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Unless voters push for change, politicians will keep the upper hand

By now you may have come to realize that the best interests of the citizens is not what the Michigan legislature cares most about. For years, the voters’ top priority has been fixing our state’s terrible roads. The lawmakers refused to fix them.

Finally, they passed a disgraceful bill that raises our taxes and cuts essential services but won’t generate any serious new money for the roads for years.

Voters want middle and working-class kids to be able to afford higher education. What our lawmakers are more interested in is regulating which kids can use which restrooms. The list goes on, but the reasons why are simple.

Outrageous gerrymandering of legislative districts, plus laws that make it harder for people to vote, have badly damaged democracy in this state. We allow the politicians to pick their voters rather than the other way around.

Add to this insanity the final insult: Term limits in this state which give lobbyists and special interests more power over the voters.

Let’s say you are a lawmaker in your last term, you are going to need a job and you are barred from running again. Are you going to vote in your constituents’ best interests, or for some special interest which might give you a job when you leave the legislature?

You know the answer.

Two years from now, a majority of Michigan voters will probably choose Democratic candidates for the legislature. They usually do. But Republicans will still end up with a big majority in the state senate, because the districts are rigged to produce that result. Same thing with our members of Congress.

Now, there’s a way we could fix all three things. First, pass a state constitutional amendment to set up an independent commission to draw sane and fair legislative districts that aren’t shaped like squished salamanders.

Then, pass a second outlawing term limits, and a third allowing everyone to vote by mail and/or establish days when people could go to the polls and vote early, as they do in Ohio. Currently, Michigan won’t even allow most people to get an absentee ballot.

Those are causes far greater than any candidate which could radically change our toxic political culture. But incredibly, none of that is happening. Nobody is doing anything about it.

The League of Women Voters held dozens of educational meetings last year to discuss our flawed system of drawing districts. Those who attended them agreed something needed to be done.

But no one did anything. Nobody formed a group to even try to get this on the ballot, and on Thursday, the League’s president said reform was dead for this year.

Last year a small band of regular citizens started a group called Let’s Vote, Michigan, designed to get a referendum on voting by mail. They got ballot language approved, but a month ago, they too gave up. Jackie Pierce, the group’s leader, told me the unions wouldn’t help.

Meanwhile, nobody even thought of trying to do anything about term limits. Changing any or all of these three injustices would go a long way to make Michigan a better place. This was once our state, and we can take it back if we want to badly enough.

So far, we haven’t.

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.

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