Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 13, 2012

Phil Power: Voters made wise calls

No doubt about it --- this year's national election was a close one, with many cross-currents surging under the surface and the vote count. We now know who won and who lost.

But more important is looking into what the wins and the losses really mean. I suggest some takeaways:

1) Michigan voters continue to be plenty sane and sensible: Despite more than $140 million in (loosely regulated and badly reported) spending, mostly on advertising designed to mess with their heads, Michiganders smacked down — by whopping majorities — all the ballot proposals. For years — going back to the days of former Gov. William Milliken (1969-83) — Michigan voters have earned the reputation of pragmatically thinking for themselves.

This election confirmed that pattern.

2) We don't like messing with our state constitution:

Proposals 2-6 all could have been put forward as citizen initiatives rather than constitutional amendments. Once their backers decided to do end runs around an (admittedly) stacked legislature and go for constitutional security, they left themselves open to the charge of trying to subvert the state constitution for largely self-interested or purely political ends. Result: All lost badly.

3) Michigan is not for sale.

How much it costs to buy a state always has been a good topic of conversation among cynics. We now know it's more than anybody spent this time around.

Whether it was Matty Moroun's $33 million-plus spent on Proposal 6 or organized labor's millions spent on collective bargaining rights, it wasn't enough. Only time will tell if somebody decides to test the price point again in the future.

4) Overreaching is always worse than a sin; it's a mistake. Despite lots of internal debate within the ranks, United Auto Workers President Bob King decided to swing for the fences on Proposal 2.

It turned out to be an expensive pop fly, and the pundits are now calling it a big loss for organized labor.

Worse, in return, some Republicans and parts of the business community now will likely follow suit in overreaching and go for passage of Right to Work legislation. This will provoke a fight to the finish that could badly harm Michigan's economic recovery.

5) "Right to Work" --- meaning the outlawing of the union shop — is the new 800-pound elephant in the room. If the legislature winds up passing RTW, Gov. Snyder will be in a box. He will be under tremendous pressure to sign such a bill, but the cost — losing his distinctive and important image as a relatively nonpartisan moderate — would be enormous. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see "Right to Work Lite" — affecting public employees only, for example — becoming steadily more popular in some Lansing circles.

6) All that said, it was a good election for Gov. Snyder.

He led opposition to the ballot proposals, Republicans kept their majority, if a diminished one, in the Michigan House of Representatives. The governor also won points with his fellow Republicans by bailing out House Speaker Jase Bolger, who barely won re-election. As a GOP strategist told me the day after the election, "What Bolger owes Snyder is the political equivalent of a blank check." He then added, "But Snyder should also remember the old adage, 'How soon they forget'."

7) Democrats are also in for some head-scratching. They didn't flip control of the House, quite possibly because they dumped a ton of money that could have been better used in trying to unseat their chief villain, Speaker Bolger. But they gained five seats to cut the Republican margin to 59-51. Should they extend a bipartisan hand to Snyder and whatever Republican moderates are still around — or should they dig in and oppose anything that comes down?

Stay tuned. We should know before long.

Phil Power is a former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent. He is founder and president of The Center for Michigan, a centrist think-and-do tank. The opinions expressed here are his own. By email at:

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