How to take on the state legislature

It is truly disheartening to hear citizens say they don’t get involved in politics because it would not make any difference anyway.

For you non-believers exhibit A are the first responders who pulled off another legislative victory for a second year in a row.

They did it by getting in the game and not just sitting at home grumbling about how the system is rigged against them. They took on the system and prevailed against legislative forces that might have won otherwise.

The issue was saving the system of health care benefits for retired firefighters and police officers along with a host of other local government retirees.

Everyone in town agrees that many municipalities are in deep debt because their retiree funds are under water and under funded and without some action retirees would have no benefits.

The rub was the two sides could not agree on what that action should be.

Gov. Rick Snyder and his GOP leader pals favored creating a mini-emergency manager panel of three folks with the dictatorial power to reduce or eliminate benefits if local unions and management could not do it on their own.

Everyone, except the governor, called that a hammer that would hang over the heads of the locals providing the incentive to fix the debt. If they didn’t the state would impose a settlement.

That’s what motivated the union folks to return to the capitol to beat back those moves. They did it last year when the House Republicans tried this gambit and failed but this time, the outcome was unclear.

Some union warriors worried that there was a hidden agenda masked by the rhetoric that government was here to help them. “There are some who don’t think we should have health care benefits,” lamented one union president.

Rep. Tom Cochran, a former fire chief, reports one of his GOP colleagues lectured him, “I don’t have benefits, why should you?”

To which Democrat Cochran retorted that first responders are exposed to all sorts of chemical, smoke and physical danger every day and many of the diseases show up years later and without the health care their lives could be ruined if not lost.

You realized the governor and friends were in trouble when you heard conservative GOP lawmakers echo Mr. Cochran’s analysis.

“These guys leave home every morning not knowing if they will ever come back,” reflected Sen. Jack Brandenburg of conservative Macomb County who put a point on it by saying, “I’m not going to monkey with those benefits.”

Mr. B was not alone as the GOP nose count in the Senate showed up to 19 opposed and with only six or seven yes votes the thing was doomed.

Ditto in the Michigan House where dozens of Republicans abandoned their leader.

From a crass political standpoint lawmakers figured out that voting to eliminate health care coverage for first responders, who are held in high regard back home, could mean curtains for lawmakers in the next election.

To their credit House GOP Speaker Tom Leonard, Senate GOP Leader Arlan Meekhof and the governor did not dig in but they bailed out and embraced a watered-down measure that won widespread bi-partisan support.

The state’s heavy hammer was scrubbed.

The first responders, who decided to get involved, went home with a win.