the question: was this emergency manager petition in trouble from the beginning? Was there anything that Stand Up for Democracy could have done to inoculate themselves?

"Well, actually, they could have gone to the election board before they even started to gather the signatures and make sure that they were in compliance [with the font size] but they decided against this. They said even if they had gotten the OK that it still would have seen legal challenges," Pluta explains.

"And, I have seen this before – this sort of paranoia that keeps people from going to the board first and then they get knee-capped like this after they’ve gone to the trouble and expense of gathering the signatures. Some campaign professionals I know are just smacking their heads over this. The attorney for Stand Up For Democracy says they didn’t want to get bogged down in legal challenges before they even got started. But, you know, two union-led petition drives that are just anathema to Republicans – including the one to preempt a right to work law – were recently approved," says Pluta.

What happens now?

So, here we are: for now, the state’s emergency manager law will not be on the ballot in November. But, the attorney for Stand Up for Democracy says they're going to appeal this decision to the state Court of Appeals. And, what will happen there? "More politics," Pluta explains. "People will be looking to see what appeals court  panel gets the case and whether it's made up of judges with Republican ties or judges with ties to Democrats," Pluta says.

And, wouldn't we all just be shocked - shocked, I say - if this repeal becomes politicized in the courts...