This Would be a Great Democracy if it Wasn’t for all the Voters.

by kara on January 18, 2019


It’s all fun and games until voters start voting.

How do Republicans respond to losing at the ballot? By stripping power from the state’s voters in an all out lame duck assault, that’s how.

Following the 2018 midterms, Republicans in several states decided that the problem with American democracy is that it allows for too much democracy, so to protect states from voters with bad ideas like popular sovereignty, they’re pursuing measures that would make it much harder for voter initiatives to ever get on the ballot. After all, this fall’s elections resulted in a whole bunch of voters stupidly electing Democrats, leaving Republicans to fix that in lame-duck sessions aimed at stripping power from the incoming Dems. And since voters in red states passed initiatives that clearly defied Republican wishes, then for the sake of good government, it’s time to knock that shit off, too.

All in all, Nov. 6 was a pretty good day for Michigan Democrats, who will enter office with a mandate for change after receiving the strong backing of the state’s voters. Democrats swept every one of their elected state executive offices, and voters passed progressive ballot measures by wide margins. Michigan’s Republicans have other plans, though. Just weeks after voters resoundingly rejected the GOP agenda in Michigan, the party brazenly attempted to steal power from incoming Democrats and pass a stunning wave of right-wing legislation during the states’ lame-duck legislative sessions.

Petition gatherers in Michigan collected sufficient signatures to place 3 proposals on the statewide ballot:

    1. to legalize marijuana
    2. to reform partisan gerrymandering
    3.  to expand ballot access 

All three of those proposals were opposed by the GOP, meaning they stood virtually no chance of being enacted by Michigan’s Republican-dominated Legislature (the body is so deeply in the hands of the GOP thanks in large part to an egregiously gerrymandered map). But each of the proposals proved extraordinarily popular among “the people”/Michigan voters. In November, all three were approved by overwhelming majorities.

Stung by the rebukes at the polls, outgoing Republican legislators scurried like rats to enact a bunch of bills meant to limit Democrat’s authority. The Michigan lege also took urgently needed action to make sure mere majorities don’t start thinking they deserve to make laws,

When initiatives to raise the minimum wage and guarantee sick leave got enough signatures to make it onto the ballot, the lege instead passed its own version of the laws, making the initiatives redundant and removing them from the ballot. Then after the election, Republicans in the lame-duck legislature simply gutted those laws by a simple majority. Isn’t that smart? Under Michigan law, overturning an initiative the voters had passed would have required a three-fourths majority, so that two-step trick by the R’s sure did short-circuit that silly “will of the people” nonsense. The founders surely had such ingenious fuckery in mind when they wisely instituted representative democracy, so the people could rest easy that Republicans in carefully gerrymandered districts would do the right thing for Republicans in carefully gerrymandered districts.

Thankfully, many of their attempts failed. A bill that would have eliminated the secretary of state’s campaign finance oversight died in the state House. Outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill that would have curbed the attorney general’s litigation authority.

They successfully enacted something called HB 6595, which would curtail Michiganders’ ability to directly adopt future laws. The law significantly reallocated the state’s constitutional division of authority—by stripping power from the people,  severely curtailing direct democracy in Michigan. It disproportionately disenfranchises minority voters.

Signed by Governor Rick Snyder just before he left office, HB 6595 contains several provisions that make it harder to gather signatures that would qualify a proposal for the ballot. But most egregious—and most unconstitutional—is a provision that says no more than 15 percent of the signatures collected can be from any single congressional district.

It is a brilliant way to make sure initiative backers can’t get too much support from Urbans, because what do those people know about making laws? Instead, petitioners will now have to get the same final tally of signatures from much more sparsely-populated districts. Oh sure, that means far higher cost and difficulty getting signatures in rural areas, but it means Detroit and Lansing and Ann Arbor will no longer be able to get stuff on the ballot merely because large numbers of people live there. As Snyder explained in a masterful bit of bullshit, the measure will “promote geographic diversity” by making rural voters count more than urban voters.

Over 4 million Michigan voters cast ballots in November’s gubernatorial election. Thus, in order to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot, proponents will have to collect 10 percent of that number: about 425,000 valid signatures. The easiest way to collect that many signatures is to concentrate efforts in areas with higher-density populations (and bustling city centers). In Michigan, though, only a few congressional districts fit that bill. HB 6595’s 15 percent-per-district cap would thus require proposal proponents to inefficiently expend effort in districts where homes are farther between and voters much harder to reach. That would dramatically increase the money needed, and the logistical difficulty of collecting signatures. And that, in turn, would mean that only the uber rich could place a question on the ballot—turning a process meant to benefit “the people” into just another tool reserved for fatcats and robber barons.

Supporters of HB 6595 claim that it’s a good-governance bill, meant to ensure that Michiganders from across the state get their say in any ballot question. That is total bullshit. Once a question qualifies for the ballot, every registered Michigan voter already gets a chance to vote on it. Ratcheting up the difficulty in collecting signatures doesn’t empower any voters, rural or urban. To the contrary, it makes it less likely that any voter will ever get a chance to vote on any given ballot question.

To make matters worse, HB 6595 has severely disproportionate racial effects. Michigan’s black population is heavily concentrated in two congressional districts in and around Detroit: District 13 (which is 56 percent made up of black voters), and District 14 (which is 58 percent made up of black voters). None of Michigan’s 12 remaining districts has anywhere close to that level of black residents. Thus, if HB 6595 is put into effect, black voters would be disproportionately affected, and ballot questions with strong support in the black community would be hamstrung as signature gatherers would be prohibited from gathering “too many” signatures in Michigan’s only two majority-minority districts.

Fortunately, HB 6595 obviously and blatantly violates Michigan’s constitution, which provides that any registered voter may sign a ballot-question petition. Nothing in the constitution hints that a voter’s right to sign a petition depends on how many of her neighbors have signed. Nor does the constitution say that the Legislature can add restrictions to the constitution’s minimal signature requirements. Ballot questions exist so that “the people“ can circumvent the Legislature and enact laws on their own accord. If that same Legislature were allowed to impose onerous signature requirements, it could choke out what little lawmaking authority “the people” reserved for themselves. That is inconsistent with the concept of direct democracy. Toward that end, the Michigan Supreme Court long ago held that “the legislature may not act to impose additional obligations” on ballot-question petitions. Hence, there is a good chance Michigan’s judiciary will invalidate HB 6595. At best, though, the law will provoke a lengthy, expensive court fight, during which there will be significant uncertainty as to which rules govern ballot initiatives. And if HB 6595 isn’t struck down, it will gut Michigan’s proud tradition of direct democracy.

Among other moves, Republicans approved unpopular plans for an oil pipeline through the Great Lakes, voted to gut environmental protections in the face of a new water crisis, passed a bill that limits abortion access, and acted to protect their dark money donors’ identities. If the extent of the villainy seems downright cartoonish, it’s worth noting that the state GOP also took the Montgomery Burns–level step of loosening regulations on puppy mills.

Over in Wisconsin, the move to punish Democratic victors underscores a sinister philosophy that’s been brewing for years. Wisconsin had its own far-reaching power grab by a lame-duck Republican lege with an impressive effort to bypass the will of the voters. Wisconsin’s state House Speaker Robin Vos Robin Vos actually said during that state’s lame duck session:

““If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority,” he said. “We would have all five constitutional officers and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.”

Right. Which is why Republicans deserve to make all the rules. Just eliminate the places where the people live, and the REAL majority becomes clear.

You know, if you took Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming out of the election of n formula, the South would have a clear majority.

The idea that you could remove the state’s major population centers and still have an acceptably democratic result is a reasoning that gets to the heart of the matter. It’s not just that Democrats are poised to undo gains made under Walker’s administration, but that Democrats themselves are illegitimate because of who they represent. Vos isn’t saying that Republicans should do better in Madison and Milwaukee, he’s saying that the state’s major cities shouldn’t count. And if they do count, says Fitzgerald, they don’t count the same way.

 The GOP’s understanding of who counts, and who ought to count, is tied to an urban and rural divide that encompasses divisions along race, economic class, education, and ideology. In The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness and the Rise of Scott Walker, Katherine Cramer, a political scientist at the U of Wisconsin–Madison, shows how the state’s politics have been shaped by a rural sense of “distributive injustice—a sense that rural folks don’t get their fair share.”

“(Their) sense of identity as people from a place that was disadvantaged economically coexisted with the perception that wherever their hard-earned money was going, it was not coming to them. It seemed instead to be going, in part, to bloated government programs and overpaid and underworked public employees.”

It’s impossible to separate these views from racist attitudes and assumptions embedded in the ideologies and identities that shape white Americans everywhere. But that’s particularly true of Wisconsin, which is “extremely racially segregated” with just 29 percent of its black population residing outside of Milwaukee and Madison. Even these two cities are highly segregated—the Milwaukee metro area is among the racially segregated in the country.  The Wisconsin Republican Party’s legislative coup is happening in a political environment shaped and polarized by these divisions and resentments. Eight years of hyper-partisanship, premised on a belief in the illegitimacy of the opposition, has culminated in a so-far successful effort to rob that opposition of its ability to exercise power now that it has claimed the reins of governance.

The broader implications are clear. The nation at large is wracked by a rural and urban divide that encompasses deep divisions along race, culture, and education. Increasingly polarized along partisan identity, those divides have helped produce a Republican Party—led by Donald Trump—that sees its opposition as illegitimate and seeks to restrict its influence on the nation’s politics and governance.

Indeed, Scott Walker’s climb to the governor’s mansion, and his eight years in office, are marked by skillful use of rural consciousness, weaponizing resentments against urban liberals and racial minorities. As Cramer puts it, paraphrasing her conversations with voters across the state,

“To people who perceived that public employee benefits came directly from their own pockets … Walker’s proposals were a victory for small-town Wisconsinites like themselves.”

But, you know, “if California didn’t exist then Trump would have won the popular vote.” And if Los Angeles and San Fransicso didn’t exist, California would be Republican”. Well, if it weren’t for LA and SF, the state of California would be nothing more than Iowa. “If it weren’t for where most of the people live, the minority would have power”?

How dare they? They’re just like the stereotypical uptight asshole parent from the 1960s, rage-filled at the insubordination of their grown offspring because they have their own opinions, or wear mini skirts. Wheels turn, daddy-o. Pendulums swing. And once in awhile, humans become more enlightened. Shhhh, do you hear it? The 100th Monkey is about to have its say.

Large liberal cities should secede from red states. Let the rural folks try to pay for anything then without their main tax base


What they want to do is tip the scales in the rural/urban fight. For some reason they idolize “rural values” and ignore the fact that cities are literally where culture and education are concentrated. But they don’t idolize culture and education. We idolize down home folksiness or some shit. We cater to people who base their entire worldview on their imaginary friend.

These ideas and tactics are all spewing at lightning speed out of the assholes of various Koch (and other creepy megalomaniac billionaire) think tanks and dirty ops apparatuses. Who else thinks that creepy old men of the Oil Billionaires’ Internationale (the tie that binds the fossil fuel oligarchs of Russia to those of the US, Australia, and ol’ Saudi Arabia) are making an all-in global effort to take down democracy, period, all of it, the whole shootin’ match, mostly just because they can? The whole Newt Gingrich, Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon, religious right, Republican Party, Rupert Murdoch, Mitch McConnell, white supremacist, Gavin McInnes, crazy-ass boiling of the last few decades has been funded and promulgated by these SOBs, the crew that Jane Mayer describes as “dark money,” and we’re in real trouble here, because we’re at the end stage of this strategy, not the beginning. I’m not sure what (if any) weapons the scattered and demoralized forces of democracy have with which to push back, but we’d might as well use anything and everything we can think of, because this shit is serious.

When Ohio (another heavily gerrymandered state with a Republican majority), voters passed an initiative that would make it harder for the legislature to draw gerrymandered districts,  the Rs took swift action to ensure good Republican governance:

[T]he Republican-controlled Legislature introduced a bill that would require 60 percent support from voters to change the state’s constitution, rather than a simple majority. It also states that signatures gathered for a citizen-led initiative are valid for only 180 days—previously, they didn’t expire—and must be submitted by the beginning of April before a November election, instead of July. That would force signature drives to take place during the frigid winter months in Ohio, when it’s toughest for groups to organize.

The gambit failed to pass in the lame-duck session, but the Rethuglicans are vowing to bring it back in the regular session to prevent too much democracy from limiting the God-given right of Republicans to engineer legislative majorities, because democracy is bad for freedom.

In Missouri, where dumb majorities of voters voted for dumb constitutional amendments allowing medical marijuana, raising the minimum wage, repealing a “right to work” law passed by Republicans, limiting the ability to gerrymander, and imposing dumb intrusive “ethics rules” on the legislature, Republicans are smoking mad, and decided to make such amendments a lot harder. Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, is all for it, because sometimes people vote wrong and that shouldn’t be allowed:

“Fundamentally, you think when the people vote you shouldn’t be changing that vote,” Parson said. “But the reality of it is that is somewhat what your job is sometimes, if you know something’s unconstitutional, if you know some of it’s not right.”

Parson also indicated he would back efforts to restrict the ability to place any new questions on the ballot.

Can anyone remind me how the “forgotten” who voted for Trump were ever actually, you know, forgotten? Cause it seems to me they have been pandered to every fucking minute of every single day for years.

Another supporter of not letting the people interfere too much in their own governance, Dan Meehan, head of the Missouri state Chamber of Commerce and Industry, offered this beautiful doublespeak about making voter initiatives harder:

“We’re not at all denying the ability to do it […] But we just want to make sure we’re approaching it in a proper way.”

Like, by building in a permanent Republican majority, which the people really want as long as you talk to the right people. Backers of the Missouri proposals also want to demand “geographic diversity,” because obviously it’s too damn easy to get initiatives on the ballot where a lot of fools might be tempted to vote for ’em:

To put a statutory change on the ballot, petitioners must now gather signatures of 5 percent of registered voters in six of eight congressional districts. To modify the constitution, signatures from 8 percent of voters in six districts is required.

Clearly, they should force petition drives to meet those minimums in all eight congressional districts, because then the process would “be a truly statewide effort,” as Meehan put it. And again, those awful Urbans wouldn’t get to unfairly win simply because they have greater numbers. Besides, big liberal groups have spent money on ad campaigns supporting liberal initiatives, and how is THAT even fair?

Next up on the Republican agenda: Circumventing that pesky Thirteenth Amendment by instituting “Involuntary Employment”.

As Mother Jones notes, the drive to roll back and limit initiatives has some awfully familiar players: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is helping with model laws, and the Republican State Leadership Committee are both involved. Hooray for national help for plucky little groups funded by gigantic corporations!

I kind of wish I knew at what point in their lives conservatives become so comfortable with the idea that the ability to vote can and should be restricted if [x] conditions are met. Particularly when x is basically whatever they feel like it should be.

Surely they can somehow fend off all this damned popular voting.

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