Emergency Financial Managers, Emergency Manager Law — July 19, 2016 at 5:05 pm

How the media almost missed the hostile takeover of Michigan


Flint’s water, Detroit’s schools and the assault on democracy

Elected officials can:

a) call a meeting to order;
b) approve the minutes;
c) and adjourn the meeting.

That’s democracy under Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law.

Watch out. It could be coming to your state.

At this year’s Netroots Nation, Eclectablog’s Chris Savage hosted a panel on “Flint and Detroit Public Schools: Disasters for Democracy and Public Health,” which explored the consequences of Michigan’s draconian Emergency Manager laws — Public Act 4 and Public Act 436.

The poisoned water of Flint and the disgraceful conditions of Detroit’s public schools have become the two most galling examples of the costs of conservative indifference to rights and needs of poor Michiganders. These examples are so galling that you’d assume that they became national news stories on their own, especially with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow keeping her keen eye on the story.

But panelists Emily Figdor, Bishop Brenadel Jefferson, Terrence Martin and Vien Truong explained how kids drinking lead-laden water and attending mold-crusted schools don’t automatically command and sustain the national spotlight.

Frustrated Detroit teachers risked their jobs to document the filth in their schools over social media.

And media-savvy activists had to bring celebrities to Flint to keep the pressure on Governor Snyder after his administration did everything they could to avoid accountability.

Moderating this panel created a bit of an existential crisis for Chris, who has devoted so much of his life to trying to reveal these and related injustices in our state.

“It’s soul crushing to compress five years of writing about this issue into 75 minutes of content,” he told me.

It’s a story Chris has been attempted to document since 2011 when after the Tea Party wave of 2010, the state of Michigan became a testing ground for “Shock Doctrine” politics, which exploited a severe economic crisis exacerbated by chronic cuts to cities and towns justified by tax cuts for corporations. And it’s been a difficult story to tell for years because the policies were so extreme and antithetical to the “local control” ethos conservatives claim to swear by.

At one point, more than half of all African-Americans were living under Emergency Management, as the graphic below created by the Rachel Maddow Show explains. For a while, residents of Detroit had no elected officials representing their interests whatsoever.


The story is pretty simple: Building off of Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager law, Emergency Managers were granted new, broad powers that allowed them to assume control of a locality where they had unchecked power to cancel contracts, sell off resources and privatize public goods — all of which happen to be goals of the conservative five-decade long plot to destroy the institutional power of the left.

Okay, maybe it isn’t. Add into the mix the fact that Michigan voters overturned the law by ballot referendum in 2012 only to have Republicans pass a new “democracy-proof” version, as Chris calls it, which was signed into law 37 days later.

“I hope the session wasn’t too heavily ‘this is why it sucks in Michigan’ and had at least some lessons to be learned about things that we can do that are effective in fighting the things that suck,” Chris said.

Watch the event, and you’ll see definitive tactics for battling the outrage fatigue that plagues anyone opposing conservative policies in a purple state. And you’ll also see a fierce peek into the dark heart of the true Republican agenda. Emergency Manager laws are popping up in other Republican-led purple states, most tellingly in Atlantic City, where Donald Trump walked away with millions, leaving the city starved for jobs and democracy.


  • raypc800

    It is amazing after all of the crappy deals the GOP continuously pulls on American voters and will continue in the future for voters will still vote for the GOP. Voting for GOP, shorter word masochist.

    • judyms9

      For many the wolves must be more than at their doors; they must be inside gnawing at their ankles before people wise up. Having the GOP control entire states and perhaps the nation will end democracy as we know it, and the wolves will be very fat indeed.

  • mytdawg

    Every action by the Snyder administration and the GOP controlled congress has been reprehensible at best and criminal at worst.

  • Snark Jacobs

    Snyder has been the best thing to happen in Michigan politics in decades. He doesn’t need to take credit for all he’s accomplished, which the peasants take for a sign of weakness.

  • LuAnne Kozma

    The new EM law was referendum proof because the Legislature attached an appropriation to it, but that law was never, and still is not, initiative proof. If a group of people want to overturn the EM law, they can still do a constitutional amendment initiative or statutory initiative and outlaw emergency manager. Why haven’t Dems, or anyone, tried this? The mistaken mantra is that it’s “democracy” proof, but it’s not. Nick Krieger wrote recently about it on his blog, but I’ve been saying it to people for years. People often conflate “referendum” with “initiative” but the two are totally different things. Referendum is repealing a recent law that has just been passed. It’s erasing it, putting nothing in its place. The EM referendum we all voted on was exactly that. It put nothing in its place, after the voters got rid of it, but that obviously didn’t stop the Legislature from putting forward a new, bigger badder version of it. An constitutional amendment initiative that bans emergency management, makes it explicitly unconstitutional, by putting it INTO the constitution itself, may be the only way to go.

    The other anti-democracy effort of Snyder, however, was to pass SB 776 restricting the initiative process–for both statutory and constitutional amendment initiatives– to a strict 180 days. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan is challenging the unconstitutionality of the new version of MCL 168.472a as to statutory initiative, in the courts, and MI Legalize is challenging the old version of it.