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We don't trust government

May 8, 2015

The big news today is that Governor Snyder has decided not to run for President, which is only slightly less surprising than that snow isn’t expected in August. I don’t think he was ever really running, and when Proposal One went down, it took his national chances with it.

But there is real and disturbing news related to all this. First, it is very clear that the voters just don’t trust state government. That’s true on the right and the left. When you have  Carl Levin and Rick Snyder both telling people to vote yes, and more than eighty percent vote no, it’s pretty clear we aren’t following our leaders.

We don’t trust them, and here’s something worse. They don’t deserve our trust.

They demonstrate daily that they don’t work for us, or care about what we think. Here’s the latest example: Kurt Heise, a Republican state representative from Plymouth, introduced a bill this week to prevent all of us from getting information about things like oil and gas pipelines in this state.

Currently, a lot of people are worried about a pipeline Enbridge has under the straits of Mackinac. If it broke, that would utterly devastate the Great Lakes.

Enbridge, as we know too well, had a pipeline break five years ago, sending more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Its pipeline under Mackinac would be old enough to collect Social Security, if it were a person. If that were to break it could be the worst environmental disaster in our history.

But Kurt Heise doesn’t want us to be able to find out much about it. We wouldn’t be able to find out much about high-energy power lines either, or other critical and potentially dangerous energy sources. He would exempt their owners from the state Freedom of Information Act.

Why? Well, Heise says this is designed to protect us from terrorism, and is in the “interests of national security.”  They used to say patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel; it’s been “national security” ever since Richard Nixon used those words to try to prevent the taped evidence of his Watergate crimes from becoming public.

I don’t know yet where Heise’s campaign contributions have been coming from, but I do know the oil and gas companies are lobbying hard for this bill.

And if that weren’t enough, Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press points out today that Michigan Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof quietly got his colleagues to repeal a rule that required the Senate to respond to requests for public information within two weeks, and to otherwise exempt themselves from disclosing anything they don’t want the public to see.

This is entirely consistent with Meekhof’s record. Last year, he got the legislature to pass a bill to prevent us from knowing the source of so-called “dark money” campaign contributions, making our campaign finance disclosure laws all but meaningless.

These legislators don’t work for us. They largely work for the special interests they hope will give them lobbying jobs after their term-limited political careers are over. What’s more, there’s little chance of defeating them in their gerrymandered districts.

If this doesn’t make you worried about democracy, I don’t know what would.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's 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.