Last year, the Michigan legislature passed the Emergency Manager Act, giving near dictatorial power over selected local governements and schools systems to emergency financial managers appointed by the Governor.
A grass roots movement collected signatures to put a "referrendum veto" proposal on the ballot. The ballot proposal allows the Michigan electorate to vote No to emergency managers and in effect veto the law.
The local paper asked a spokesperson for Governor Snyder to write a column in favor of the law. I was asked to write a column in opposition.
The column had to be 400 words or less, which meant there wasn't much room for specifics. I chose to frame the issue in terms of democracy.
The column is below.
Reaffirm Democracy. Vote No on Proposal One
Politicians love to wax eloquent regarding the principles of democracy and liberty. The actual practice of these ideals, on the other hand, appears to bother many of them.
Democracy is messy. Liberty is often inconvenient. Many times we don’t get what we want. The politicians’ response? Too often they pass legislation to subvert the Bill of Rights and to undermine the American electorate.
Over the past decade, we have seen the erosion of many of our freedoms and rights. Due process, the right to privacy, and the 800 year old right of habeas corpus have been undermined. The Emergency Manager Act, passed last year and the brainchild of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is one of the most egregious examples of these autocratic laws. Don't like the government elected by the people? Appoint an Emergency Manager and simply eliminate local government. This draconian law, in essence, creates a quasi-dictatorship.
Under this law an Emergency Manager can “exercise any power or authority of any officer, employee, department, board, commission or other similar entity of the local government whether elected or appointed." Read that again and ask yourself if this is how you would define democracy. This law allows power to be stripped from local elected government bodies, permits any governmental services to be privatized, and allows employee contracts to be nullified. All this can be done without the consent of the voters.
There is a certain irony that many of those who support the EMA are allegedly in favor of smaller government and more local control. Unfortunately these supposed core values are trumped by greed and avarice, and the opportunity to make money in privatization schemes and by exploiting employees. If ALEC is involved, it is always wise to follow the money.
If the past is any indication, emergency managers will not solve the problems of financially distressed local governments. But the key questions are these. Even if this law resulted in more efficient government, even if "the trains ran on time", is it worth trading away our freedom and liberty? Despite its problems and flaws, are we not in favor of democracy?
Back in 1947 Winston Churchill stated, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried".
It's not a difficult choice. Vote for democracy and against the Emergency Manager Act. Vote No on Proposal 1.