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Calley asks board not to review part-time plan

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Lt. Gov. Brian Calley unexpectedly asked the Board of State Canvassers on Wednesday not to review his petition to collect signatures for a part-time Legislature ballot initiative.

Calley said the four-member board’s review of the petition’s legal language would be compromised because Chairman Norm Shinkle is a consultant for the Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative group that opposes the idea of a part-time Legislature.

But the 40-year-old official indicated he is moving ahead with gathering signatures for his plan to slash the number of days Michigan lawmakers meet during the annual legislative session to 90 served consecutively. Calley is considering a run for governor in 2018.

Calley accused Shinkle of being part of “establishment forces” trying to stop his plan because it would return political power to regular people.

“Ultimately, this entire system will go to any lengths to protect itself and how it works today,” Calley said. “And I think this whole system fears a transfer of this authority … from inside the Capitol bubble back to their communities.”

But Shinkle, a fellow Republican who acknowledged the Freedom Fund is a client, said he actually supports a part-time Legislature.

“I’ve always supported a part-time Legislature in my career, back when I was in the Senate in the ’80s. I just want to make sure they get it right,” he said.

Shinkle said no conflict of interest exists because he is a consultant, not an employee of the Freedom Fund.

“They’re a client. I have lots of clients,” he said.

The Michigan Freedom Fund has reservations about how a part-time legislature might hurt taxpayers “by putting more power in the hands of the executive branch, unelected bureaucrats, and special interest lobbyists,” Executive Director Tony Daunt said Wednesday.

Calley’s “Clean Michigan Government” plan would amend the state constitution to limit the Legislature to meeting for 90 session days consecutively, rather than spliced throughout the year.

The lieutenant governor said he will continue collecting signatures without yet seeking the board’s approval of his petition language – which is optional under state law. The issue may end up in court no matter what changes he makes to the proposal, Calley said.

“This system clearly does not like this reform … and it’s because it shifts power back to our communities, power back to the people,” he said.

But an analysis of Calley’s proposal by Patrick Anderson, CEO of the Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing, argued it would actually cede power to the executive office and make it harder for citizen-driven ballot initiatives to make it into law. Anderson was a supporter of getting term limits written into the state constitution.

Calley’s plan could “substantially alter” lawmakers’ ability to adopt voter-driven policy initiatives because the time frame they could present it to the Legislature — within a state-required 40 day period — grows significantly slimmer if they’re in session for fewer days of the year, Anderson argues.

“The proposed amendment would alter at least two provisions of the 1963 Constitution, affecting the balance of powers between the Legislature and executive, the powers of initiative held by the citizens and the ability of the governor to veto and the Legislature to avoid a veto,” he wrote in the Friday letter to Elections Director Chris Thomas and the Board of State Canvassers.

Calley said Wednesday, however, that making any suggested changes to specifically include sections of the constitution that might be altered or rendered void by his petition drive would amount to a “poison pill” that would make it easier for a court to challenge the ballot initiative if it proved that those sections were not altered by the proposal.

The Board of State Canvassers interpreted Calley’s request that they “not take action” to mean that he has withdrawn his request for petition language approval, although the lieutenant governor dodged the question when asked by reporters.