By Claire McClinton
A statewide bus tour, letters to the editor, TV ads, big donors, and more, did not keep Michigan’s Governor Snyder from suffering a stunning defeat on November 6 when Proposal 1— the Emergency Manager (Dictator) Law was struck down by Michigan Voters. All but six of Michigan’s 83 counties said NO to martial law.
The law allowed the governor to dispatch “Emergency Managers” (EM) to municipalities including school districts. Empowered by the law, “Managers” displaced local elected officials, revised union contracts, sold public assets, or even dissolved a city or school district altogether. The seven localities under siege by Managers are majority Black and the home of formerly behemoth industrial giants such as those in Detroit (the Big 3), Flint (General Motors), and Benton Harbor (Whirlpool).
Michigan Forward, an advocacy group of Detroit that spearheaded the drive, was joined by Stand Up for Democracy (supported by AFSCME) who led the court battles. Acting on behalf of the state, pro-EM groupings did everything they could to keep the proposal off the ballot, including challenging whether the proposal was written in the correct font size. The Michigan Board of Canvassers became the “Font police” and the Court of Appeals backed them up. It got so ugly that even the Detroit Free Press, which supports the EM law, said that the decision was “making a mockery” of the judicial system.
During the course of the year-long battle, labor groups began to retreat from the fight for Democracy when the Michigan legislature threatened to pass “Right to Work” legislation. Funds and manpower shifted to another ballot proposal for a Constitutional Amendment to guarantee the right to bargain collectively. However, the grassroots, independent groupings that had emerged against the dictatorship legislation continued to mobilize against the law. Cities like Traverse City, and Ann Arbor had their own local organizations even though their cities were not saddled with Managers themselves. Also, Republicans in areas such as Bay County amassed a network to overturn the law.
Michigan’s Mackinac Center for public policy (a statewide right-wing think tank) where the Emergency Manager law was largely cultivated and promoted, also took a huge loss. Their quest to help establish a post-industrial model without “Democracy as we know it” was soundly rejected. Not satisfied with what voters said, and refusing to take NO for an answer, the legislature vowed to reintroduce a similar bill.
In the Emergency Manager world, bondholders continue to be paid while public assets are privatized and public unions are crushed. In the end, Michigan voters could not reconcile financial crisis as a pretext for martial law. As the nation and the world watched, we did the right thing.