When word finally got out that a grassroots group had a petition drive in motion that would reform Michigan government the media was caught by surprise. The group was quietly gathering the 370,000+ signatures it would need to get the effort to amend the state constitution on the November ballot, but no one told the power brokers in Lansing. Alarm bells went off and soon political reporters and bloggers were hunting for every shred of information they could get about Reform Michigan Government Now. Sadly, they got a lot of it wrong.
In their effort to fill space in their newspapers the reporters often turned to uninformed idiots who were willing to pretend they knew what they were talking about. In that reporting was also an elitist element that sounded angry that the grassroots effort hadn't consulted the power brokers and influence peddlers in Lansing. Surely, this group was a secret front for some known lobbying group, the Lansing insider class decided. And all the rest of their reporting has been spent trying to prove their initial belief. Instead of trying to find the truth, the media decided it knew the truth and would fit the story around that supposition.
In the days and weeks that followed the initial news leak, many established Michigan pundits and politicos weighed in. Early on, State Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer commented positively on many of the reforms in the package and thus the media decided he must be behind the effort. When it came out that many of the members of the unsuccessful Unicameral Michigan campaign to "Fire the Senate" were behind Reform Michigan Government Now and that paid petition circulators were being used (sadly, you almost can't get a petition drive on the ballot if you don't have money to pay professionals to do the collecting- only one such effort was ever successful in Michigan), the media demanded to know who was funding the drive. In the absence of correct information, it was floated that John Stryker was bankrolling the effort. When Stryker issued a firm denial we get yet more speculation and no real information. The media's obsession with the money seems to have blinded it from doing it's job and asking the only important question- is it any good for Michigan? Should it pass?
It's the media obsession with Brewer and Stryker which is so "striking" to me and gets to the heart of why these reforms are so necessary. In their attempts to find a way to attack the reform movement, they wish to 'kill the messenger' and they can't really do that with a group of ordinary citizens other than to incorrectly label group treasurer Harland Nye as a chicken farmer (he's a retired band director). The group of political outsiders has played their cards close to the vest which seems to be an affront to the sort of insider-class culture in Lansing. Despite employing the public relations firm of former state House speaker Dianne Byrum, the group is attacked for not being more establishment such as when Jack Lessenberry writes that:
They just might have been able to pull this off if they had gotten together with a few reasonable Republicans, like Joe Schwarz and Kalamazoo County Administrator Don Gilmer, and come up with something truly bipartisan. Instead, to give themselves cover, they put up as their official treasurer an 80-year-old retired high school band director who says he is a Republican. Give me a break.So, is Lessenberry saying Mr. Nye is NOT a Republican or that he's not reasonable? Is he saying it's bad that the group lies but only because they didn't tell a different lie, one that him and his reporter buddies are used to hearing? Give US a break, Jack. If you don't think the effort is bipartisan, please tell me what's in the plan that makes it partisan. Instead we get more garbage like this:
But the proposal reveals its naked partisanship in its intention to eliminate two state supreme court justices.
So, it's nakedly partisan to preserve a majority of Governor Engler-appointed judges on the bench? It's partisan to take a non-partisan method for eliminating the two most inexperienced members of the bench? Lessenberry's arguments show exactly how much the media is contorting itself to find reasons to oppose these common sense proposals which make up a rather cohesive set of reforms that could never be enacted in our poisoned partisan atmosphere in Lansing. Yet some of the people who make a living speaking out against are now mad that the proposals aren't more blatantly partisan. In fact, Lessenberry decries that the proposal doesn't target the most independent member of the state Supreme Court (the court which was recently ranked worst in the nation in judicial partisanship by the way). Huh?
In a town where partisan politics is everything, Lansing can't help but turn an anti-partisan/non-partisan effort into something which can only be seen through the filter of which party it helps or hurts. What's funny is that in none of these efforts do we hear any good reasons why one side might be advantaged. We do suddenly hear how partisan our non-partisan justices are though which should come as a surprise to anyone who thought they were voting for judges and not political parties.
Which brings me back to the effort by some to paint this as a secret scheme by Mark Brewer to control state government. First, the state Democratic Party is poised to have its best November in a long time. With a toxic Republican brand and a charismatic figure on the top of the ticket who threatens to boost turnout in the state, Democrats in Michigan have to be swooning at their prospects this fall. Yet we are to believe that instead of trying to turn out the vote in November, Brewer has been busy crafting and organizing an effort that would take redistricting away from his own party? We are also supposed to believe that Brewer is secretly behind a plan that includes proposals floated or supported by people such as Terry Lynn Land (no-reason absentee voting), Glenn Steil Jr. (reducing number of state legislators), and Chief Justice Clifford Taylor (reducing number of judges), among others?
In their rush to judgment and then to be jury and executioner, the media has conveniently forgotten many of the proposals were originally proposed by members of the Republican Party and seem to exclusively focus on the ones that do not benefit the Republican Party machine while skimming over the rest (some of which, like losing the power of redistricting which has helped deliver State Senate control to the GOP despite getting less votes state-wide, actually hurt Democrats but the reporting never seems to mention that aspect). State Republican Party chair Saul Anuzis has attacked Reform Michigan Government Now's ballot drive with his standard line of attributing anything he doesn't like as coming from trial lawyers and liberals but Mr. Anuzis and the media have been pretty scant on what in the proposal would advantage Democrats. Other than the coincidental fact that the two most inexperienced Supreme Court justices are "Republicans" despite their constant past efforts to pretend they were non-partisan. Apparently it's bad that the effort is so partisan except when it should have been even more partisan. Yes, they think you're that stupid that you can't see through their shifting reasons for attacking the grassroots effort.
What's sad is that most average citizens in Michigan realize state government is badly broken and want it to get fixed but feel powerless to do anything about it. After too many years of divisive wrangling over budget issues and taxes, Lansing has proven it can't take on the toughest of issues. What is needed is for someone, anyone to step up the plate and deliver a set of much-needed reforms that would help reduce the partisan atmosphere and help voice the disgust of the people at what is happening in Lansing. Instead, we get the media trying to kill the messengers. We get the partisan spin of Saul Anuzis reported as truth. We get lies about the honest people in Barry County who've given years of their lives in trying to make Michigan state government actually work for the people. We get a defense of the status quo. We get more of the same.
Today, the group is expected to drop well more than the required number of signatures, with plenty of cushion to ensure that the effort gets on the ballot in November, into the hands of the Secretary of State. The special interests have already lined up against this, the influence peddlers have been honing their attacks. All I ask is that the people quit listening to the media trying to tell them they're too stupid to understand the proposal and look into it themselves. The media shouldn't waste it's time telling you WHAT to think about it but instead telling you what it actually would do. If they can't do that simple task then they are part of the problem too.
In fact, not only are they trying to tell you what to think about the proposals instead of giving you the information to think for yourself, the media has gotten many of their facts wrong. If you can't trust them to give you the basic facts about Reform Michigan Government Now, then how can you trust them when they try to tell you it's a bad idea? That's something even a chicken farmer could understand.