It’s refreshing to see journalists explaining the motivations of Republicans in clear terms. That happened this morning in an article in the The Detroit News titled “GOP to fight anti-gerrymandering ballot proposal” where Jonathan Oosting puts it bluntly:
Republicans who have dominated recent state and federal elections are mobilizing in opposition as a grassroots group nears its signature goal for a 2018 ballot proposal to create an independent commission that would redraw political maps.
The Michigan Republican Party and local affiliates are warning supporters about the petition, alleging it is a veiled attempt by Democrats to change the rules of a game they are losing.
This characterization is precise and accurate. Republicans see our election process as a “game” and it’s a game they have been winning in Michigan since 2000 when they redrew Congressional and state legislative districts to favor their candidates. By grouping Democrats into a smaller number of districts, they made themselves competitive in districts where they never would have been otherwise.
And now that the voters of Michigan are showing up to say they’ve had enough, Republicans are terrified. If they lose this battle and the Voters Not Politicians ballot referendum is successful, they know that Michigan will cease to become Republican dominated and they’ll actually have to win their elections on a fair playing field.
I have spoken with folks in the leadership of Voters Not Politicians (VNP) and they are reporting very encouraging results. Unlike ballot initiatives where the petition signature gatherers are paid, VNP is doing it the grassroots way. And they are doing it smart. All petitions are numbered and signed out to volunteer signature gatherers. These signature gatherers must go through specific training to ensure that they are getting valid signatures. The result is that upwards of 80% of their signatures are valid. When paid petition circulators are used, that number is typically south of 50%. VNP is on target to have enough valid signatures along with a comfortable margin past that by Thanksgiving.
This is why Republicans are in freak out mode. Leading the charge to stop the VNP ballot proposal is “Michigan’s ‘Unsung Genius of the Super PAC Age’“, Bob Labrant. Labrant has spent decades helping Republicans push through partisan gerrymandering and he is bound and determined that all his hard work will continue to give them a powerful electoral advantage. He was also the chief driver behind the “Citizens United on Steroids” bill that was recently signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
Labrant is planning to stop the referendum before it even gets to the voters. “As I’ve often told people, it’s a lot cheaper to keep a proposal off the ballot than it is to try to defeat it in a multimillion-dollar campaign,” Labrant told the News. He’s taking a two-prong approach. First, he will try to get the courts to rule that the effort is illegal and that they only way to form an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission is to have a constitutional convention. Second, and this one is truly laughable, he has filed a complaint against the state elections board claiming that they illegally helped VNP get the language right on its petitions before they began collecting signatures.
This latter approach is laughable because it is a common practice to have the elections board weigh in on petition language before submitting the final version for approval. It saves everyone involved a lot of time and money and resources to do so. But Labrant, as I’ve said, is desperate so he’s grasping at any and all straws to stop the citizens of Michigan from having fair elections.
One of Labrant’s talking points is that an independent redistricting commission puts the process in the hands of people with no political experience. While he sees this as some sort of positive talking point, most people hear that and say, “Yeah. Exactly. That’s the whole point, pal.” The idea is to make this a fair process, free from political interference. It’s worth noting that, while the Michigan Republican Party is taking an active role in stopping VNP, the Michigan Democratic Party is staying out of the fray. Because as MDP Communications Director Paul Kanan points out, this should be a non-partisan issue. We should ALL – Republicans and Democrats alike – want fair elections where voters choose their elected officials rather than politicians choosing their voters.
However, as is abundantly clear, the idea fair elections is an anathema to Republicans in our state.