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On lawmakers, voters, and lame duck

If you can remember back that far, go back to when you were a teenager and your parents caught you drunk with a dent in the ol’ man’s car.

You are smart enough to know they have the power to unilaterally impose severe punishment on you, but, because they love you, they suggest that the three of you work out a penalty together.

What would you do?

Well, silly goose, the answer is obvious.

In the story you are about to read, the teenage kids are GOP lawmakers, and the parents are the citizen/grassroots group Voters Not Politicians. The same bunch that shocked everybody in this town by backing a statewide petition drive to drive out gerrymandering and construct voting districts that are actually competitive between both parties.

VNP knows that Republicans have for years been — shall we be charitable? — hesitant to pass laws that would bring other transparencies, more ethics, and accountability to the system. Sure, the R’s have talked about it, and, in fact, the Michigan House just last week overwhelmingly adopted a plan to change the lame duck voting system.

But that proposal could likely die in the state Senate, where the leader is none too keen on passing the measure.

As you know, the lame duck session comes right after the general election but before the swearing-in of the new Legislature, when many members have just lost their seats, are about to be term-limited out of office, or just retired. As such, those lawmakers are accountable to no one except their own personal agenda.

And there’s the rub for VNP. That group thinks lawmakers should be accountable to you, and so the group proposes that, instead of a simple majority vote to pass any bill in lame duck, it should take a two-thirds vote, instead.

Nancy Wang, the leader of the group, is confident citizens want those reforms, but she is also smart enough to know that, if the Senate’s Republican leader doesn’t want to go there, her efforts are a waste of time, unless she can bring enough pressure from her members to change Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s mind.

Minus that, as with our example with the teen and the parents, Ms. Wang has the muscle to impose those reforms on the lawmakers with or without their input. All she has to do is write the proposal the way the group wants, launch a petition drive, gather enough signatures, and then put it on the ballot and let the voters do the rest.

So, wouldn’t it be smart, you ask, if lawmakers decided to negotiate with the citizens and see if they could find a compromise?

If that happened, VNP would save millions of dollars by not having to collect names and launch an ad campaign to pass the reforms. Lawmakers would have to approve all the reforms, but at least they would have a chance to modify some of them.

It’s either that, or they could be forced to swallow some medicine they will not like.

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