The Real GOP Agenda Unveiled; And it ain’t pretty

No matter how many times I’ve been burned, I continue to try to see the merit in the proposals that have been coming from the Republicans in our state over the last couple of years. I allow myself to listen to the rhetoric and believe that somewhere in there is a genuine plan to govern our state in a manner which potentially benefits us all.

But there comes a point when it is time to simply call it like it is. When the only consistent policy standard coming from the GOP in Michigan is “hypocrisy” I think we can safely say they have no plan to govern the state in the interest of most citizens.

I’m sure some of my liberal friends will chastise me for taking so long to come to this position. But I have never been a fan of dismissing an entire political party, especially one that holds all the important state offices. There must be some appeal to their message. Absent that, the only two possible assessments are that people continue to vote against their own best interests or that the people have been fooled into believing the GOP intends to serve their interests when they clearly do not.

I actually should have bailed on my hope that the GOP really isn’t serving a very narrow, well-funded group of radical social conservatives some time ago. When my State Representative, Frank Foster, kept asserting that he had to vote for programs he didn’t necessarily believe in if he ever hoped to get his own ideas on the floor, I spent too much time criticizing him for being the spineless neophyte he clearly was. Instead of looking carefully at the message, I was ripping the messenger. Manipulating weak politicians is nothing new in this state or in any other. That Mr. Foster was so pliable made me think he was especially weak. And I might be right. But more importantly, I missed just how coordinated and determined the radical right was and is in reshaping Michigan to benefit their narrow and reactionary agenda.

Three recent actions by the GOP in Michigan have confirmed what I have long suspected and what others seemingly already knew. Whatever agenda the radical right is pursuing, the basic principles on which this state is built, common decency, and the rule of law are not going to get in the way. Much has already been written about the Right-To-Work-For-Less debacle that will forever shame our state legislature. It’s not that RTWFL was the problem. I believe Michigan would have benefited from an informed debate on the issue and a genuine discussion of the costs and benefits of emasculating unions. I know some people demonize unions. I would have welcomed a public discussion so that I could learn why they felt this way, and I would have welcomed the chance to make the case why unions are essential engines for growth of the middle class. But in a shameful display of parliamentary maneuvering, the GOP made their case to forever change the hopes of the middle class with no public hearings and employed the unionized State Police to ban citizens from even watching the proceedings.

But this is not one of the three things that have confirmed what drives the GOP. Once the RTWFL legislation was passed, it would take effect on March 26. Any union contracts in force would not be subject to the punitive measures of RTWFL until they expired. Remember that the GOP argued throughout the process that RTWFL was about choices; workers should have a choice about supporting or belonging to a union. This is what they said, but it is clear it is not what they meant. In the period between the passage of the legislation and March 26, 2013, school districts and universities who understand the benefit of having a unionized work force have worked with their local union to extend or renew contracts. Their workers were given a choice. Do you want to maintain the system that is built upon cooperation between labor and management or do you want a system in which workers will be divided? Several unions chose the first. At Ferris State, Wayne State, and the University of Michigan, as well as several public school districts, contracts were extended for several years.

Meanwhile, the Mackinac Center was submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to every school district in the state trying to determine if administrations were seeking to extend their union contracts. The Mackinac Center, which laughably portends to be an independent research organization, was actively supplying radical legislators with information about which districts were honoring their workers free choice to extend their relationship. Ferris State was threatened with sanctions and they capitulated, rejecting the very contract offer they themselves had offered their faculty. Wayne State and the University of Michigan ignored the threats and extended contracts, well ahead of the law taking effect. A bill was immediately rammed through committee to punish Wayne State and U-M to the tune of millions of dollars of aid.

Radical Republicans were claiming WSU and U-M were trying to avoid adhering to RTWFL, even though the law governing contracts was not even in effect! If their vindictive bill passes the Legislature and Governor Snyder decides to sign it, we will have another unprecedented attack on free choice by workers and on our middle class. We can hope that the full legislature and the governor will see the law for what it is, but after Governor Snyder buckled on his previous views on RTWFL, nothing is certain.

The second Republican attack on our state comes from several northern Michigan representatives. If we are to believe the message of the Pure Michigan campaign, our state has a lot to offer tourists. Protecting the environment used to be one of the most important things for northern Michigan legislators to advocate since there is very little industry besides tourism in the north. Now comes a bill from Senators Walker and Casperson which prohibits the DNR from considering bio-diversity when making any decision about land use in our state. I’d like to repeat that so that it sinks in, but I’m afraid my fingers will rebel and refuse to type it a second time. In an area of the state so dependent on tourism, hunting, and fishing, we are going to be prevented from ensuring that species of plants and animals are not wiped out by development. What could be behind this? Do Senators Walker and Casperson really think that bio-diversity is a bad thing? When you consider their alternate agenda, you can only conclude that they actually are. Fracking and other resource exploitation are not friendly to nature and both Walker and Casperson are bosom buddies with big oil. If a fracking operation can be stopped because of the damage it would do to native species, Walker and Casperson’s friends are going to be a bit grumpy come campaign time. Again, it’s not certain that the Governor will be blind to the real needs of this state, but should he sign this abomination, we will have more proof of where the GOP’s heart really lies.

The final piece of evidence about the “secret” GOP agenda comes in the form of the Education Achievement Authority. This plan will strip the authority of local school boards to run their schools. More importantly for the GOP, it will invalidate all union contracts, encourage the opening of non-union charter schools, remove existing members from the pension system, and most paradoxically create another massive state-level bureaucracy to run local schools. Remember, this is the party that claims to hate big government. You don’t have to believe that everything is just great in our schools to hate the EAA. Each year the bottom 5% of schools will be subject to state takeover. That means each year another chunk of public education will be destroyed, and students will suffer even more than the union the GOP seeks to dismantle. The record on charter schools in this state is deplorable and on online schools even worse. Yet the GOP seeks to replace our most essential building block of democracy, public education, with more privatization, less qualified teachers, and more poorly paid professionals.

So the EAA attacks directly two alleged fundamental principles of the GOP: the free market and small government. By lowering teacher pay, benefits, and pension, the free market would suggest that quality teachers will go somewhere else to work to get the compensation commensurate with their skills. Lowering pay, benefits, and pensions opens the door to teachers who would not be hired in other places because they are not as qualified. And by creating a massive state bureaucracy to run local districts, the GOP is making MORE government, not less. Very much like the smoke screen about taxes, the GOP is saying one thing, and then doing quite another.

So I no longer believe I need to spend my effort trying to understand what the GOP says. What they do speaks volumes about how little regard they have for the vast majority of citizens. Union busting, lowering educational standards, and environmental destruction are not in the interests of very many people. But they are the GOP agenda in Michigan and the blatant hypocrisy exhibited each time they open their mouths should be clear to all of us by now. I’m just sorry it took me so long to get there.

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