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Wednesday, January 23,2013

Snyder needs Dems

by Walt Sorg
Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative Republican leaders have loudly proclaimed their desire to work on a bipartisan basis in 2013, a far cry from their one-party rule of the last two years.

The governor’s call is based in large part on political necessity. 

His most significant 2013 proposal is again raising taxes on families, this time for repairing Michigan’s disintegrating transportation system. 

Snyder knows he needs the Democrats. Conservatives are not enthralled with the idea of raising taxes any time for anything. The plan has already been criticized by the ultra right wing Mackinac Center. The Midland-based think tank contends that transportation improvements could come from cutting other parts of the state budget, specifically suggesting further cuts in compensation for state workers.

Snyder knows he can’t pass another tax increase without a lot of Democratic votes. So, just weeks after infuriating Democrats with his blitzkrieg post-election attack on unions and abortion rights, he’s suddenly making nice with the “loyal opposition.” It’s a little reminiscent of the laments you hear in cases of spousal assault: “I’m sorry for what happened. That wasn’t the real me. I really love you.”

It will take more than a few sentences in a State of the State speech to earn any trust from Democrats after the debacle that was the lame-duck legislative session and the endless trampling on the rights of legislative Democrats by the oft-autocratic House Speaker Jase Bolger. Democrats are rightfully skeptical of the return of the 2010 Rick Snyder who claimed to want to end ultra partisanship and a Bolger who suddenly embraces bipartisanship.

Snyder could quickly earn some trust from Democrats with a public pledge to veto legislation that state and national Republicans are pushing which would, in effect, make the election of a Republican president almost automatic. How can Republicans accomplish that, you ask? Simple: Change the rules in a half-dozen carefully selected states, including Michigan.

A bill introduced in the state House following November’s election would end Michigan’s “winner-take-all” voting in the Electoral College. Each state now receives one vote for each member of Congress. Under HB 5184 of 2011, Michigan would join Maine and Nebraska in a system where electoral votes are awarded by congressional district. Two additional votes would go to the statewide winner.

Had this system been in effect last fall, Mitt Romney would have won six of Michigan’s 16 electoral voters. That’s because Michigan’s congressional districts were carefully drawn by the Republican Legislature to elect nine out of 14 members of Congress even though Michigan voters preferred Democratic candidates 54 percent to 46 percent.

Nationally, some Republicans are promoting an even more brazen plan that would award the two statewide votes to the winner of the most congressional districts. That would have given Romney an 8-8 tie in Michigan, even though President Obama won the state 54.2 percent to 44.7 percent.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus is openly promoting this concept not just in Michigan, but in all GOP-controlled states that were won by President Obama: Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia.

The nonprofit Center for Voting and Democracy reported in December that, had the most extreme version of the new rules been in effect in those six states last November, Mitt Romney would have been elected president with 280 electoral votes (it takes 270 to win) despite losing the national popular vote by 5 million.

The center calls the plan “devious,” saying that adding swing state North Carolina (which Romney won by just 2 percent) to the list would “effectively lock down the White House for Republicans: … essentially guarantee(ing) them the presidency unless a Democrat could win the national popular vote by a margin of about 10 percent.”

It could also easily mean the election of a president who loses the popular vote, which has only happened four times: 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000.

In addition to distorting national elections, the plan would also diminish Michigan’s political clout since, at best, only three or four of the state’s electoral votes would be truly contested instead of the full 16. Presidential campaigns would refocus on the remaining winner-take-all swing states and presidents seeking to curry political favor might give lesser weight to helping the state in times of need — such as when, say, the domestic auto industry was on the brink of bankruptcy.

A public pledge to veto such legislation — not just a “not on my agenda” statement — could earn Snyder some badly needed Democratic support when he really needs it. And he needs it now.

(Sorg can be reached at sorg@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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