Calley voids signatures to revise part-time proposal

Jonathan Oosting

Lansing — Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is hitting the reset button on his month-old petition drive to make Michigan’s Legislature a part-time body, a stunning development that will force his group to toss out thousands of signatures it claimed to have already collected.

Calley’s Clean Michigan Committee announced Monday it had revised its petition language and filed a new version with Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office.

The modified petition would generally require the Legislature to complete its regular session each year by April 15, as opposed to the original version that sought to limit the Legislature to 90 consecutive session days. The proposal would not attempt to prevent the governor from calling a special session.

Calley launched the petition drive May 30 on Mackinac Island after a political action committee ran ads teasing his potential run for governor in 2018.

The Portland Republican’s group said last month it was collecting “thousands of petition signatures every day” but had not won form approval from the Board of State Canvassers, an optional step most committees take to avoid legal challenges in the future.

In an email sent to supporters Monday, Calley said his group decided to “strengthen” its petition language to reduce the odds that opponents could defeat the initiative in court.

The second-term lieutenant governor and former state representatives suggested the “Lansing establishment” has been working to stall the effort.

“We have learned a lot about the legal strategy that opponents plan to use in court to try and defeat this effort and have decided to take every step to ensure voters have their say on this important reform,” Calley said in a statement.

Speaking in general terms, Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams confirmed that changing the language of a petition means any signatures gathered for a prior version could not be applied to the new one.

Clean Michigan had struggled to get its original petition language approved by the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers. Calley unexpectedly asked the board not to review the petition at a June 21 meeting, citing a potential conflict of interest by one of the two GOP members.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections initially raised concerns over the part-time legislature petition and whether it properly listed each section of the state constitution the potential ballot proposal would repeal or modify. But election staff ultimately recommended board approval as to the form of the petition.

The committee appears unlikely to seek board approval for the revised petition, announcing it will begin circulating the new version for signature this week.

“Given the intense scrutiny that this petition has garnered, we decided to further protect against legal challenges,” attorney John Pirich said in a statement.

“While we stand by the petition as drafted from a legal perspective, we wish to ensure that to the extent any legal challenge is filed, it will lack any merit whatsoever. The substance of the petition is unchanged, the revisions are clarifying and technical in nature.”

The new petition, like the original version, would generally halve the pay of legislators by tying their salaries and benefits to average teacher compensation, pro-rated to reflect a shorter work year.

Organizers would need to collect more than 315,000 valid signatures to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot in 2018.