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MI politics? Newton had it right: to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction


It’s the first It’s Just Politics of the new year and we took advantage of our sabbatical to ponder what might be the big political news in 2013. We say “might” because, well, really, who would have thought at the beginning of 2012 that our biggest political story would be Michigan becoming a right-to-work state? The biggest story out of a year already filled with intrigue, political gossip and bombshells.

Right-to-work consequences

Certainly, there’s already intrigue afoot over how Democrats and labor are going to respond to the passage of right-to-work. It can be argued that the escalation really began in 2011. That’s when the Michigan Education Association, in particular, responded to some Republican anti-union legislation by launching a recall effort. They succeeded in recalling state Representative Paul Scott, then-chair of the state House Education Committee.

Skip ahead to November 2012 and Proposal Two. Prop Two failed, and, then, voila!, Michigan the country’s 24th right-to-work state. Now, that’s just a simple version of what’s a much more complex tale. But, it does give one a sense of how politics is played here in Michigan… kinda reminds us of Sean Connery’s line in “The Untouchables."

Connery: He pulls a knife. You pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital. You send one of his to the morgue.

When talking about Michigan politics, Newton had it right, “to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.”


Unions and progressives could try to challenge what happened in the lame duck session on the November 2014 ballot; not just challenging right-to-work but the new emergency manager law, too. The new EM law is a rewrite of the 2011 law that voters rejected via referendum in November. The organizers of that ballot drive are now crying foul, saying the new EM law is similar to the one that voters already said "no" to.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder and legislative Republicans made it impossible for voters to repeal this new EM law. We’ve talked about this often on It’s Just Politics: lawmakers can make it impossible for voters to repeal a law by adding money – appropriations – into the measure. Voters cannot repeal legislation with money in it. So, lawmakers added appropriations to the emergency manager and the right-to-work laws.

But, that doesn’t mean opponents still can’t go to the ballot.

Initiating law

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Opponents to these new laws could decide to initiate a new law, a replacement, in both those cases. To initiate a law outside of the legislature there would have to be a ballot drive. Organizers would need to collect enough signatures to equal eight percent of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election. If the petition drive succeeds, the Legislature then has 40 days to adopt the law. If they don't, the question goes on the ballot. The Legislature can also reject the initiative, but put it on the ballot as well as an alternative question. So, then, voters would have three choices. Yes on one of them, yes on both, or no on both. Whichever gets the most votes wins.

Would it work?

Considering the huge volume of petition signatures we saw collected last year, it’s likely that getting enough names would not be a problem; particularly considering how controversial right-to-work and the emergency manager laws are.

But, would an initiated law be a good idea, politically-speaking? Certainly, there are a lot of Democrats and progressives who are not happy about the millions of dollars spent last year on ballot questions that could, instead, have been spent on candidates. As always, we need to be cautious as we try to make predictions for 2014 off of 2012 election results. There will be huge differences. For instance, voter turnout tends to be much lower in off-year elections. And, the party in charge of the White House tends to do poorly in the midterms.


Then, of course, there are still all of the political calculations to add into the mix from stories that haven’t even happened this year. 2014’s foundation will be built on what happens this year; a year likely to be filled with big legislative battles; debates over transportation funding and education reform. And there are already questions over the new Emergency Manager law. It appears it’ll need to be tweaked if it is going to give Emergency Managers the power to make and break contracts with unions.

We're already looking ahead to next Wednesday,  January 9th, when the Legislature beings its new session.

A lot of speculation… a lot of questions… just a bit early for answers.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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