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Politicians Need Petition Experience

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the 49-year, 25-term congressman representing bankrupt Detroit, made big news. According to the Wayne County clerk, Conyers failed to gather enough voter signatures to earn a spot on the Democratic Party Primary ballot this Fifth of August.John Conyers

Still, I stand by my Townhall column’s prediction: the congressman will be on that ballot. Conyers ran afoul of a law requiring petition passers to be registered voters. It is unconstitutional. The ACLU filed suit on Monday to overturn it.

Conyers only had to manage a mere one thousand signatures, which hardly seems too tough for a seasoned incumbent. Conversely, Michiganders petitioning for a statewide ballot measure must secure 258,087 voter signatures — 322,609 for a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment.

Conyers isn’t alone in flunking Petition Drive 101. Two years ago, Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter resigned after several staff members falsified signatures on his petition.

Michigan’s policy, making major-party politicians gather a small number of voter signatures to obtain ballot status — independent and minor party candidates must often collect much larger numbers — is not a mere useless hurdle. If adopted universally, it could provide a large number of examples that our powerful politicians actually have surprisingly weak support.

Moreover, making politicians petition might stir their sympathy for the struggles citizens face in gathering signatures. Working my day job with Citizens in Charge, I witness constant attacks on the initiative petition process from legislators, who claim it’s “too easy” to put issues on the ballot.

Which, of course, means that those politicians haven’t ever tried.

Politicians often tell us how important “experience” is.

Give them some.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Spring’s Decisions

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Spring is in the air, and old men’s hearts turn to thoughts of . . . law.

Yes, Supreme Court Decision Season has begun. Yesterday, two decisions were handed down.

In Schuette v. BAMN, Justice Kennedy “announced” the decision to reverse a previous court’s determination overruling a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment in Michigan. Kennedy (joined by Alito and Chief Justice Roberts) found that the people could prohibit race-based affirmative action policies in their state. After all, the Supreme Court had merely allowed such practices in previous cases. It did not require them.

This shouldn’t be controversial — indeed, it was decided 6-2 with liberal Justice Stephen Breyer joining conservatives. Still, Justice Sotomayor read her dissent from the bench, saying “without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups.”

The democratically approved legislation in this case prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race — hardly a source of oppression for anyone. Ilya Somin’s prediction of this decision last October is worth contrasting to Sotomayor’s worry: “In no conceivable world can the Equal Protection Clause — the constitutional provision that bans racial discrimination — prohibit a state law that bans racial discrimination.”

Justice Scalia (joined by Clarence Thomas) used his concurring opinion to make some sense of the constitutional status of race in American higher education with “It has come to this.” It’s quite a read.

But there was no joining of Thomas and Scalia in Navarette v. California. Thomas wrote the opinion, deciding that a traffic stop drug bust was okee-dokee, even if initiated by a 911 caller complaining of a truck-driver’s alleged bad driving. Scalia called the decision “a freedom-destroying cocktail.”

So much for the lock-step left-right divide on the High Court.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

A Conspicuous $2.4 Million

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Flint, Michigan, has seemed like a hopeless case for a long time. Even before Michael Moore’s Roger & Me, Flint was undergoing deindustrialization. Politicians resisted, promising to reverse the trend. Failure after failure, they still desperately prove themselves interested in trying something, anything, to make the town “seem” vibrant and “cutting edge.”

Most recently, the Flint Mass Transportation Authority has exerted its rhetoric, its dreams, and its grant-writing skills to nab a $2.4 million bus.

The hydrogen fuel cell technology transit bureaucrats have set their eyes upon is quite leading edge, and I guess it seems a bargain, what with the recent drop in prices (“$3.5 million a few years ago,” according to the Michigan Capitol Confidential).

But the town could buy nine diesel buses for the same money, and it’s not as if they’re rolling in dough. Flint has had to order out for emergency management, suffering a tax base plagued by an official (read: underestimated)  unemployment rate of 18 percent.

So, of course, the transit authority hopes to pull in federal “stimulus” funds.

Ask yourself, though: how would a new, expensive bus stimulate Flint’s economy?  Luxury buses running on outré technology don’t exactly inspire businesses to invest in otherwise depressed towns.

As a rule, only rich people can afford leading-edge technology.

Sad to say, folks in government behave like rich people.

Only worse. Folks in government behave like rich people spending other people’s money.

And, now more than ever, the citizens of Flint can’t afford such conspicuous consumption.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Right Not to Be Ripped Off

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Michigan’s state House and Senate passed Right-to-Work bills last week, because, as Governor Rick Snyder said, workers “should be able to decide whether to join a union or not.”

Which exact bill will wind up on the governor’s desk is anybody’s guess, but one could be signed into law by Snyder as early as tomorrow. Both would prevent unions from requiring workers to join as a condition of employment.

Predictably, Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook argues that legislators “want to force unions to . . . provide se+rvices, benefits and the protections to non-members who will not pay a penny for them. It defunds unions.”

That’s a rather one-sided way of looking at the issue. The cases of Michigan day care workers and home health care workers, both railroaded into union, tell a different tale.

Two years ago, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy challenged the bizarre unionization of 40,000 self-employed day care providers by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the United Auto Workers, with dues skimmed “from the Michigan Department of Human Services subsidy payments made to some providers on behalf of qualifying low income parents.”

Then, there’s the $33 million SEIU has nabbed “from the elderly and disabled in Michigan . . . through a unionization scheme it orchestrated when Jennifer Granholm was governor.” Jarrett Skorup writes in Michigan Capitol Confidential that “tens of thousands of people are being forced to send money to the Service Employees International Union simply because they care for a friend or family member who receives a Medicaid stipend.”

After reviewing these two cases, the right-to-work is clearly part of an even bigger right: the right not to be ripped off.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Better Than a Thousand Boneheads

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, when they took over the early 20th century journal Smart Set, served it up with a great motto: “One Civilized Reader Is Worth a Thousand Boneheads.” That’s how I feel about my readers. I almost always enjoy the comments section of ThisIsCommonSense.com, and sometimes learn something important.

I especially enjoy it when my readers show they are on the right track, thinking of reforms that exhibit a sense of both justice and savvy use of incentives and disincentives to restrain the political class. Jennifer Gratz suggests “making the hurdle higher for politicians to get on the ballot”:

Tie ballot access for state-wide candidates to the same burden as initiatives. Names only appear on the ballot if they meet the same signature gathering threshold as a state-wide initiative: same requirements, same laws, same restrictions, same burdens.  Win in one state and politicians may stop messing with the I&R process. . . .

Clever.

As I reported this weekend on Townhall.com, Michigan legislators are in “voter suppression” mode again. It’s no surprise, since politicians tend to “have their own, almost personal, reasons to disdain direct democracy. They see citizen action as direct competition. And so their ‘reform’ ideas so far put forth run the usual gamut of insiders’ vexation with ‘outsiders.’” Perhaps the only permanent solution to constraining their lust to restrict citizen input is to constitutionally put them on the same footing as citizens.

What better place than ballot access for statewide offices?

Were party-supported candidates and incumbents all required to get the same number of signatures onto the ballot as initiative measures, the insiders would just have to lower the required number of signatures.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Equally Unequal

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Two court cases come to our attention, courtesy of Cato’s Ilya Shapiro. Both involve the favoring of members of one group over another.

The Sixth Circuit ruled that a voter-approved amendment to the Michigan state constitution outlawing racial preferences in college admissions would violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. The amendment states in part that Michigan public colleges and universities shall “not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. . . .”

In his dissent, Judge Richard Griffin writes: “The post-Civil War amendment that guarantees equal protection to persons of all races has now been construed as barring a state from prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race.” Shapiro calls the decision Orwellian.

The other case involves California law banning sellers of eyewear who are not state-licensed optometrists and ophthalmologists from conducting eye exams and selling glasses at the same place of business. The law prevents national eyewear chains from competing effectively in California (since customers prefer to get their glasses and eye exams in one shop).

Cato joins an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the California case. Shapiro also says that because there are two conflicting lower-court decisions on the Michigan question, the Supreme Court is likely to add that case to its docket.

Let’s hope all further rulings are based on a clear-sighted respect for equal rights under the law.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Sore Insiders

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Party politics is often underhanded.

Many of our country’s founders knew this all too well, and tried to avoid the factionalism of party politics. But still, two political factions emerged, and our politics has been dominated by two parties ever since.

And believe me, the two insider parties work mightily to rig the system in their favor. The presence of “sore-loser laws” is a case in point.Gary Johnson

Now, political parties are private entities. They can choose whomever they want. Ideally, the ballots wouldn’t even list party affiliation. But “sore-loser laws” stretch in the other direction, preventing individuals from running in one party after losing a primary as a candidate for another party.

In this way, the parties use the law to secure their own positions. It has nothing to do with “democracy” or “voting rights,” everything to do with privilege.

In Michigan, whilom New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson ran in the primary as a Republican candidate for the presidency. Now, the Secretary of State is disallowing him from running as a Libertarian. You see, he’d filed some paperwork withdrawing his candidacy three minutes too late last November.

An amusing work-around may be in the offing, with a Texas businessman named Gary Johnson being groomed for the Michigan nomination. Take that, partisan insiders!

But regarding the Secretary of State’s ruling, the Libertarians smell a partisan rat, and are suing. It turns out they may have precedence on their side, since John Anderson had technically run afoul of the same law back in 1980, but nothing had been done to exclude him.

This time, Johnson’s more feared than Anderson was then. And, this time, the Secretary of State is a Republican.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.