Opinion: Gov. Snyder, stand against assaults on democracy

Paula Herbart

The Michigan Constitution states, “All political power is inherent in the people.”

The people exercised that political power and resoundingly elected Democrats across the state. However, Republicans in the state legislature are quickly moving legislation to circumvent the will of Michigan voters – and in the end, Gov. Rick Snyder may be the only one left to stop some of this madness from becoming law.

Republican legislators’ first order of business in the “lame duck” session was to strip power from the women who defeated them.

Republicans have been in complete control of state government for eight years, holding the governor’s office, attorney general, secretary of state, and both chambers of the legislature. Not once during that time did they even suggest these power grabs were necessary. Only after losing the three top statewide offices to Democrats did they begin the process to remove powers from those offices, rushing bills through the legislative process before the Democrats elected by voters can assume their positions.

Herbart writes: "These underhanded tactics and naked political attacks reveal a Republican party trying to cling to power by any means necessary."

These tactics represent nothing more than a political power grab at its worst – intended to weaken political opponents at the expense of fair play and long-held democratic traditions of accepting the results of elections.

This is not about improving the performance of government. It is shameful.

One bill – sponsored by a term-limited state senator with his own campaign finance issues – proposes stripping power to oversee campaign finance law from incoming Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who has a national reputation on the subject.

Another dilutes the power of the incoming Governor and Attorney General to defend the state against lawsuits brought over legislation passed by the Legislature, allowing the House and Senate to involve themselves in such cases – at additional taxpayer expense.

Voters overwhelmingly passed two constitutional amendments to help improve our democracy, but even these new pieces of our highest law are subject to Republican attacks with bills aimed at hamstringing the gerrymandering and voting rights ballot measures.

These reprehensible assaults on democracy add to cynical GOP actions prior to the election. In September, Republican leaders took away voters’ opportunity to weigh in on ballot measures about the minimum wage and earned paid sick time that had garnered a combined 800,000 petition signatures. The GOP-controlled House and Senate passed measures to grant workers earned paid sick time and raise the state’s minimum wage, which prevented them from appearing on the ballot. Once the election was over, Republican legislators turned around and gutted those same bills – actions that have unfortunately been signed into law by Gov. Snyder.

And again in this lame duck session, much like they did in December 2012, Republican legislative leaders poised to lose political clout in January have waged an attack on unions. Thankfully, many of the bills attacking union rights haven’t passed as I write this, as they primarily target education unions and do nothing to improve schools or increase student achievement. But these efforts in and of themselves are mean-spirited, vindictive measures designed to punish unions and union members.

These underhanded tactics and naked political attacks reveal a Republican party trying to cling to power by any means necessary.

There is one Republican official who can stop this assault on our democracy: Gov. Rick Snyder. On his way out of office, Gov. Snyder can still decide the legacy he will leave, even after signing the bills gutting minimum wage and earned sick time. He can choose to listen to the voices of millions of voters – or bow to the vengeful wishes of defeated politicians tearing down our democratic institutions on their way out the door.

The state is watching, and history will remember.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.