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Plans for Big Demonstrations - so what?

by: Grebner

Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 02:22:24 AM EST

Everywhere a liberal / Democrat / progressive looks, you see evidence of seething anger at Governor Snyder and his allies.  Planning for demonstrations has put holiday preparations on hold in thousands of Michigan households. The legislature - none too functional on its best days - has reached new depths of snakepitness.  And soon there will be lawsuits, and appeals, and ever so many letters to the editor.

Let's take a few steps back and think about the bigger picture, shall we?

The hard fact is this is a Democratic state with a Republican government.  We take a majority of the statewide votes in almost every election, but we don't control a damn thing.  Not the governorship, the legislature, the courts, not even the A.G. or Secretary of State.  In this great poker game, we've been dealt objectively better cards, and they win almost every hand.  If this were strip poker, they'd be looking up "Good Will" on their smart phone, to see about donating our clothing.

Grebner :: Plans for Big Demonstrations - so what?

But my purpose here isn't to bemoan our failures, but to point out that we're FAILING AGAIN.  Instead of devoting our attention to making realistic plans to dig our way out of our hole, we seem to be completely fixated on standing in it and screaming curses at the guy who pushed us in.  Our cursing doesn't bother him; in fact, it makes him confident that we have no idea how to escape.

No demonstration at the Capitol is going to get them to discard Right-to-Work.  No legislative maneuvering by our tiny contingent is going to slow it down.  I may be mistaken, but I don't think any legal action in a state court is going to do any lasting good either.  (It's conceivable Federal court may offer a better chance.)  The only reason all these approaches are being taken up so loudly is that they're so obvious; not because they make any sense.  And the people who have been playing our cards prefer ideas that are obvious, without much concern for effectiveness.

Running Virg for governor was a real mistake.  Even if we couldn't win the main office, a stronger candidate at the top would have protected a number of senate and house seats - and we now see the Republicans don't have many to spare.  It would have been helpful to run an effective Coordinated Campaign, instead of relying on bloviation as a principal strategy.  Framing our ballot questions so they were less subject to attack would have helped. It would have been nice if we had a plan for the 2010 reapportionment other than throwing a series of Hail Mary passes way downfield - and maybe we should have started in 2004.

Instead, we are howling at the moon, and the moon is smiling back at us. 

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Protests can be meaningless, and they can also be helpful.  It was at protests that Wisconsin Dems got a helluva lot of their signatures to recall Scott Walker.  Admittedly, that was a fools errand (besides them temporarily winning back their state senate) in the long run, but they'd have not even got that far were it not for the massive protests that were often accompanied by massive voter organization.  

Just because the screaming protestors get all the media doesn't mean that there is nothing else going on at these things.  People are collecting information, organizing, and networking these things in addition to symbolic shows of force.  You better believe, for instance, that Gretchen Whitmer's people are going to be working her ass off to sign people up to her mailing list for what seems like an inevitable gubernatorial run.

With these being just before the holidays, I expect this protest to be largely symbolic sense most folks don't have the money or time, this month, to stick around (probably part of the Republicans' plan for ramming it through in the lame-duck, or at least the cherry on top), but it doesn't mean that this thing has to be a complete practical waste.

Protests have to be sustained
The Wisconsin protests only worked because they were sustained. Media reported on them, they weren't a flash in the pan.

I'm not as sure as Grebner that running Virg was the underlying mistake. Rather, I agree the problem was a poor coordinated campaign. We could have had an outstanding SoS.

Also a poor long term effort, and a poor response to redistricting in 2000 and 2010....

All capped off by the ridiculous RMGN ballot proposal!

So, Grebner, what the "realistic plans"?

[ Parent ]
Running Virg was a symptom, not the cause
Remember when John Cherry spent all of 2009 lining up endorsements and contributors for his "inevitable" run for Governor in 2010?

THAT was the "stronger candidate" Democrats needed to run. Cherry probably wouldn't have won either, but he sure as heck would have helped downballot -- and right now we'd have the SoS, a 4-3 Supreme Court majority and enough Senators to do meaningful things like filibusters.

But Lt. Gov. Cherry wanted one other thing before he committed -- for President Obama to appoint Gov. Jennifer Granholm to something so he could run as the incumbent Governor.

When 2010 dawned with Granholm still Governor, Cherry bailed -- nevermind how much disarray he left behind.

After that, the MDP was forced to go with the candidates they had -- Virg Bernero and Andy Dillon. Dillon was a DINO corporatist and incompetent House Speaker who couldn't work with Granholm and led us into two state government shutdowns. By comparison, Virg had solid ties to the party base, and his passion (or anger) was seen as a counter to the vitriol coming from the Tea Party.

As I've said before, both Dillon and Bernero were defeated by Rick Snyder: Dillon lost his base (Catholics, "centrists" and independents) to Snyder in the open August primary, allowing Bernero to win, and then Snyder proceeded to crush Bernero in the head-to-head November matchup.

"The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity." ~ Harlan Ellison

[ Parent ]
Dillon would have been a disaster
I had no idea Cherry was so egotistical. I assumed that he didn't run because he wasn't a good candidate and didn't garner enough support. Hadn't realized he left because he didn't get his way....

But Dillon would have had no coattails. Nobody wanted to run with him on the ticket.

As to centrists and independents, I even know otherwise regular Democrats who supported Snyder. I never understood why.

Still, I blame the lack of a good coordinated campaign, not Virg himself.

Anyway, this discussion doesn't get us any closer to the strategy and tactics for this particular problem: what are the "realistic plans"?

[ Parent ]
For advice consult Martin Luther King
Whatever the critique of running Virg, the coordinated campaign, the idea that protest is ineffective and a waste of time is just wrong.  If that's the only thing we do, and it's not part of a larger strategy, then it's less useful as an organizing tool.  

Better - consult Alinsky
King didn't survive to see a day that demonstrations became routine and fell within the normal expectation of government.  Alinsky did.  And by 1970, realizing that people were re-enacting past tactics mainly because they were comfortable, and let people feel like they were DOING something, he began moving away from their routine use.

"Always act outside the expectations of the oppressor" was his maxim.  These days, there can't be a more stereotyped, or less effective, method of influencing legislation.

[ Parent ]
I'll give you half a point
I don't think that protests in general will influence this vote. I said as much in an early post. But I don't agree with the idea that tens of thousands of people descending on Lansing won't have any influence on the politicians. For the protesters, it's the first step in getting them energized and organized. Do Labor and the Dems have the capacity to turn these people into a machine that can steamroll the Republicans in 2014? Maybe, maybe not. But a massive protest would be a way to energize a lot of people inside and outside of Lansing to get them ready to do the hard work that needs to happen to take back the Governor's office and the Legislature.  

[ Parent ]
Consulting Alinsky
OK. It's been 30 years since you loaned me Alinsky. What do you recommend?

I'm thinking that the unions redefine themselves as mutual benefit organizations (if they aren't already). If you don't pay your membership dues, then you lose your benefits -- all of them, just like not paying your life insurance premium.

That could solve the pension underpayment problem. Any folks who failed to keep up their membership payments lose their entire pensions! (And I wouldn't count the representation fee as a membership fee.)

[ Parent ]
I'm not recommending anything - at least nothing new.
Alinsky would have warned that doing something because it feels good is generally a mistake.  He'd have called things by their names, and not allowed myth-worship to replace calculation.  And he'd have urged everybody to focus on the goal, and work back from that to strategy and tactics.

My prescriptions - none of them the least bit new - include registering and turning out our votes, recruiting and supporting solid candidates, and working together with our allies rather than inventing or nurturing grievances.  The present battle was lost at least as far back as 2010, and the fact we're only noticing it now doesn't mean that now is the time to prevent it.

Finally, I'd say 2014 looms large, and if we spend the next 20 months screaming and making idle threats, we won't be in any better position than we are now.

[ Parent ]
Grebner is right
Perhaps the most discouraging thing about the MDP since 2010 how we totally failed at building a better GOTV machine. 2012 was when we needed to take the house, and we didn't, despite coming closer. We failed at getting a Supreme Court majority, despite having Stabenow and Obama leading the top of the ticket. I can't think of any campaigns that did innovative GOTV in Michigan this past cycle let me know.

2014 we'll have some good top of the ticket candidates, but right now I don't see anyone thinking about what senate races we need to focus on to get our margin back up. People in our party essentially don't understand the new map, as some posters (in other posts) were saying that they were going after various candidates who don't even live in the areas they used to represent (see Schuitmaker, Toyna). There are some Senate seats in 2014 that we have no excuse not to win. In west Michigan, Districts 20 and 34 both got more democratic in the recent round of redistricting, and we can't get a majority unless we win these seats. District 29 was made more republican (2%), so it is more of a stretch. Randy Richardville in District 17 is term-limited and is in a toss up seat, as is Roger Kahn in District 32. Finally Districts 36 and 38 are toss up seats that will have two right-wing GOP senators that can be beaten if we turn out in 2014.

That being said, I can't see anything better than a 19-19 tie in 2014. Perhaps the best thing would be to push for a ballot initiative in the 2016 cycle that would have non-partisan redistricting occur after the election with new districts in place for 2018 and 2020 elections. Then, ever ten years redistricting would be done by this commission, as opposed to the legislature. In a presidential year I could easily see this passing, and I'd be optimistic that we could take both chambers in 2018.

That being said, the weakness of the MDP explains in part why the Dems haven't won the Senate since 1982. Yelling about RTW for one day tomorrow is nice, but doesn't change the fact we need a long-term and coherent voter turnout strategy solve the long-term problem.

It's much broader than the MDP.
Consider these obvious points:

1) Michigan voters aren't especially hostile to abortion, but our state has nearly the strongest anti-abortion laws and policies in the country.

2) Michigan voters are reasonably pro-gay, but our constitution not only outlaws civil unions, but has been stretched to forbid even the mildest and most neutral forms of domestic partner benefits.

3) Michigan is no more pro-gun than thirty states in the south and west, but our local gun lunatics have so completely succeeded in adopting their agenda into state law that the only issues they can invent are their "right" to carry guns in parks, libraries, and hospitals.  ("SIR!  This is a LIBRARY!  Please use a silencer!")

4) And of course, Michigan is nearly the most heavily unionized state in the country, and we've just lost the battle over RTW - in contrast to Missouri, Montana, or New Hampshire.

We should stop focusing on the specific steps, and realize that the other side is playing a better game than we are.  And that's not due solely to the relative skills, but to the institutional motivation of the two sides.  

Their side plays to win.  Our side indulges its fantasies and personal agendas.  That's not 100% true - just think about the bizarre squabble in the Republican primary that allowed The Nerd to win with a weak plurality - but it's damn close.  And as long as our side doesn't really care about winning, our victories are mere accidents.

[ Parent ]
It's not just MDP but
they are the unifying force and if they don't step up, no other organization is going to be able to fill that void. It gets back to past debates about Mark Brewer. I know some don't want to look backwards but unless you realize he's part of the problem, you're not going to realize that change is going to be required to succeed going forward.  

[ Parent ]
The problem in my opinion
Is that the extremists can dominate Rep primaries in most cases, but Republican voters and Republican-leaning independents aren't willing to desert the party when they nominate extremists. And Dem candidates are complicit in this, because in my experience they're not willing to call out the wingnutism of the wingnuts.

Dems seem to cower in fear that if they stand up for what they really believe they'll lose the vote of a hypothetical blue-collar voter who just really, really, hates fags, or believes every sperm is sacred, or insists on his right to pack heat in church.

[ Parent ]
When I was talking of targeting Schuitmaker, that was in the context of a recall, which would be held under the old district lines. I wasn't giving an opinion regarding the prospects for the senate in '14.

Now that that's out of the way, I agree with you that 19 or in an absolute miracle election 20 seats is about the max the Dems can hope for. More likely would be 15 or 16, in my opinion. As always in these things, it comes down to targeting of the right seats, candidate selection, party support, and GOTV. And as far as I can see the MDP is just terrible at GOTV.

In my opinion, the seats to target would be, in order, 34, 20, 38, 32, 29, 31, 17, 33, and 24.

Finally, I agree completely that there needs to be an initiative to create a redistricting commission with the instruction to maximize the number of seats that are hypothetically winnable by either party while ignoring the residences of incumbents and county lines. It matters how these things are drafted. If a commission felt bound by the old custom of following county lines, I'm guessing we'd end up with at best a mild Rep gerrymander rather than the extreme ones we've got.

[ Parent ]
Well, Yeah, Maybe
Well, Mark, planning to dig out of the hole should have started in 1983. The year two Democratic state senators were recalled from office in response to their support of then Governor James Blanchard's push to increase the Michigan income tax. That was the last time the Democrats controlled the state senate.

Since that time, and before, the party has bumbled its way in grooming candidates for office, especially for governor (Who can remember, from memory, the Democratic candidate who lost to Fieger in the primary?) While running Virg might have been a real mistake, who else was there?

Ultimately the court challenges will fail, both in state and Federal courts. Recalls may remove a handful of legislators who voted in favor of RTW, but, in order to repeal the bill, and to protect the labor movement, the Democratic party will have to gain BOTH houses in the legislature AND the governor's office. Or, in an improbable universe, a veto proof legislature.

So how to do it? The only way out of this mess is to make re-apportionment somehow more "fair" and taken out of the hands of the political party that controls the capitol.  Joyceln Benson has started looking into the issue, but the party and labor that haven't shown an interest.

An alternative would eliminate the Michigan senate - an institution that serves no real purpose. Unlike the Federal constitution, there is no "natural" constituency for it to protect. (Although the UAW attempted this, and far more, in an ill-conceived attempt at constitutional "reform" four years ago, it failed. Having spent $2 - $3 million to collect signatures only to have the courts block it because it failed to conform to the constitutional amendment requirements. How much of that money could have gone to keeping the Michigan house or regaining the Michigan supreme court)?

Who lost to Fieger in the primary?
Too easy:  Doug Ross and Larry Owen.

[ Parent ]
Going back to the beginning of recorded time doesn't help.
We've made mistakes; so have the Republicans.  Nobody's play is perfect, when viewed in retrospect.  Let's put that aside.

The problem is that TODAY we're playing the game badly, and the fixation on playing out all the losing moves to the bitter end is a clear sign that we're still suckers.

The Republicans haven't played perfectly - note the absurdity of Hoekstra's US Senate campaign - but they play the game better than we do most of the time.

I've given a bunch of examples above, but let's recall another one:  of 26 state house races which were decided by less than 10%, the Republicans won 21 to our 5.  If you understand campaign targeting, the fact that we lose an overwhelming share of close races (the same pattern held in 2008 and 2010, so it wasn't a fluke) is powerful evidence that the other side is deploying their resources more effectively than we are.

The Obama campaign - in targeted states - did a GREAT job of focusing on things that mattered, and letting the things that didn't matter take care of themselves.  If Michigan had truly been a battleground state, we might have learned from seeing it up-close, but we unfortunately missed the chance.

Right now, we should mainly be thinking about 1) redistricting, 2) voting reform, and 3) fixing RTW through a ballot proposal.  

Today, the public is on our side.  If we spend the next month milling around the Capitol, shouting slogans, the only thing we'll accomplish will be to dissipate some of that advantage.

[ Parent ]

You miss my initial point, where you assign "mistakes" I assign "habit." Hence my reference to 1983 and then Fieger. Making a mathematical error in your checkbook is a "mistake," never balancing your checkbook is a "habit." Both need to be addressed.

To address your second point, Democrats have not worked the state house races because the party was AWOL, with its efforts focused on the state supreme court and referenda.

The Obama campaign, together with its database, ran an efficient campaign, but with almost none of the nuances of the database or software fully explained or implemented to help state or local Democratic candidates. Coattails and grassroots.

This agrees with your complaint that the party and labor have all too often sought the Hail Mary Pass solutions, like Prop 2 and winning the supreme court.

I agree with your proposed action plans concerning redistricting reform and voting reform with carefully worded and framed proposals. Personally, I don't want to "fix" RTW, I'd like it eviscerated.


[ Parent ]
Ballot proposal
Any reason that an initiative that undoes what was just passed through a new statute wouldn't work? It's not perfect because the Legislature gets involved at some point in the process but it's far easier than taking back a majority in the House and the Senate and the Governor's office all in one election.  

[ Parent ]
Yes an initiative will work, and that's the alternative at this point. I'd give the Dems decent odds of taking the governorship (depending on the candidate of course), maybe 50-50 of taking the house, something less than 50-50 of taking the senate.

The only involvement of the legislature in an initiative petition is they have to vote on the unamended language of the petition. So the petition goes to the legislature, they vote No, and it goes on the 2014 ballot. But the good news is if the proposal passes, the resulting statute is only amendable subsequently by either a new vote of the people or a 3/4 vote of both houses of the legislature.

[ Parent ]
Strike while the iron is hot
If the Dems and Labor are smart, they'll get a petition drafted and circulated ASAP. I know it's a pain in the butt in the winter but between labor, teachers and the other labor groups, it should be no problem to get the number of signatures needed.  

[ Parent ]
Not So Sure
It depends on the initiative, constitutional amendment or statutory referendum. Spending bills cannot face referendum and the "freeloader" bills have spending appropriations attached.  

And note, that UAW spent some $20 MILLION on Proposal 2.  

[ Parent ]
There are three alternatives: referendum, statutory initiative, and constitutional amendment. The referendum is off the table because of the appropriation, but the other two options are open. Under the statutory initiative, the voters would be amending or repealing specific sections of the RTW law, and the people always have that right, so long as the resulting law isn't unconstitutional. In that case the appropriation is irrelevant.

As a bonus, an initiated law is only repealable or amendable by a new vote of the people or a 3/4 vote of each house of the legislature.

[ Parent ]
I thought I listed three: (1) Initiative, (2) constitutional amendment and (3) referendum.

NO matter. But still not sure that an initiative can "amend" the RTW legislation. First part of the constitutional language dealing with initiative or referendum, below.

Even if the initiative is permissible, what if it loses? Then what?

9 Initiative and referendum; limitations; appropriations; petitions.

Sec. 9.

The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and to enact and reject laws, called the initiative, and the power to approve or reject laws enacted by the legislature, called the referendum. The power of initiative extends only to laws which the legislature may enact under this constitution. The power of referendum does not extend to acts making appropriations for state institutions or to meet deficiencies in state funds and must be invoked in the manner prescribed by law within 90 days following the final adjournment of the legislative session at which the law was enacted. To invoke the initiative or referendum, petitions signed by a number of registered electors, not less than eight percent for initiative and five percent for referendum of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor at the last preceding general election at which a governor was elected shall be required.

[ Parent ]
I guess I was unclear reading your comment. My problem not yours.

I've read through the sections on the initiative (both statutory and constitutional amendment) and referendum several times, and it looks like the only limitation on the statutory initiative is that they can only be "laws which the legislature may enact under this constitution" (i.e., they can't be unconstitutional). It's the power of referendum which cannot be applied to acts making appropriations.

So the people, through the initiative, can make laws on any topic they want, and these laws can create new sections of law, or repeal or amend old sections of law. The reason the appropriation limitation doesn't apply is that appropriations aren't part of the MCL (Michigan Compiled Laws). The RTW acts will create or amend specified sections of the MCL (in addition to making small appropriations), and it's these sections that will be undone by the initiated law.

As far as what happens if the initiative fails, we're screwed until such time as the Dems can win the governorship and both houses of the legislature.

[ Parent ]

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