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Salon
Salon
25 Mar 2023
By Dennis Aftergut


NextImg:Michigan offers real hope — and a roadmap back to democracy and common sense

In the market for a bit of hope on how to return to sensible politics and public policy? Look no further than Michael Moore's home state of Michigan. 

On March 22, the state legislature passed an eight-bill gun safety package. A repeal of the state's 1931 ban on abortion has also been adopted. On March 19, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law bills protecting the rights of LGBTQ citizens.

Meanwhile, the legislature is rushing to expand election protections by instituting automatic voter registration, reinstating the voting rights of ex-felons, criminalizing the harassment of election workers and broadening access to early voting.

On March 22, the Michigan legislature also voted to repeal the state's 2012 "right to work" law in order to strengthen unions' ability to protect workers' collective bargaining leverage. Once signed by Whitmer, the bill would signal a historic turnaround, making Michigan the first state in nearly 60 years to rescind such an anti-labor law.

What accounts for this spate of progressive legislation? Last fall's election results. In the 2022 midterms, the state legislature flipped from Republican to Democratic control. As recently as 2018, Michigan's state government was under full Republican control.

It had been 40 years since Michigan Democrats last landed the "trifecta," meaning control of both houses in the state legislature as well as the governorship. Across the country, conservatives started work decades ago to get the jump on Democrats in state-level elections. In 2010, those efforts paid off on a grand scale as Republican scored historic gains in state legislative seats, giving them enormous control over congressional redistricting and thereby setting the national agenda.

Last November in Michigan, Democrats turned that around in their state, and it was largely thanks to strategic action initiated four years earlier.

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The plan was multi-pronged. It started with the passage of a 2018 initiative to institute a bipartisan redistricting commission selected by the secretary of state and the legislature. The process of adopting district maps involved at least 15 public hearings and multiple avenues for public comment. The 2022 election, with the Democrats gaining legislative majorities, was the first to be governed by a commission-created map.

Over the last three cycles, to help drive turnout, Democrats placed and passed a series of citizen-led ballot measures. In November, voters adopted the Reproductive Freedom for All initiative, which amended the state's constitution. Also on the midterm ballot was the Michigan Right to Vote initiative, which amended the state's Declaration of Rights.

You can see how those measures might get to the polls: Citizens who believe in the right to choose, and citizens concerned about ensuring the right to vote.

In addition to that crucial redistricting process and astute leveraging of hot-button issues, Democrats also ran strong candidates at the top of their ticket: Whitmer had gained a national profile during the Trump presidency and the COVID pandemic, as had Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Furthermore, Republicans cooperated by nominating extremists on their side of the ballot: election deniers and abortion foes such as gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, attorney general nominee Matthew DePerno and secretary of state nominee Kristina Karamo. Since Karamo's defeat, however, the state GOP has chosen her to run the party. Despite the dangers of the Big Lie, the electoral gift of election denialism may keep on giving.

None of this, to be sure, makes Michigan immune from extremism in other forms, including among the judiciary. A far-right federal district court in Texas may soon issue a nationwide injunction barring the distribution of the so-called abortion pill. If that happens, anger around that ruling could well remain live in 2024 and motivate voters eager to protect reproductive rights, just as the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision did in last November's midterms.

The point is this: Since bad news never takes time off, it's crucial to make full use of the silver linings that accompany clouds.

Michigan citizens who believe in good government and progressive policy did exactly that. Not content to lament decades of conservative government control, they dried their eyes, organized and fought. Now they are reaping real benefits.

Read more

from Salon on politics in the Mitten State