Our Editorial: Toss out part-time petitions

The Detroit News

Many Michigan residents will soon receive ballot petitions in the mail pushing a part-time Legislature. When it arrives, treat it like junk mail; take it directly from the box and deposit it in the trash can.

Do not sign and return it.

This is a bad proposal that will weaken an already wobbly Michigan political structure. Instead of empowering the people, it will make them more remote from their government.

An outfit called The Clean Michigan Committee is mailing out hundreds of thousands of petitions to boost its listless drive to get the proposal on the ballot.

The initiative would cut the days lawmakers spend in Lansing, requiring them to complete their business by April 15 and go home for the year.

It would also cut their pay, tying compensation for legislators to the average pay and benefit package of Michigan teachers.

It was launched last spring by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in an ill-conceived attempt to boost his campaign for governor.

But it had trouble getting off the ground, facing questions about its financial backers and the use of a signature gathering firm headed by a man convicted of election fraud in Virginia.

Instead of scrapping the petition drive as he should have, Calley tossed out the early signatures, rewrote the language and recruited Rochester Republican Tom McMillin to take over.

But it remains a flawed idea. We have supported a part-time Legislature, as long as it was tied to revocation or modification of term limits.

Doing the part-time piece without fixing term limits will only worsen a bad situation.

Term limits have produced a Legislature that lacks the expertise and experience to effectively govern. Staffers and lobbyists have gained power since term limits went into full effect. Under a part-time Legislature, those insiders would get even more control of the process.

Power of the executive and judicial branches would grow, and the lawmakers who are supposed to be speaking for their constituents would have less influence over the governing process.

Given the ineffectiveness of the term-limited Legislature, it is understandable that frustrated voters might want to make the body part time and cut its member’s pay.

But that’s not the way to fix the problem.

What’s needed is a comprehensive reform of the Legislature that either wipes away or greatly extends term limits, establishes tough ethics rules to break the link between lawmakers and lobbyists, and addresses the question of how long each year legislators should be in session.

Starting with the part-time issue will assure that the other challenges won’t get addressed.

Michigan voters hurt themselves once by going to the ballot and adopting term limits. They shouldn’t repeat the mistake.