August 5, 2018
Neither the Michigan House nor Senate met on July 25 as previously scheduled. The House chambers were under construction on that day and the Senate announced it would not take role or any votes. Legislators were uniformly busy this summer campaigning for themselves or others. The August 15 scheduled session is likely to go similarly. The Legislature is scheduled to return September 5 and 6, take two weeks off, and return September 25 through October 5.
Primary results were not available at this writing, but a larger turnout than the last gubernatorial election year in 2014 was expected based on the increased number of absentee ballots requested, many of which are senior voters. Increased interest due to the number of contested and competitive primaries was at least part of the reason. Three open congressional seats with no incumbent running drew a lot of voters in southeast Michigan.
Also on the August 7 ballot were over 900 local tax or millage increases or renewals including 73 concerning senior citizen services. Local governments like to put their proposals on the August ballot in even numbered years because the state pays for the election.
Pension Tax — Although the 2011 Michigan tax overhaul including imposition of a tax on retirement income has been a standard election year issue for most Democrats and a few Republicans, it emerged as a top issue in the gubernatorial race. The Detroit Free Press listed the candidate positions as follows:
Straight-party voting option — On July 25, a federal judge approved a permanent injunction against the 2015 state law eliminating the option of straight-party ticket voting in Michigan. U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain stated in his decision “When Michigan Republicans passed the bill eliminating straight ticket voting, they intentionally discriminated against African-Americans in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The Court finds that eliminating the Democratic Party’s success with straight-ticket voters — success especially driven by African-Americans residing in communities with high voting-age African-American populations — was a motivating consideration in the Michigan Legislature’s enactment of PA 268. The goal of ending the Democratic Party’s success with straight-ticket voters, therefore, was achieved at the expense of African-Americans’ access to the ballot.”
Straight-ticket voting allows voters to fill in one box on the ballot to support all candidates of one party all the way down the ballot. Local clerks have said the option has helped speed voting lines, which tend to get long, especially in urban areas during presidential election years. In the 2008 presidential election cycle, voters in Detroit reported lines that lasted more than two hours.
The lawsuit was filed by the Michigan State A. Philip Randolph Institute, a civil rights group linked to the AFL-CIO, against Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. In 2016 the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to take it up. Drain’s decision makes a temporary injunction permanent.
Voters have had the option to vote by straight ticket since 1891. Republicans have tried to eliminate the option twice over the years — in 1964 and again in 2001 — but voters overwhelmingly repealed those laws in voter referendums. The 2015 bill to get rid of straight-ticket voting included a $5 million appropriation for clerks to purchase voting equipment. Adding the money, however, made the bill immune from a statewide vote to repeal the law under the Michigan Constitution and a lawsuit was required to challenge it.
It is possible that Judge Drain’s decision will be appealed, but for now, it looks like the option of straight party voting will be on the November 6 ballot in Michigan.
State Party Conventions — The last weekend in August will see state party conventions where the parties officially select candidates for Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Michigan Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and the statewide education boards as well as conduct other business.
Campaign Money — Once again, campaign contributions and spending in our gubernatorial race is on track to be one of the most expensive in history. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a non-partisan watchdog organization, reported on July 27 that Michigan’s 2018 race for governor has already attracted $42 million. This includes candidate campaign finance reports, disclosures from outside spenders, and an analysis of TV ad-tracking. Democrat Shri Thanedar led with $10.1 million by July 22. Outside groups, including PACs, super PACs and nonprofit organizations, have already spent about $8.9 million on independent expenditures, TV ads and other expenses involving the race for governor.
Michigan’s most expensive race for governor occurred in 2006 between Republican Dick DeVos and incumbent Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm which cost $79 million. Devos and his wife Betsy contributed $35 million to his campaign.
Proposal 2018 — 1: Legalize Recreational Marijuana — The proposed voter-initiated law to legalize marijuana possession and consumption for all adults 21 years and older will be the first proposal on the November 6 ballot. If passed by the voters, it will take a ¾ vote of the Legislature to amend it. The excise and sales taxes raised by the measure are estimated to add $200 million to government coffers for the state and local governments that choose to participate. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is the main proponent of the law. Healthy and Productive Michigan and Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools are the main opponents raising money.
Proposal 2018 – 2: Redistricting — Saying the redistricting proposal would “constitute neither a revolution in redistricting nor a transformation of Michigan’s form or structure of government,” Justice David Viviano, joined by Justice Bridget McCormack, Justice Richard Bernstein and Justice Elizabeth Clement held on July 31 that the proposed Constitutional amendment to establish an independent and multi-partisan citizens redistricting commission was qualified to go before the voters in the November election. The amendment if approved by voters would strip the state’s current reapportionment system for drawing congressional and legislative lines from the Legislature and governor. Opponents were quoted as saying they plan no further legal action.
Fallout from the decision included speculation that the Michigan Republican Party might withdraw is planned nomination of Justice Elizabeth Clement at its August 25 convention in response to her vote to support the redistricting proposal. Clement was appointed to the court last November by Republican Governor Rick Snyder. She was Snyder’s chief legal counsel, had no prior judicial experience and no judicial record to assess prior to her appointment. On July 27, the same four justices joined in another ruling that angered many conservatives, saying school districts can ban guns on their properties. The Republican Party convention delegates could suspend their rules by a 2/3 vote and nominate another candidate in place of Clement, though she would remain on the ballot as an incumbent justice. The other Republican-nominated justice up for election is Kurtis Wilder, who voted with two other Republican-nominated justices to keep the measure off the ballot.
Voters Not Politicians, the committee leading the effort to get a redistricting proposal on the November ballot, has raised $1.491 million so far. The biggest contributor was the Action Now Initiative out of Houston, Texas, which contributed $250,000. The UAW-CAP contributed about $100,000. Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, the group opposing the redistricting effort funded mostly by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, has raised $305,000. VNP’s first TV ad quoted Ronald Reagan saying gerrymandering is a disgrace.
Proposal 2018-3: Earned Paid Sick Time — On July 27, the Board of State Canvassers certified the MI Time To Care initiated law petition signatures on a vote of 3 – 1 and sent it to the Legislature for their 40-day review pursuant to Article II, Sec. 9 of the Constitution. The proposal would require employers to provide one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked up to a maximum of 72 hours of paid sick time in a year. The time could be used for personal or family health needs, as well as purposes related to domestic violence, sexual assault and school meetings. A coalition of business organizations calling itself Small Business for a Better Michigan opposes the proposed law.
Minimum Wage — The Board of State Canvassers on July 27 deadlocked 2- 2 along partisan lines on a motion to certify the minimum wage initiated law petition from the Michigan One Fair Wage Committee. The board’s Republicans agreed with challengers who argued the minimum wage proposal would abrogate existing minimum wage law without restating it, thus improperly amending existing law. There is already a lawsuit filed by opponents challenging the language of the proposal. Supporters intend to challenge the Board’s decision.
The proposed voter-initiated law from Michigan One Fair Wage would increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour from its current $9.25 by 2022 and bring tipped employees, who now have a minimum wage of $3.52 per hour, up to the same minimum wage as everyone else by 2024. One Fair Wage has raised $1.45 million so far, about half coming from the Restaurant Opportunities Center.
Voting rights — The Elections Bureau staff is still reviewing the petition signatures of the proposed Protect The Vote constitutional amendments to allow for same-day voter registration, no-reason absentee voting, straight-ticket voting option, and other voting rights changes. The Detroit Chamber of Commerce announced its support for the proposal on July 25. No organized opposition has emerged but there is a tight timeframe for getting any objections litigated.
100-word Summary Deadline — The Bureau of Elections has announced that August 13 is the deadline for proposed ballot issue captions and 100-word summaries. September 7 is the deadline for ballot language to go to local clerks for printing of ballots. Any delay cuts into the time needed to get ballots to overseas voters in enough time for their timely return.
SERA Recent News — If you are a SERA member, you are eligible to receive SERA Recent News, a periodic e-mail about breaking news and links to media stories of interest to state employees and retirees. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, giving your name, email address, and chapter name.
Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail email@example.com.
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