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Maxine Berman

Maxine Berman

Victory Dance

December 21, 2012

There must have been a really huge Christmas markdown sale on Viagra at the Michigan Republican legislative supply store. And apparently, no one is worried about erections lasting for more than four hours.

I won’t comment, except in passing, on the issue of Right to Work itself, rammed through the legislature in this lame duck session. What is also important is the manner in which it happened.

As I’ve always said, “To the victors belong the spoils.” Republicans control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. I don’t like a lot of what they have done, especially the enactment of a Right to Work law, but they won elections.

Yet no matter how anyone feels about Right to Work, everyone should be concerned with the legislative process. Issues come and go. It’s the process—the assurance and stability of that process—that makes us Americans.

So as a former, proud member of the Michigan legislature, I can only look with sadness at what has occurred.

Lame duck sessions are always pretty crazy. That’s because at the end of every House session, all bills die. So legislators want to finish up on a lot of things so that they don’t have to start them all over again. But starting highly controversial legislation during lame duck is a whole different story.

I can’t tell you that there wouldn’t have been thousands of people protesting right to work legislation under any circumstances, but the fact that this legislation was never taken up in committee, never given full committee deliberation, never provided opponents their legitimate right to speak before their elected representatives in committee means that not only unions have lost something, the people of Michigan have too.

And please don’t tell me that since this is an issue that has been debated for decades, there was no need for legislative debate. That’s just pure hogwash.

When opposing voices are stifled, it means the legislature fears those opposing voices and it doubled down on that fear by placing a bogus appropriation on the bill to deny Michigan voters a chance at a referendum.

And please don’t tell me that closing the Capitol to the people who own it was done for security. It was done to keep out dissenting voices. We didn’t close it when a thousand bikers showed up to protest helmet laws, or a thousand doctors to protest medical malpractice laws or a thousand Right to Lifers to push for more restrictions on abortions.

And please don’t tell me we had to pass this with lightning speed because Indiana, the armpit of the Midwest, just passed a right to work law there.

No, this wasn’t about the power to enact laws because you have the numbers to do that. It was about the power to subvert and manipulate and bastardize the process because you have the numbers to do that too.

There is a difference between power and brute force.

Don’t get me wrong. Democrats controlled the Michigan House for most of my fourteen years in office and there were certainly times when we rushed bills through, in spite of protestations from House Republicans. But at least those bills had been debated already in committee. And there were times when vehicle bills were used (bills that have already been introduced and often gotten through one chamber already on the same act being considered that were substituted with entirely different language) when Democrats and Republicans had a sudden breakthrough in negotiations and we wanted to move quickly before people changed their minds. It wasn’t always sweetness and light.

But at least we respected each other enough, no matter who was in control, to allow the other side its voice. And, yes, that was even true during the one term I served when Republicans also controlled both houses and the governor’s office.

I’m sure there was a lot of “high-fiving” and end zone victory dances among legislative Republicans when the Right to Work bills passed. But I think the chest bumps were less about the issue and more about subverting the process.

It’s interesting that the National Republican State Leadership Committee praised Speaker Bolger’s handling of the issue as “courageous.”

It’s interesting because I just saw Lincoln last week, a mesmerizing tribute not just to President Lincoln, but to the many legislators who, in a deeply divided and war-torn nation, stood up to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery. That was courage.

It’s a lot easier to take rights away than to give them.

I wonder who will be dancing in 2014.

Maxine Berman is the Griffin Endowed Chair in American Government at Central Michigan University, the first woman named to the post. She served seven terms in the Michigan House and most recently was director of special projects for Governor Jennifer Granholm. She is the author of the 1994 book The Only Boobs in the House Are Men.

December 20, 2012 · Filed under Berman

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Barbara Ryan Fuller // Dec 21, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Maxine cuts to the core of what this lame duck session was all about.

  • 2 Chuck Fellows // Dec 21, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Maxine once again strikes at the heart of the issue. There is a concerted effort to eliminate the voice of the people in governance – in every republican controlled legislature in this nation.

    Is the phrase “Let them eat cake” echoing in the halls of the capital?

  • 3 Steve Harry // Dec 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    I saw Lincoln too, and what I remember is that there was a lot of arm twisting, deal-making and outright bribery to get enough votes to pass the 18th amendment. And about citizens being kept out of the Capitol – that didn’t happen. The Capitol was packed with people – all unelected, by the way.

  • 4 Maxine // Dec 21, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Steve, to suggest that citizens weren’t kept out of the Capitol is a little disingenuous since it took a court order to get the Capitol opened again–I’m not talking about the day of the vote, but the day before when there were far fewer people–and some of the people who got locked out were actually state legislators. And sure there was arm-twisting, to get the 13th amendment past, but this suggests you think people who had always supported it were casting a really easy vote.

  • 5 James Brazier // Dec 21, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    You have certainly made it clare that the GOP has exploited its majorities in Michigan government to rise to the level of tyranny. What is tragic is that the GOP has succeeded in obtaining a majority through timing of elections and gerrymandering. Placing the gubernatorial and senatorial elections during the off-presidential election years has kept political paticipation by voters depressed because the Republicans found they had an advantage during such election years. Gerrymandering geographic districts has given the GOP advantages in state senate and house races along with congressional races to the point of winning majorities of seats while losing the statewide vote in state house races. The GOP is a minority party with majority power in Michigan governance. The interests of the few are now elevated by GOP concern for the rich and antipathy towards the rest of us.

    Republicans are busy redistributing wealth and income from the poor to the rich. The GOP has become the Sheriff of Nottingham oppressing the people and winning against the Robin Hood of the poor, the Democratic Party. Such exploitive capitalism backed by governmental power is a disgraceful expression of social irresponsibility. Politics of selfishness and greed have become the GOP mantra while they tax the many in Michigan and destroy any spirit of community through their policies.

  • 6 Sharon Gire // Dec 21, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Maxine really hit the nail on the head. I was in the legislature for 6 terms and while it was not always roses, there was respect for the process and for legislators from all political perspectives. The last weeks activities were very sad, not courageous.

  • 7 Mary Pollock // Dec 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Another example of the legislative majority’s abuse of power is SB 409. The bill amends the definition of “taxable income” in the Income Tax Act to exclude retirement or pension benefits from employment with a government agency that was not covered by the Social Security Act. This is a $10 – $23 million dollar tax preference bill that was never referred to committee in either house and therefore had no hearings. Like the RTW exemption for fire and police personnel, this bill was first rather blatantly aimed to exempt police and fire retirees (national guard income exemption added by floor amendment) from the pension tax entirely. Police and fire personnel tend to line up with the majority party. The substitute bill was less blatant. There was never any publicly available analysis of the basis for the amount of the tax exemption.

  • 8 Fred Hoffman // Jan 4, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Excellent analysis.

  • 9 Rebecca Rocho // Jan 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Maxine, I miss your grit and plain-talking. Spot on.

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