It was a great day for the nation when President Barack Obama was re-elected to a second term in office, and it was also a good day in Michigan when voters cast their ballots to reject Proposal 1 (which asked voters to support the continuation of Public Act 4, also known as the Emergency Manager Law), Gov. Rick Snyder’s naked attempt to hijack democracy from the grasp of financially struggling communities on the premise that we should all trust him to do what is best for us – even at the expense of forfeiting our right to vote.
For those outside of Michigan who have not been following this issue via MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s excellent reporting (her colleague Ed Schultz has been doing a good job as well), the purpose of PA 4 was to beef up an existing piece of legislation known as PA 72 (implemented in 1990) that provided for the appointment of emergency financial managers to oversee and have total control over the finances of local governing bodies. This was not enough for Gov. Snyder, who devised Public Act 4 and passed it into law in 2011 with the help of his colleagues in the Republican-dominated Michigan legislature giving him Almighty powers to appoint emergency managers who could – and did - seize operational control of entire communities at a whim if he felt they were not capable of getting their act together fast enough. Under PA 4, these emergency managers had the right to void all union contracts and completely ignore any and all locally elected officials as they force-fed their own remedies down the throats of these struggling communities with no required input from the communities themselves. Interestingly enough, all of these communities are largely – if not predominantly – African American.
Which is why so many of us who were determined to defeat Proposal 1 constantly reminded anyone who would listen that this was a blatant assault on democracy. You cannot simply empower a governor – or anyone else – with the ability to steal the vote of an entire community under the guise that this is somehow ‘helping’ that community. Stealing someone’s vote is never helping them to become a more responsible citizen just like stealing someone’s car is not helping them to become a safer driver.
Keep in mind that no one would argue about the struggling condition of Detroit Public Schools, or the cities of Benton Harbor or Pontiac or any of the other governing bodies that were shackled with this wrong-headed legislation. We live here. We know how bad it is. But no one has ever offered any proof that Gov. Snyder is somehow more trustworthy and has our interests at heart more so than the local officials that we elected. And if any of them prove unfit for the job it should be up to us to get rid of them via the ballot box, not via power grab. Why doesn’t Detroit deserve democracy? Or Benton Harbor? Or Pontiac? Who is Gov. Snyder to say that our right as Americans to cast our vote and to have that vote respected must first be approved by him? Who and and where does he think he is?
The voters of Michigan know what time it is, and that’s why we voted to defeat Proposal 1 by a margin of 52-48 percent. And I’m proud to say that at a Nov. 7 Detroit School Board special meeting (presided over by actual elected officials who were actually elected by the people of Detroit to represent their interests) it was reported that the voters of Detroit were the ones most responsible for the defeat of Proposal 1, delivering a city-wide result that was more than 80 percent opposed to Prop 1. It is also worth noting that polls were kept open late in Detroit because lines remained out the door all around the city close to the 8 pm original closing time. My son got home at 9 and reported seeing folks still in line.
And they say Detroiters don’t care enough to vote? Please believe me when I say that Detroiters have no problem voting when they see their interests being threatened – as with Proposal 1 – or when they see their interests being championed – as with the re-election of President Barack Obama.
Make no mistake, this does not mean the fight is over because the opposition is already devising back door efforts to steal our victory. Soon-to-be-exiting Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts said in the Detroit Free Press today that he planned to hang around awhile and would consider whether or not to leave. Yes, this is the kind of I-Am-King-You-Are-Peasants mentality that we are dealing with here. And this from a man who just last week said in a letter to the governor that he might have to resign and take his marbles and go home if Prop 1 is defeated.
I say it’s time he took his own advice and started packing those marbles. Before we have to pack them on his behalf.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.