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Phil's column

Phil Power is founder and chairman
of the Center for Michigan.

Lessons for the day: Voters show wisdom; Snyder gains

It was a close election, one with many cross currents  surging under the surface vote count.

In the aftermath, everybody will be asking “who won and who lost?” More important is looking into what the wins and the losses really  mean.  I suggest these takeaways:

* Michigan  voters continue to be plenty sane and sensible. Despite $150 million in (loosely regulated and badly reported) spending designed to mess
with their heads, Michiganders smacked down by whopping majorities all the ballot proposals. For years – going back to the days of Gov. William Milliken in the 1970s – Michigan  voters have earned the reputation of pragmatically thinking for themselves. This  election confirmed the pattern.

* Don’t mess with our Constitution. Proposals 2-6 all  could have been put forward as citizen initiatives rather than constitutional  amendments. Once their backers decided to do end runs around an  (admittedly) stacked Legislature and go for constitutional security, they opened themselves to the charge they were trying to subvert the Michigan Constitution for largely self-interested or purely political ends.  It was devastating.

* Michigan  is not for sale. It’s always been a good topic of conversation among  cynics: How much does it cost to buy a state? We now know it’s more than anybody spent this time around. Whether it was Matty Moroun’s almost $34 million spent on Proposal 6 or organized labor’s millions spent on collective bargaining rights, it wasn’t enough. Only time will tell if somebody decides to test the price point again in the future.

* Over-reaching is always worse than a sin; it’s an mistake. Despite lots of internal debate within the ranks of organized labor, United Auto Workers President Bob King decided to swing for the fences on Proposal 2. It turned out to be an expensive pop fly, and the pundits are now talking about a big loss for organized labor.

And now, in return, some Republicans and parts of the  business community will likely follow suit in over-reaching and go for passage of  Right to Work legislation.

“I think Right to Work is just a matter of time now,” said  one business executive who has worked to support Snyder’s efforts to keep the Right to Work legislation off the governor’s desk.

The business executive noted, however, there was a  significant change attitude in Michigan c-suites this fall as labor pushed Proposal  2. “They are ticked they had to spend big money to fight Proposal 2,” the  executive said, suggesting that, as a result, fewer execs will now stand in the  way of conservative legislators’ push for Right to Work legislation.

Such a move, though, would provoke a fight to the finish  that could badly harm Michigan’s  economic recovery.

* Right to Work will be the 800-pound elephant in the room  for months. If the Legislature winds up passing RTW, Gov. Snyder will be in a box. He will be under
tremendous pressure to sign the bill, but the cost – losing his distinctive and  important image as a relatively nonpartisan moderate – will be enormous. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see “Right to Work Lite” – affecting public employees only, for example – getting popular in some Lansing circles.

* That said, it was a good election for  Gov. Snyder. He led opposition to the ballot proposals, Republicans continue to hold the majority in the Michigan House of Representatives and he bailed out House Speaker Jase Bolger, who barely won re-election.  As a Republican strategist told me the day after the election when we got to talking about Bolger, “What Bolger owes Snyder is the political equivalent of a blank check.” He then added, “But Snyder should also remember the old adage, ‘How soon they forget.’”

* Democrats also are in for some head-scratching. They didn’t flip control of the House, quite possibly because they dumped a ton of money that could have been better used in trying to unseat chief villain Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger. But the Republican margin (59-51) is down. Should they extend a bipartisan hand to Snyder and whatever Republican moderates are still around, or should they dig in and oppose anything that comes down? Stay tuned.

Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via

2 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Mike R

    I agree that the Michigan Democratic Party shot itself in the nether regions by wasting valuable resources in a direct effort to unseat Jase Bolger from the Speaker’s chair when the same result could have been accomplished by (a) the ongoing grand jury investigation (and still might be), or (b) electing enough Democrats to change Speakers. Bill Ballenger put it well when he said (paraphrasing) that it was foolish to spend almost three-quarters of a million dollars in a 57% Republican district rather than put some of that money toward other potentially more winnable races (I presume we have Mark Brewer to thank for that shrewd strategy?).

    I continue to be puzzled and dismayed that any honest, ethical voter could support Bolger, an admitted liar and election-rigger. Perhaps he didn’t mean it this way, but to me Ballenger’s observation is another way of saying that Democrats should have known Bolger’s district will vote for anything Republican, no matter how despicable or embarrassing.

  2. Duane

    “Michigan is not for sale.” Mr. Power, why would you say that now when it wasn’t so long ago that you were talking about people buying the election, about the democratic system being abused? Since you never offered why you felt it would happen then why can you say it didn’t happen?

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