Monday, June 16, 2008

My ballot may have a very interesting proposal this November.

Michigan allows for voter initiatives that can change the state constitution. Once a proposal for a constitutional amendment is on the ballot, a simple majority is all that is required. While it is very democratic, it also allows for a low threshold to make dramatic changes to the government. Proposal 2 in the 2004 election effectively banned same-sex marriage and even went further than previous state law in making it harder for gays to secure benefits.

Anyways, in an article that read in the South Bend Tribune, a group called Reform Michigan Now is making a drive to put on a ballot a rather lengthy proposal. The proposal is aimed at streamlining the government.

As printed in the article:

  • The state Senate would drop from 38 members to 28. The House would drop from 110 members to 82. An “independent nonpartisan commission” would handle redistricting.
  • Pay would be reduced for lawmakers, judges, the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general. Benefits would be cut or capped at the level allowed for civil service employees.
  • The Michigan Supreme Court would be reduced from seven justices to five. The two shortest-tenured justices who would lose their seats under terms of the proposal, Stephen Markman and Robert Young Jr., were both nominated by Republicans.
  • The Michigan Court of Appeals would downsize from 28 members to 21. Ten judges would be added at the circuit court level.
  • Lawmakers would have to wait at least two years to become lobbyists after leaving office.
  • Lawmakers would have to disclose information about their finances.

The GOP stands to lose more out of this proposal than the democrats but I like it. I really like it. It’s not a perfect proposal. I’m suspicious of anything being called “non-partisan” especially if it’s the one drawing district lines. I’m not too fond of downsizing the Court of Appeals but I do like it when it concerns the Supreme Court. I think that 5 is a good number for the court although I would not go any lower than that.

I’m against the lobbyist portion of the proposal. To me it’s a First Amendment violation.

I’m most excited about kicking some lawmakers out of the Capitol and slashing away at some of their benefits. If I remember correctly, they get a pension and health care for life after only six years. Bringing them in line with the other civil servants who have serve over 30 years for just a portion of what they get is just fine with me.


Zark-Vader said...


The stuff you like is sugar to make the hemlock taste better. But it will kill you if you drink this kool aid.

First, the "lifetime pension and health care" WAS TRUE but the legislature eliminated that last year, although only for legislators elected in 2008 and after (Republican Marty Knollenberg, a client of mine, was pressing to eliminate for his own incoming class of 2006, but the Dems blocked a vote on his bill and only voted on their own in an effort to try to take credit for the idea).

You've noted some of the unconstitutional elements of this bill as well.

Why do you like downsizing the Supreme Court? What a meaningless savings. 2 people. And its blatantly an FDR-like attempt to "stack" the court for Democrats. What if O'Bama decided to remove two Supreme Court Justices - based on "seniority" - in 2009? Most people would find that an offensive affront to our system of checks and balances. The same is true of the downsizing of the house and senate, although I agree with you. I like the idea -- I've proposed for a couple of years a 25 - 75 ratio in the Michigan legislature, with a simple districting program (this is not simple - read the page full of stuff dealing with re-districting).

But if its a good thing, why not vote on THAT ALONE. Why 19 other changes to the Constitution. What poison are they slipping in the drink? It's all carefully crafted to increase the power of the Governor (notice that this proposal radically changes the courts and legislature but doesn't touch ethics reform for the Governor). Indeed, by weakening the two branches, this weakens separation of powers and checks and balances.

It gives government new authorities in sneaky ways, and when you have a 12 page change to the Constitution do you think you can get a clean report from the mainstream media about all the things it does? Even if they wanted to - their space is constrained.

"Log-rolling" is a bad thing. Again, I know you like parts. Indeed, I like parts. But if it were good, why not vote on each item independently?

David said...

I did not know that the legislature cut its benefits, or rather the incoming class’ benefits. That’s a pleasant surprise.

You are right about the savings. These kinds of cuts in even its broadest scope does not amount to a savings that offsets economic…blech… that the state is going through. As for the Supreme Court, I don’t mind that there are seven justices but I can do just as well with five but I would not accept any lower number than that. Five, Seven, or Nine are my favorite numbers. Personally, I do not see a problem with getting rid of two seats although I do recognize how this does affect Republicans and how they are represented on the bench. As for Obama (assuming he wins the Presidency) could not remove the Supreme Court Justices because they are constitutionally protected. Yes it is possible to create new seats in the Supreme Court but I have a hard time that the next Congress, whatever its composition, would go along with it.

Perhaps I should have made it clear in the post but I haven’t decided that I will vote “Yes.” On this proposal. I’ve only read the highlights of the proposal and liked what I saw. That may change when I do my pre-election research which, admittedly, won’t happen until the week or two before the election.

As for you question of why can’t we vote on each item independently—simple, the crafters put them in a bundle and will submit it like that hoping that if someone likes most of it, they will vote all of it in. Happens all the time. The beauty though, is that you can always come back the next election cycle with your own proposal for selective repeals.

Thanks for commenting. I really appreciate it!

Zark-Vader said...

"it happens all the time"?

When? In the context of a ballot question? The last dozen I remember all dealt with roughly one single-subject.

In fact, many states that have the ability to change law by petition have so-called "single-subject" rules (Michigan doesn't explicitly have one) - designed to prevent "log-rolling" on Constitutional changes (I don't mind log-rolling in the legislature - we elect representatives to make such compromises on the day-to-day legislative routine and non-Constitutional legislative matters). Florida is well-known for how tightly it restricts what a single-subject is (the courts there have, in fact, in my opinion misused the single-subject rule to disqualify petitions selectively, so I consider the rule a danger and wouldn't advocate for it here in the same way it exists there).

But regardless, I don't recall any petition brazen enough to throw (at least, the count is actually hard to be precise about) 19 separate and different reforms into a package. MCRI, which I worked for, was focused on one issue - so-called "affirmative action" or race-preferences. The other four that year each dealt with single issues. In 2004, you had two - one on casino gaming and one on gay marriage. Both single issues. I don't remember all of them before that but this petition runs a risk of disqualification because of its complexity (beyond just single-subject questions, but I'll leave that for another day since I'm not tipping my hand legally if I choose to play a hand in this battle).

This petition is unprecedented. It does not "happen all the time." And the "beauty" you describe is not beautiful - the damage would be done quickly and even if later reversed because the court stacking would have an impact immediately. This petition is a fundamental grab for power - cloaked in some really nice sheep's clothing.

(You note that Obama couldn't "get away with it" because Congress is a check and balance. True. The Federal Constitution is tremendously hard to change. We're talking here about the Michigan Constitution. Changing the fundamental checks and balances in the system. I appreciate that the Michigan Constitution is easier to change, as it should be, but we are talking about the same kind of fundamental assault on checks and balances. Changing the checks and balances of the system is not something that should be done lightly. But if you like 19 changes at once, and this one stands, you can believe I and others are coming in next cycle with our own massive set of changes. This will usher in a whole new level of ballot battles - and that's not even considering the possibility of a Constitutional Convention, which will automatically be voted upon in 2010 and possibly happen in 2011. I despise the idea of a Con-Con because of precisely the dangers presented by this proposal (for the most part, our Constitution is reasonably good as a system of checks and balances -- the state's troubles are with its day to day operations, bloated bureaucracy, etc. and that's a political question that Constitutional change can't really address (unless we talked about very serious downsizing of government and serious limits on its rank-and-file growth, and this doesn't do that, it only shuffles the deck superficially). But if there is a Con-Con, its going to be a mammoth political war (actually good for my political consulting business, but ...), and I'll have no choice but to play.