"Epic Incomptetence": ALEC-imposed Langauge Appears Unconstitutional in Michigan

Analysis of Flawed Right to Work Legislation Shows Governor, Republican Legislators, Had Never Reviewed Language Prior to Signing it Into Law

Lansing – Less than 24 hours after Governor Snyder signed his damaging “Right to Work” legislation into law, analysis shows that the flawed legislation may not even have the result the Governor claimed it would, raising serious questions about whether the Republican leadership even read the language of the bills before voting it through and signing it into law.

“It's become increasingly clear that the Governor presented the legislature with bills written by out-of-state extremists who had no understanding of Michigan's constitution or how our laws apply to Michigan workers,” said Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer. “This is what happens when the Governor does an 11th hour about face in a lame duck session showing utter contempt for our people by cutting out all public input, scrutiny and debate. That isn't leadership, it's epic incompetence .”

Reports today show that HB 4003, which the Governor said would provide “Right to Work” type policies for public employees in Michigan, could not be implemented as intended as the Michigan Constitution gives clear authority to the Civil Service Commission over conditions of employment for the state's workforce. Experts have suggested today only a vote of the Civil Service Commission could enact Right to Work policies for state workers.

“The public was not given an opportunity to read these bills, legislators were not given an opportunity to read these bills, and we now know that the Governor himself either didn't read or didn't understand these bills himself,” said Senator Bert Johnson (D – Detroit). “This process has been a complete affront to Democracy from the start and was nothing more than a political gift to the Koch Brothers and ALEC who bought and paid for this legislation.”

A series of questions have been raised in recent days over the legality of the “Right to Work” legislation as well as the process in which it passed. A lawsuit has already been filed against the Michigan House of Representatives for violating the Open Meetings Act as these bills were passed while the public was illegally locked out of the State Capitol and additional legal challenges are expected in the coming days.



More on ALEC's Machinations...

Michigan Adopts the ALEC Model for Diminishing Democracy

by John Nichols

Michigan legislators did not write the so-called “right to work” legislation that they have enacted in a mad rush of anti-democratic excess.

They simply did as they were told.

The ideas, the outlines and the words themselves came from the American Legislative Exchange Council (http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/12/11903/michigan-passes-right-work-con...), the right-wing “bill mill” that produces “model legislation” at the behest of Koch Industries, Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, ExxonMobil and the corporate cabal that is always looking to “buy” states.

As the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” project revealed (in conjunction with The Nation), ALEC has developed binders full of “model legislation” that assaults the rights of working people, consumers and communities (http://www.thenation.com/article/161977/business-domination-inc).

ALEC’s package of “model legislation” includes numerous bills and resolutions that, by any reasonable measure, would be referred to as “no rights at work” schemes (http://www.thenation.com/article/161977/business-domination-inc).

Those measures formed the basis for HB 4003, the Michigan “Right-to-Work Act” (http://www.thenation.com/blog/171641/gop-koch-brothers-sneak-attack-guts...) that has provoked mass demonstrations in Lansing and other Michigan communities.

Section after section, line after line, of the Michigan legislation mirrors the ALEC model legislation, as revealed by the “ALEC Exposed” project. “The legislation is straight out of the Koch-funded ALEC playbook,” explains Brendan Fischer, the staff counsel with the Center for Media and Democracy. At some points, the Michigan lawmakers shifted words, from “resign or refrain from…a labor organization” in the ALEC model legislation to “refrain or resign from…a labor organization” in one of the two Michigan bills.

At other points, the Michigan Republicans simply lifted whole sections verbatim (http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/12/11903/michigan-passes-right-work-con...), outlining how workers who get the advantage of union representation will not have “to pay any dues, fees, assessments or other charges, of any kind or amount” to a labor organization.

The willingness of legislators in Michigan and, it should be noted, other states to simply take marching orders from ALEC is troubling enough.

But even more troubling is the reason why corporations and politicians in states where the middle class was forged by organized labor agree on the “need” to advance anti-labor legislation.

This is not about economic development, growth or job creation. And it is certainly not about “freedom,” as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder claims (http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2012/12/11/gov-snyder-right-to-work-will-pas...).

This is about warping democracy so that corporations have a consistent upper hand, with the result being that those politicians who are willing to do the bidding of corporations and wealthy donors are more likely to prevail. In this sense, the best way to understand the recent rush to enact anti-labor legislation is as part of the same initiative that has produced restrictive Voter ID laws, schemes to limit early voting and proposals to eliminate same-day registration.

What distinguishes the anti-labor initiatives is that they do not explicitly seek to make voting more difficult. They seek to make it harder for groups that seek high turnout to get voters motivated, to get voters organized and to get them to the polls.

Ultimately, however, the end result of the assault on labor rights is the same as a direct assault on voting rights: a diminished democracy.

Democracy is, of course, about more than elections. And that’s where the anti-union push becomes even more significant. It seeks to narrow the discourse by weakening groups that offer an alternative to a Wall Street–dictated future for communities, states and the nation.

Attacks on labor are nothing new. Michigan is not the first state to enact a “right to work” law—the most draconian of anti-labor initiatives. It is the twenty-fourth. Southern states enacted their laws restricting labor organizing and political engagement decades ago, at a time when legislators and governors in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and other bastions of segregation feared that integrated unions would unite white workers and African-American workers on the side of social improvement. That created barriers to the labor movement in the South at a time when it was still growing in much of the country.

Now, however, the anti-labor push has come north.

There is a reason ALEC and its corporate sponsors want to undermine unions.

In states such as Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Ohio, and Indiana, organized labor provides a political counterbalance to corporations. Unions cannot and do not match the spending on elections by wealthy donors and corporations. But the willingness of unions to commit financial and human resources to political fights makes a huge difference at election time in states where the labor movement has a significant presence. The 2012 election results—particularly the big wins for President Obama and Democratic Senate candidates in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—point to the connection.

This is not, however, simply about Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Among the Michigan legislators who opposed the latest attack on union rights were six state House Republicans. Unions have long traditions of aiding Republicans, and even social conservatives, who have proven to be allies of working people. Prominent conservatives once opposed “right to work” laws, as Ronald Reagan did at the start of his political career, writing as he launched his 1966 California gubernatorial race: “I also was a leader of our [Screen Actors] Guild in the fight in 1958 against the [California] right-to-work bill. I am still opposed to right-to-work.”

Now, for the most part, conservatives have cast their lot with corporations. And the demand of corporations, particularly those engaged in the ALEC project, is that politicians who want to earn the favor of corporations and wealthy donors such as Charles and David Koch or Michigan right-wingers Dick and Betsy DeVos (http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2012/12/dick_devos.html) must advance anti-labor legislation.

Anti-labor laws in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan—and the attempts to do so in states such as New Hampshire—have been advanced by political figures with ALEC ties. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is an ALEC alumnus, as is Ohio Governor John Kasich. Among the key sponsors of the Michigan law that Governor Snyder signed today was state Senator Dave Hildenbrand, a Republican who famously paid his ALEC dues with taxpayer funds.

Those political figures are determined to limit the ability of unions to engage in political activity on behalf or working families, communities, public services and public education.

Why? By making it harder for unions to organize and to represent workers, “right to work” laws make it easier for corporations to get their political allies elected. The corporations and the legislators come together in the American Legislative Exchange Council. They produce “model legislation” to advance their project. And that project is about rewriting the rules so that the corporations win.

“What they’re doing is basically, betraying democracy,” says Teamsters president James Hoffa, who promises a great struggle to restore labor rights in Michigan (http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/hoffa-civil-war-looms-in-michigan-...).

Hoffa’s point is well taken.

Michigan politicians have betrayed democracy.

And democracy betrayed is democracy denied.

© 2012 The Nation

John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. His most recent book is The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again and Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy. Nichols' other books include: Dick: The Man Who is President and The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism.

Constructing a New Democracy in Tyrannical Michigan and Beyond

by Shea Howell

The anti-democratic efforts by the right wing republican legislature in Lansing are putting Michigan in the national spotlight. One national commentator, Jim Hightower, is now referring to our state as “Michiganistan” because of what he called the rule of “iron fist-democracy, rule-of-law, fairness, and the people be damned.” He described the lame duck session as “dumbfounding, anti-democratic zealotry.” Others talked about the Governor and legislature pulling a “fast-one” by “introducing and then ramming through legislation…designed so it cannot be repealed by popular referendum.”

In the last days of 2012 Governor Snyder signed the new Emergency Manager law, flaunting the clear rejection by voters state -wide of such legislation.

In a remarkable effort at reshaping reality, the Governor issued a statement saying that the new law “demonstrates that we clearly heard, recognized and respected the will of the voters.” He claimed the new law “builds in local control and options while also ensuring the tools to protect … residents, students and taxpayers.”

The new law includes a $770,000 state appropriation to cover managers’ salaries, a provision that shields it from another statewide vote because spending bills are immune to referendums. Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, accused Republicans of going to “extreme lengths” with that provision.

Snyder further insults voters by claiming this law is substantially different from that just repealed by referendum because if a review team finds that a financial emergency exists, communities can choose their remedy. The choices are to request an emergency manager, ask for a mediator, apply for bankruptcy, or introduce a reform plan.

The Detroit City Council also rejected the will of the people by a slim 5-4 majority. They supported a massive sale of public land to Hantz Farms/Woodlands after an outpouring of public objections and approved the Miller Canfield agreement demanded by the Governor.

These actions have made it clear that fundamental change is needed in Michigan. At a time when the authority of nation states over the lives of citizens is decreasing around the world, a small group of well-financed right wing ideologues are stripping away all pretense of democratic responsibility. Representative democracy now means representing the interests of a corporate power structure over the will of the majority of citizens. It is providing a legal mechanism for immoral actions, allowing the looting of the public realm and the wholesale transfer of public wealth into private hands.

It is no longer enough to petition against these actions or to protest their implementation. We need to create new political forms that enable us to create new centers of public responsibility.

We are fortunate to be living in a time when many before us have faced similar conditions and found new and imaginative ways to organize for better lives. We should be especially grateful to our brothers and sisters throughout Central and South America who have been expanding ideas of direct democracy. They have much to offer us.

For example, for more than three decades communities have been using Participatory Budgeting to determine local needs and to strengthen democratic processes. Recently New York joined Chicago and Vallejo California in using this process.

Advocates argue that such a process enables communities to improve their quality of life while having a “direct and meaningful say in what government does.” Such a process creates “new spaces for groups to engage with the public in positive and constructive ways.”

This coming year the challenge for us in Michigan and Detroit is to move toward meaningful democracy. Over the last few months we have been developing a new language of policies that can move us closer to more equitable ways of living. Community Benefit Agreements, Land Trusts and Participatory Budgeting are not new ideas, but they are ideas sorely needed in our city and state as we construct a new democracy.


Shea Howell is a professor and chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism at Oakland University in Rochester, MI, where she teaches courses on communication theory and multicultural and political communication. Her most recent book is Making Sense of Political Ideology.

Social Issues Are Economic Issues (Exhibit 1,463)

Michigan’s Dual Agenda Slams Low-Income Women
by Bryce Covert

We’re barely more than a week into 2013, but Michigan has been very busy lately. As a pre-holiday gift to workers, Governor Rick Snyder signed a “right-to-work” bill into law after the Republican-controlled state house passed it 58-51, making the payment of union dues voluntary for most unions and thus severely weakening their power. Just over two weeks later, Snyder signed another bill into law restricting abortion access for the state’s women. The bill prohibits telemedicine prescriptions for medical abortion, hampers clinics with new costly and challenging requirements and places new barriers between women and the procedure they seek through “coercion screenings.”

Two extreme measures, but ones that aren’t directly related, right? One is clearly about “economic issues,” the other about “social issues.” Yet those who are hurt by both are, as is so often the case, low-income women. Michigan has shone a spotlight on the inextricable link between economic and social issues when it comes to the right-wing agenda. And we can only expect more of this news from statehouses as the year progresses.

Michigan already holds the distinction of being one of the worst states for women’s pay equity. It ranks number seven at the bottom of the list, with women making just seventy-four cents for every dollar Michigan men earn. The right-to-work bill will only make this problem worse. The Economic Policy Institute has found that these laws lower wages for both union and nonunion workers in a state by an average of $1,500 per year. That’s a huge amount of money to lose for women who are already behind. Meanwhile, it finds no link between these laws and economic growth. In fact, if Michigan wanted to change its place at the bottom of the list for paying women equally, it would be promoting unionization. A study by Center for Economic and Policy Research found that unionization raised women’s wages by over 11 percent, or about $2 per hour, compared to non-union women. Being in a union makes a woman more likely to have health insurance or a pension than getting a four-year college degree.

The low-income women who will bring in less in the wake of the right-to-work law will also now likely have to shell out more money should they have an unwanted pregnancy. They already likely struggle to pay for abortion, as the state prohibits public funding for the procedure to women who are enrolled in state medical assistance program except if the pregnancy threatens her life or is the result of rape or incest. But the new bill will go further. The new regulations that abortion clinics will have to meet could be so costly that clinics could be forced to close their doors. That would mean women who seek abortions would have to travel farther away—an expense in itself, on top of the cost of taking any time off work. By also reducing access to telemedicine, even more women would be cut off from services. Low-income and rural women who don’t have doctors nearby are able to access safe and necessary abortion services remotely through telemedicine—but that’s now prohibited.

This should already make you infuriated. But the worst part may be that Michigan is far from unique. Many other states pushed anti-union measures last year. Indiana also became a right-to-work state. New Hampshire and Minnesota pushed to join that group. Few can forget Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attacks on collective bargaining rights. Arizona and South Dakota tried the same thing. Meanwhile, state capitols were also busy restricting women’s right to choose. According to the Guttmacher Institute, last year saw the second-highest number of abortion restrictions ever—ever in the country’s history—only bested by 2011, which still holds the record. Over half of those laws happened in just a handful of states, including some of the ones pushing anti-union measures like Arizona, Wisconsin and South Dakota.

Don’t expect 2013 to go any better. Half of all state legislatures now have veto-proof majorities, able to ram through their agendas without hindrance, up from thirteen only four years ago. All but three states, Iowa, Kentucky and New Hampshire, have one-party control. This means that Democrats run some states, but Republicans now have supermajority control in fifteen states, a lot more than the nine that Dems hold. See the map:

The GOP has total control over the North Carolina legislature for the first time in over a century, won a two-thirds majority in Missouri and set a 147-year record for representation in Tennessee. It gained or expanded supermajorities in Indiana, Oklahoma and Georgia.

The groups behind Michigan’s right-to-work bill are vowing to push for the same measure in other states. The crushing tide of bills that attack reproductive rights is likely to roll on—four states already have plans to move ahead with such efforts. And low-income women will continue to be the primary victims of both efforts. That’s no coincidence—but it should embolden the opposition to work together in combating the right-wing state-level agenda.

For more on state-level poverty politics, check out Melissa Harris-Perry's panel segment from this weekend.

© 2012 The Nation

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

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