By George Weeks
---- — Before Gov. Rick Snyder's abrupt flip-flop last week on legislation to make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state in the nation, he said it was too divisive an issue for it to be "on my agenda." Now that it is high-profile on his agenda, just how divisive it is has became quickly apparent in a state that is a cradle of the union movement.
State House Democratic Leader-elect Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills swiftly said his members "are voting no on virtually all bills because of the toxic environment created by extremist politicians pushing right-to-work bills at the 11th hour." That's about as divisive, and irresponsible, as it gets.
Hundreds of union members then stormed into the Capitol — mirroring what happened earlier in Wisconsin in protest of Republican Gov. Scott Walker on a collective bargaining issue. More massive Lansing protests were in the works as of this writing.
The Michigan Democratic Party said House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, "have taken the unprecedented and shameful step of closing the Capitol building to Michigan citizens, pepper-spraying and arresting people who are attempting to exercise their right to free speech." However, exercising free speech does not include disrupting legislative sessions.
Democratic State Chairman Mark Brewer said, "The Tea Party takeover of the Michigan GOP is officially complete. Snyder, Bolger and Richardville have shown they are nothing more than puppets of Dick DeVos" — former Amway boss and GOP nominee for governor against Jennifer Granholm.
Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who may well run for governor, said in a statement: "we need to begin the fight today to take back the Governor's office and the State Senate ad House so that the people have a voice in our Government again. "¦ I'm ready to fight and I hope you'll be right my side on Tuesday (when a final vote is scheduled) and beyond as we reclaim our Capitol for the people whose voices the Governor tried to silence."
One of the most historically interesting statements on the dispute came from 15-term U.S. Rep Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, and 1964-70 state senator, who called to remind me of his past role on the issue and to contend that Snyder's "radicalization is dangerous for the state."
Levin was the 1970 and 1974 Democratic nominee against 1969-82 Gov. William G. Milliken, who said Saturday that Snyder's new stance on right-to-work "stirs up a very divisive issue at a time when we've have so many more immediate difficult issues. I regret the issue has come up at this time. I have a genuine concern that this will provoke even more divisive reaction."
Levin recalled that in 1965, as chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, he authored what he called "the nation's first comprehensive public employment labor relations bill" and said legislation sought by Snyder "turns back the clock" on that legislation signed by Gov. George Romney, which "passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis." In a Dec. 6 statement from his office, Levin, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, said: "Before Governor Snyder and Republican legislators totally unravel the fabric of labor relations in Michigan on a path of blind partisanship, they should realize that the structure of collective bargaining for the private and public sector was crafted on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis." Levin's brother, Sen. Carl Levin, also weighed in, urging "Governor Snyder to reconsider his support for this measure, which will splinter our state and do so much harm for its working families." Snyder, who reframed the issue as "freedom-to-work" and was well aware that his action would get the kind of Democratic action ad cited above, emphasized that he supports collective bargaining and said at his announcement with Richardville and Bolger:
"We respect the fact that the freedom-to-work issue evokes strong emotions among supporters and opponents. That's why we've focused on other reforms that are so critical to Michigan's turnaround. But with this issue now on the table, it's time to embrace the benefits that come with giving working men and women the freedom they deserve. The values of freedom, fairness and equality in the workplace should unite us all. And as states fiercely compete for jobs, this legislation will ensure that investors know Michigan is the place to do business." Snyder says Michigan now "is poised to restore workplace fairness and equality for all workers." Snyder's conversion was hailed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and others, including the Michigan Center for Public Policy, which said, "right-to-work does not affect collective bargaining in any way except to take away union's ability to fire workers for not paying them." In November, I wrote that Snyder, who campaigned as One Tough Nerd, functions as One Smart Governor. I would not include his latest move as smart.