As badly as we need this done, do we care why he’s doing it, or even whether he gets the credit?
“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” (Winston Churchill, to his private secretary, Jock Colville, on June 21st, 1941, the evening before Operation Barbarossa)
Churchill was well known for being a consistent and vociferous opponent of communism, and had often spoken quite unfavorably about the Soviet Union, and particularly of Joseph Stalin (who was well-known even then as the brutal monster that honest history records). However, in seeking to stop the menace of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Churchill was willing to adopt an ad hoc “enemy of my enemy” approach, and initiated the Anglo-Soviet Agreement for joint action against Germany.
Given much of the recent hullabaloo regarding a badly-needed grassroots initiative having been likely co-opted, by a moderate opportunist apparently seeking a means to advance his political ambitions, and given that I have personally stood directly in the path of those ambitions at least twice in the past seven years, what I’m about to say is going to sound exceedingly strange, but I’m going to say it anyway.
“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” (Mark Twain, in the book, Selected Writings of an American Skeptic; also Gideon J. Tucker, in a decision on an estate case, circa 1866)
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Michigan is one of just ten states (with Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin) that have some type of full-time legislature (≥ 80% of a full-time job between constituent services, committee work, actual legislating, and electioneering), and one of just four states (including only California, New York, and Pennsylvania) that have a true full-time, year-round, Congress-style state legislature. As both Judge Tucker and Sam Clemens famously observed, the longer that the legislature is in session, the stronger the temptation and incentives to legislatively erode the people’s divinely endowed rights to life, liberty, and property. As We the People are well aware, few legislators can long be trusted to resist those temptations and incentives.
I have written before about the Michigan Part-Time Legislature Initiative – on the previous version of this site – so I’ll refer the reader to the link for reference, if necessary, to my detailed opinion on the concept (including the horse manure assertions about all power transferring to the lobbyists), as the point of this essay is to address the matter from a somewhat different perspective than I did three and a half years ago. I’ve been in regular contact with Norm Kammeraad (the fella who’s still the chair of The Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-Time Legislature), and was well aware of his committee’s planning to initiate a paid signature drive to put their proposal on the November 2018 general ballot. That no fewer than three potential republican gubernatorial nominees are openly advocating for the ratification of some version of the proposal, likely means that the concept is now within the Overton Window of Political Possibility (meaning that “part-time legislature” is now at least a politically acceptable topic, and likely a politically sensible initiative), at least inside the Lansing Loop.
And then . . .
For a guy who has yet to either file the necessary financial paperwork, or actually make an official announcement, regarding an openly-anticipated gubernatorial run, Brian Calley sure does want to hang on to our attention, doesn’t he? According to Julie Mack at MLive, the Clean Michigan Government petition drive was already in progress when Calley used a month-long teaser campaign and a Memorial Day reveal to become the public face of the effort. The follow-up announcement two days later, according to WLIX TV, was to lay out the rest of his 10-point plan to clean up the state government, which is oddly similar to Bill Schuette’s four-point “Make Lansing Transparent” op-ed in the Detroit News about a week earlier.
The Clean Michigan Government initiative petition language is pretty straightforward, and summarized thus:
A proposal to amend the state constitution of 1963 by amending Article IV, section 12, and Article IV, section 13, to require a part-time legislature that can meet no more than 90 days in a calendar year unless an emergency session is called by the Governor, to require legislators to be paid commensurate with public school teachers, to eliminate pensions, and health care after the term of office, for legislators.
. . . which summary is 70 words long, well within the 100-word ballot limit imposed by MCL 168.32 (paragraph 2), thus leaving about 30 words available if some elaboration should be necessary for a suitable statement of purpose.
The informed skeptics – and there are plenty of us – readily note three things. The first is that all reliable polling to date has Calley trailing Schuette by a 2-to-1 margin in a hypothetical gubernatorial primary (in which neither of them has yet done at least one of those two aforementioned basic campaign tasks). However, as Jon Oosting points out in the Detroit News, serving as the public face of a petition drive for a popular initiative likely will help Calley appeal to republican primary voters next summer. For this reason, and because, as Jason pointed out, Calley has a reputation for opportunism, many remain quite convinced that Calley’s real motive for doing this is to advance his political ambitions . . . and the suspicion is noticeably bipartisan.
The second thing that the informed skeptics take note of is MCL 168.472a, which reads in its entirety:
“The signature on a petition that proposes an amendment to the constitution or is to initiate legislation shall not be counted if the signature was made more than 180 days before the petition is filed with the office of the secretary of state.”
. . . now, prior to 2016, specifically 2016-PA-0142, this section treated a “stale” signature as a rebuttable presumption. In other words, if the petitioners could show some evidence that an otherwise stale signature was legitimate (such as the history in the Qualified Voter File that the voter actually resided at that residence on the date of signature), then the signature would be considered valid (the burden of proof being upon the petitioners). Now, stale is stale . . . period . . . end of discussion. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Clean Michigan Government petition drive started on Monday, April 24th, concurrent with Calley’s first video, that means that signatures are going to start going stale on Saturday, October 21st. Unless someone’s tracking the shelf life of those signatures, there’s a considerable opportunity for public embarrassment if the initiative is ultimately filed after mid-October.
Combine this observation with the persistent rumor that John Yob may be financing a paid per capita signature drive, as well as the coitus interruptus of multiple cancelled technical approval meetings with the Board of Canvassers (who had indicated that they were prepared to approve the petition for circulation), and the opportunist argument, that Calley’s ulterior motive for the signature collection is to tally supporters for a gubernatorial primary contest, starts to pick up some traction.
And then there’s the third thing. Even a cursory comparison of the Clean Michigan Government initiative language, and the Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-Time Legislature proposed initiative language, shows that Calley’s petition doesn’t address certain flaws that really do need to be corrected, such as:
- Voting bills into law should only happen while the legislature is actually in session, but committee work can be done at any time.
- The inter-session legislative carryover has been abused enough that it should be eliminated.
- Inadequate public review lead time before final vote on bills
- Executive orders and administrative rules that operate as de facto laws
- Procedural maneuvers that suspend the passage of time, in order to nominally comply with deadlines
- The Michigan State Office Amendment, while well-intentioned, has some significant structural flaws as implemented, at least as regards the legislature
- Abuses of the reconsideration and immediate effect procedures
- Short-fuse legislature leadership elections, and the little detail that the Senate President Pro Tempore is in charge of the upper chamber, not the Senate Majority Leader
- Currently, there are no limits on the governor’s ability to convene an “emergency session” . . . including potentially abusing the “lame duck” period.
. . . and it’s primarily because of this that my initial reaction was to concur that the language that Calley’s Clean MI Government committee is circulating is a bastardized version of Kammeraad’s initiative, usurped by Calley for the sole purpose of advancing his own political ambitions. However, I also read the resolution from the board of The Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-Time Legislature:
In 1963, then-Governor George Romney of Michigan proposed and implemented legislation to change Michigan’s part-time legislature to our current full-time legislature. Since that time, it is our belief as a board that the voice of Michigan’s citizens has been ignored, through corruption and influence of our legislators by special interest.
We are resolved that said corruption has led to our State’s current economic demise.
We are further resolved that our board was formed to stem said corruption through restoration of Michigan’s Part Time Legislature through a proposed ballot drive.
Our board was recently presented with a ballot proposal by the Clean MI Government committee, as lead by Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley of Michigan. This ballot proposal contained language, intended to be utilized in said ballot drive, to change Michigan’s full time legislature into a part time legislature.
We further resolve its simplicity to our initial proposal, and more importantly its inclusion of our fundamentals, as adopted by our board, to restore consecutive legislative sessions, cut legislators’ salaries, and removing legislators’ lifetime benefits when out of office, which has only proven to promote their bias towards special interest rather than its citizens.
We further resolve the caution necessary to be taken implementing such changes, in order to not sink our great ship of state into financial ruin, for which we feel only a part time legislature is capable of.
We further resolve that the stated Clean MI Government proposed ballot language is an improvement over what presently exists within Michigan’s Constitution, and strives to procure these fundamentals and values for which our board holds dearly, and further steers Michigan’s legislature back to those voices it’s supposed to represent, the people of Michigan.
Because of its procurement of these values, we therefore, by unanimous vote, endorse the Clean MI Government committee’s proposed ballot language for a part time legislature, as presented through Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, and thank him for his continued passion and work in restoring Michigan’s part time legislature.
So say we all:
Norman Kammeraad (Chair)
Tracy Anderson – Board Member
Dave Agema – Board Member
Geoff Havman – Board Member and Counsel
. . . and, in the comment thread on this announcement, Kammeraad acknowledges that many are reasonably upset by the fact that Calley is the public face of this effort, given many of the things that he has supported during his time in office (January 1st, 2007, to present). That track record was integral to the board’s discussion (which, given that Dave Agema is on the board, isn’t surprising). However, in the board’s view, the legislature is the real problem, regardless of whom the governor is, because ultimately the legislators are the ones with their hands in our wallets. This petition’s language at least sets the stage for a judgment day that’s long overdue for the legislature, and begins the reversal of the mess that George Romney left us with.
I had a private conversation with Mr. Kammeraad about a week later, in which he elaborated on those basic points:
It doesn’t matter to me who’s governor, as long as it’s not another Granholm-mold democrat. The legislature is the real problem, and long has been. The longer that the legislators are in session (or encouraged to be so for unjustified higher pay), the more damage they’re encouraged to do to us. Calley’s petition language accomplishes what’s immediately necessary to deal with this. Since they spat in the voters’ faces over the gas tax, it’s only fitting that they face those voters, with their own pay at stake in this.
I have personally read the language in the Clean MI Government proposal, and while it does lack some of the attributes of our initiative, it essentially carries our board’s objectives in similar language. The first is binding the OCC by tying the current legislature’s salary structure pro rata to median teacher salaries. Secondly, it kicks the legislators out of Lansing after the second Wednesday in April, and places them back in their districts for the bulk of the year. Third, it ends the taxpayer-financed lifetime benefits gravy train. These are crucial things that I wanted accomplished from day one. As such, it’s an improvement over the status quo, and I think it’s worth supporting.
I would love to see more, but at least this takes the career aspect out of the office, and does have the option of further improvement. There will be much more down the road, but until you disconnect the legislators from the special interest money, you’re not going to get anything done. People run for state office in Michigan, literally claiming to be something they’re not, just to get a lifetime of government-issued paychecks, and that has to stop now. This is much bigger than my fame; I really don’t care who gets the immediate glory. My main goal is to give the legislature a financial enema.
. . . which brings me back to the Churchill and Twain quotes with which I opened this essay. A little over two years ago, I opined that, while our current struggle is to simply stop the inertia of decline, unless we have a follow-through strategy in place, simply putting the brakes on is only a temporary solution (as was proved just over a half-year later). Calley’s version of the part-time legislature proposal does in fact actually accomplish the three key goals of the larger initiative, and simultaneously does no damage to the additional objectives (which will be much easier to accomplish, should Calley succeed). Being well aware of the irony involved, and Mr. Trejo’s well-advised concerns notwithstanding, I can accept the ad hoc partnership on the initiative, as long as Brian is under a similar lack of illusion that my support of his proposal extends to supporting him in a hypothetical gubernatorial run.
I suspect that I won’t be the only activist drawing that line.