Politics — April 27, 2013 at 7:43 am

This is why we can’t have nice government, Part 2


A pox on ALL their houses…

Last Thursday, I wrote about the how legislators appear to be stealing each others legislation in order to get credit for something that seems to have widespread support in a piece titled “Michigan Republicans stealing bills introduced by Democrats to deny them legislative victories”. After writing it, I updated later when I learned the Democrats steal legislation, too, and posted about my frustration that good, bipartisan legislation is getting polluted by the politics of who gets credit.

It appears that the situation is even more complicated than I first realized. As it turns out, the legislation that Democrat David Knezek apparently had stolen from him by Republican Jim Stamas is identical to legislation that Stamas himself introduced or supported in the two previous legislative sessions and that Knezek actually lifted the language verbatim from them.

I learned about this when the Midland Daily News ran a front page piece titled “State Rep. Stamas denies charges in political blog”. The piece quotes only Stamas (not Knezek) and, though it is ostensibly about a piece I wrote, the reporter John Kennett never contacted me. In Stennett’s piece, Rep. Stamas says this:

The blog claimed that Rep. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, took House Joint Resolution L, introduced by Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, and had it pulled. Then just one week later, Stamas introduced HJR N, which was identical to HJR L.

The blog stated: “‘Why?’ asked Knezek (of Stamas). ‘Because I’m taking it,’ Stamas told the dumbfounded freshman lawmaker (Knezek). And take it he did. Just a week after Knezek had introduced HJR L, Stamas introduced House Joint Resolution N. You might think that with such a blatant theft Stamas would have added his own spin to the resolution. You would be wrong. HJR L and HJR N are identical, word-for-word.”

Stamas said he was contacted by Knezek after the blog was posted.

“(Knezek) actually approached me after this happened and wanted to assure me that he had nothing to do with it,” said Stamas. {…}

“I have talked to Rep. Knezek about this legislation and shared with him that I too have worked on this issue and planned on introducing legislation with the same goal,” Stamas said. “What came of this discussion was he introduced similar legislation (HJR M) which would apply the same provision to our community colleges. It is my intent that the House Military and Veteran Affairs Committee will begin to discuss these proposals in the next couple of weeks.”

Stamas, chairman of the House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, has a long history of working on the issue.

“I introduced this idea in 2009 as House Joint Resolution S,” he said. “In 2011, I worked with former Representative Holly Hughes on this as House Joint Resolution JJ.”

When I wrote the original piece, I looked at other legislation introduced this session and found that Stamas indeed introduced his Joint Resolution a week after Knezek. However, based on my conversation with Knezek at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner last Saturday, my assumption was that this was “his legislation” and it never occurred to me to look at previous legislative sessions to see if Knezek was simply plagiarizing previously introduced legislation himself. Which, as it turns out, he clearly did. Both HJR S (pdf), introduced by Rep. Stamas in 2009 and HJR JJ (pdf) introduced by other Republicans in 2011 are identical to the legislation that Knezek told me was his.

It gets worse. Stamas didn’t write this legislation either. It was first introduced by other Republicans as HJR V (pdf) in 2007 before he even got to the Michigan House of Representatives. So, his contention that he “introduced this idea in 2009” is a bit of a stretch.

So, a few things here. First, yeah, I got played by Representative David Knezek, a Democrat that I endorsed in the Democratic primary in 2012. I’ve reached out to him to ask him about this but he has yet to return my emails or texts. He approached ME about this issue at the Youth Caucus reception at the Jeff-Jack Dinner on Saturday (I have witnesses); HE was the one the brought up the fact that Rep. Stamas had stolen his legislation, providing me with the HJR letters along with information about a bill Democratic Rep. Sam Singh had “stolen” from him by a Republican.

Second, this is good legislation. It helps military veterans be assured they get lower in-state tuition rates and seems to be very popular. The question is why hasn’t it managed to get passed out of the House in the past three legislative sessions?

Finally, and this is the most disappointing thing to me in all of this, the stealing of legislation in this way appears to be a widely used tactic all across the country but almost nobody outside of the rarefied air of the state legislatures seems to know about it. I’ve had plenty of political insiders tell me “oh, yeah, that kind of stuff goes on all the time.” Yet, the overwhelming feedback I got from my original piece — and it was widely linked all over the internet — was “WTF???!” It may be done “all the time” but I can assure you that most Americans are completely unaware of it and, when they learn about it, it makes them lose faith in government just a little bit more. I can see recycling legislation from one legislative session to the next if it isn’t originally successful but introducing the same exact legislation in the same session simply to get the credit for it is akin to a middle school rivalry between cliques.

Even in this situation where Knezek took legislation originally introduced by his political rivals for his own was something that most people, even politically-savvy folks I know, were unaware of.

As I said in the last piece I wrote about this, it’s a damn shame that legislation that appears to be truly bipartisan and that is supported by both Republicans and Democrats is used as a political tool to get credit even when, in a case like this one, credit is not yours to take.