In the Legislature, the Attorney General's Office, with the secretary of state, and certainly in the executive branch, officials have shown that they are unwilling and often unable to represent the people's interests.
The lead poisoning of Flint certainly is the most grievous of the sins and for the moment, anyway, overshadows the long list of costly failures brought about by years of one-party rule.
Rebuilding Flint's water system and resolving lead-related health issues will likely cost billions of dollars. Taxpayers will foot the bill. The state's roads and bridges will continue to crumble; the long-delayed legislative fix is inadequate, meaning real repairs will be even more costly in the future. Big-money political action committees are now able to help candidates repay their campaign debts with “donations” that exceed the longstanding $68,000 contribution limit.
This is what passes for government. No wonder people are angry.
It hasn't been easy for Michigan since the Great Recession, when the economy cratered and unemployment soared. The state was hobbled by the collapse of the auto industry, Detroit's bankruptcy and the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal. But thanks to a revitalized auto industry and an improved national economy, Michigan's reputation was recovering.
Flint has changed that. The state's failure to ensure the most basic of needs — clean water — is now how people think of Michigan. News coverage of Flint is unrelenting, none of it good. Each week brings new revelations about government ineptitude. As if the lead problems weren't bad enough, we now know that the state also knew that unsafe water was tied to Legionnaire’s Disease. Congressional hearings and academic criticism of the state and its policies only add to the shame.
“Pure Michigan” is a tough sell for a state where the water in its third largest city is undrinkable. Having to rebuild the state's tarnished brand will be costly. It will take years.
But the failures are everywhere. Consider the latest legal rebuke to Attorney General Bill Schuette. In what has become a familiar pattern, the courts have rejected yet another of the state's legal arguments designed to build conservative support for his gubernatorial aspirations.
This time the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Schuette's insistence juveniles serving mandatory life sentences serve out those sentences despite an earlier high court ruling that this punishment was unconstitutional. Parsing the initial Supreme Court decision, Schuette wanted the ruling to apply only in future cases.
Never mind that the court clearly stated in a 2012 decision that “mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.”
Unwilling to acknowledge that perpetuating cruel and unusual punishment (the Eighth Amendment) was legally and morally wrong, Schuette again dispatched lawyers to argue his case. On Jan. 25, the Supreme Court ruled that its earlier decision was retroactive.
In the past, he mobilized his staff and contracted with his former law firm to fight the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court ruled against him. Schuette argued against same-sex marriage. Again, the Supreme Court rejected the state's position.
As for the Legislature's governance — an oxymoron? — it's always reelection, rarely about investment in people, places or things.
Road repairs require money, which in Michigan means taxes and fees, heresy in Republican circles and an invitation to even more radical challengers. The Legislature has passed the bill to eliminate straight ticket voting, which will increase lines at the polls. It has increased the amount of money it can raise from campaign contributions, which means more influence from big-money donors. It has cut spending for higher education and taken money from the school-aid fund (K-through-12 money) to mask the cuts.
The most recent legislative fumble involves the no-debate 53-page election bill, hatched as lawmakers were heading off on their Christmas vacation. Many Legislators acknowledge that they hadn't read the bill and couldn't explain the origin of a provision gagging local officials from discussing millage proposals or other ballot measures 60 days before an election. The bill's sponsor, Rep Lisa Posthumus, R-Lyons, told Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson that she couldn't remember how part of the bill came together. Seriously, now!
Snyder acknowledged the flaws that the bill's opponents said violated basic First Amendment rights. Nonetheless, he signed it.
Allied with this assault on the First Amendment was Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who defended the gag order in federal court. She claimed that no municipalities or officials have been affected by the measure, an assertion that U.S. District Court Judge John C. O'Meara summarily dismissed. Finding the provisions of the law unconstitutional, he granted a preliminary injunction last Friday.
Just the latest unconstitutional measure pursued by the Republicans and checked by the courts.