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(Reposted from Working America's Main Street Blog)

Conservatives who rail against “small government” ought to take a look at what the Republican Party of Michigan has been up to this past year. Allowing dictatorial “Emergency Financial Managers” to override the decisions of local governments – including invalidating union contracts - seems very much like “big government” to me.

In addition to attacking local democracy, the state of Michigan has been particularly brutal in its treatment of teachers. This is just the latest:

Michigan educators could face a year in prison for conducting union or political business over public school e-mail servers under a bill advancing in Lansing.

State House Bill 4052 was reported out of committee last week, and would prohibit a public employee from using public e-mail for political campaigning, union activities, union recruitment, and fundraising.

Violators could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, which would carry a fine of up to $1,000, up to one year in prison or both in the bill's amended version.

Organizations found guilty would face up to a $10,000 fine.

If you’re a Michigan teacher and you’re thinking about the possible passage of this bill, there are probably many thoughts running through your head. Who gets to decide what counts as political campaigning? Is the mere mention of a union, or a union meeting, grounds for a conviction? Is there something in my account right now that could get me thrown in jail?

Putting aside the free speech issue for a second - what teachers don’t need is another distraction. Michigan legislators should be giving teachers the tools, resources, and autonomy they need to effectively educate students, not playing “Big Brother” on their email accounts.

But more importantly, putting someone in jail for expressing a political opinion isn’t something that should happen in the United States. Period. Not to mention that these same legislators spent all of 2010 railing against “big government” and the imagined “government takeovers” of various parts of their lives.

Michigan teachers don’t need to imagine government intrusion. From the prospect of their contract being revoked by an EFM to the possibility of imprisonment for writing an email, the very real government intrusion into their livelihoods is upon them.

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