Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

May 19, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: Pleasing voters not a priority

Once upon a time, legislators felt they had to try to give voters the laws they wanted. True, once in a great while. some took stands on principle that risked angering their constituents.

But not very often. For many years, getting re-elected meant pleasing a majority of the voters most of the time.

Today, however, there’s evidence that’s less true.

In fact, in Michigan, some lawmakers seem to be trying to openly thwart the will of the people.

Gerrymandered districts mean Republicans have solid control of both houses of the Legislature, even though a large majority of the voters chose Democratic candidates last November.

Michigan’s harsh term limits mean lawmakers have no incentive to make decisions that might help them have long legislative careers. Instead, you can serve at most six years in the House, eight in the Senate … and then you are barred from further service for life.

That means there is little institutional memory, and lawmakers increasingly rely on information from lobbyists, the one group for whom there are no term limits. There’s also little incentive to defy special-interest groups; they are, after all, a major source of employment for legislators who reach their maximum length of service.

Take former State Rep. Paul Opsommer. As chair of the House Transportation Committee, he opposed a new bridge across the Detroit River, even though the project’s biggest backer was his fellow Republican, Gov. Rick Snyder.

When term limits ended Opsommer’s legislative career in December, he took a job as a lobbyist for the bridge’s main opponent, Matty Moroun, the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge. Political payoffs are seldom that brazen.

But what may be even a bigger problem is lawmakers who actively work to give the people the opposite of what they want, with little fear of voter retaliation.

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