Republican's struggling to find key to ‘unlock’ Michigan

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A few Michigan Republican operatives are spending their summer collecting signatures to repeal the 1945 “Riot Act.”

It’s an attempt to force Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to work with the Republican Legislature to declare an emergency.

“Unlock Michigan” is represented by two well-known Republican operatives: consultant Fred Wszolek and attorney Eric Doster. We can presume someone pays them.

Technically, they have until New Year’s Eve to collect roughly 340,000 signatures from registered voters. The goal is to eliminate the law, on which the governor depends to declare emergencies. It does not require legislative input.

With enough signatures and verification by the Bureau of Elections, the Legislature can approve the citizens’ initiative through a simple majority vote without the governor’s approval.

The Michigan Supreme Court could rule Whitmer has been abusing her authority without legislative approval, but that’s a long shot.

This petition drive is, too.

Let’s start with the timing. The law gives Unlock Michigan 180 days to collect their signatures, but they really don’t have that long.

Collecting signatures in snowy December and Christmas time is always problematic. That’s the end of the 180-day window.

Outside of the weather, there’s the logistics of the Democratic secretary of state verifying the signatures and getting the question to the Legislature any time soon.

It took the Bureau of Elections from Dec. 23 to mid-June to verify the signatures on Right to Life’s drive to end dilation and extraction abortions. Sure, subtract a couple months because state workers were under a Stay at Home order.

Still, we’re still talking at least three months for the citizens’ initiative to get into the Republican Legislature’s hands. The end of the year window is important because after the November election, there’s no guarantee the Legislature stays Republican. The House is 58-51 (with one vacancy in a Democratic Detroit) today.

If Democrats net three wins this November, goodbye Republican majority. Four wins and the Democrats take majority.

In the Senate, the 22-16 margin will shrink by at least one with Sen. Pete MacGregor expected to leave to be Kent County’s next treasurer. If Sen. Pete Lucido win the Macomb County prosecutor’s race, the R’s majority will shrink to 20-16 for at least half of 2021.

Also, how are you collecting signatures from scratch during a pandemic? We’re all supposed to be staying six feet apart. No football games. No concerts. No outdoor festivals. No county fairs.

The places signature collectors once cleaned up are closed. How are they getting 340,000? The governor is asking people to keep gatherings to less than 50. What if she shuts the state down again?

Fair and Equal Michigan tried collecting signatures online after the governor ordered everyone to “stay home and stay safe” in March. That didn’t work. It’s not ever clear if it would’ve been legal anyway.

Clearly, Unlock Michigan has some money to pay for signature collectors, but so did Fair and Equal Michigan.

And don’t forget the politics of it all. Recently, Progress Michigan used Public Policy Polling to ask voters what they thought of the proposal. The question read that the initiative “would eliminate the governor’s emergency powers.”

That’s not entirely true, but often what matters in politics is not what a piece of policy does, but what people believe it does. Democrats will do everything human possibly to make the proposal about “eliminating the governor’s ability to keep us safe.”

A total of 53% opposed the proposal and 36% supported it. This means Republicans are swimming upstream with this one.

Getting signatures will be a little harder. The legislative vote will be a little harder. Will Speaker Chatfield want this issue to be on the forefront of voters’ minds before the November election?

Unfortunately for Republicans, so much has to go right for Unlock Michigan that it’s bound to go wrong.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS may be emailed at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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