Michigan Seems Like a Dream to Me Now

 

I write from Great Britain, where I am holed up in Bristol pondering the size, shape, and character of a great mercantile city that Edmund Burke once represented in Parliament. When, however, I am not speaking to a conference about ancient and modern constitutionalism or admiring the beauty of this metropolis and its surroundings, I am thinking about Michigan — where, last week, the Republicans in the legislature passed right-to-work legislation, which Governor Rick Snyder is poised to sign into law this week.

I live in an obscure, impoverished corner of Michigan — in a county with the highest unemployment in a state that has had very high unemployment now for nearly a decade — but I am not a Michigander born and bred. I can describe the political geography of the state, using a broad brush. But I do not know its nooks and crannies, and I am very much puzzled by what I see.

In November, Barack Obama won the state handily, and Debbie Stabenow was reelected to the Senate without any difficulty at all. In the same election, two conservative justices on the Michigan Supreme Court were reelected, and a third conservative very nearly won a seat on the court that was being vacated by a liberal Democrat. Moreover, the left made a valiant attempt to secure the passage of a series of referenda designed to entrench union privilege in the state constitution, and they lost on each and every measure. What is one to make of this?

Michigan was once a union stronghold — the capital of an empire controlled by the United Auto Workers. The private-sector unions are now, however, no longer what they were. They have strangled industry. Wherever I have gone in Michigan, I have heard stories of plants closing and of jobs disappearing. The collapse of the auto industry was merely the final coup de grace. Other industries — and there were many of them — withdrew or simply disappeared long before the arrival of the Great Recession. The unions and the Democratic machine associated with them have also destroyed Detroit. It was once the fourth largest city in the United States; it was once the nation’s wealthiest city per capita. Now the median price of a house is $10,000, and, where there were once two million residents, there are now fewer than 700,000. The state is changing character. In the last decade, it has lost 10-15% of its population.

What I do not know is whether Michigan is ready to be a right-to-work state. Its becoming one would give one hope that it might have a future. Absent a major turn-around, it will continue on a path that will lead it to look like West Virginia in 1955. But what is needed is not always possible, and I find myself wondering whether — in a state that firmly backed Barack Obama and Debbie Stabenow — there will not be a ferocious reaction to what Rick Snyder and the Republicans are now doing. John Kasich and the Republicans in Ohio got a comeuppance not long ago when they passed a far less radical piece of legislation aimed at curbing public-sector union power (and that alone). Will Michigan explode? Will the unions strike back with powerful effect?

I do not know. But this I do know: If Snyder and the Republicans succeed — if they are as successful with their endeavor as Scott Walker and the Republicans in Wisconsin have been with theirs — it will shift the national balance. The unions may be entrenched in California, Illinois, and New York. Those states may be lost. They may have to face bankruptcy before they can make a comeback. But if Michigan can free itself from this albatross by its own efforts in the current environment, then, there is hope almost everywhere else. Things are going to get hot in Michigan. It is a state that bears close watching.

It could also be the case that — with Washington deadlocked — the real action over the next four years will be at the state level. In 2012, the Republicans lost the national election. But, at the same time, they garnered in 2010 and 2012 a strength at the state and local level that they have not seen as a party since the 1920s. The fact that the Republicans in Michigan have just passed right-to-work legislation is proof that the Tea-Party impulse is by no means dead. The year 2012 may be remembered not as the year in which the latest wave of Progressivism triumphed. It may be remembered as a year in which the Republican resurgence hit a minor bump in the road. Stay tuned.

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Members have made 31 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Western Chauvinist Member

    It could also be the case that — with Washington deadlocked — the real action over the next four years will be at the state level.

    Gives me an idea for a new GOP campaign slogan.

    “Vote Republican. Otherwise, who will President Obama and the Democrats in Washington have left to blame?”

    • #1
    • December 10, 2012 at 5:19 am
  2. Profile photo of paulebe Member

    It is a curious thing, is it not Paul, how this issue is being managed since the election? Snyder (current R Gov.) has avoided this issue after seeing the Ohio debacle and likely being more than a little unsure he could stand the type of pressue Walker faced in WI. Yet, for whatever reason, our “nerd” of a gov has decided to charge right into the machine gun nest and take on the pudgy, not really affected by the downturn, union thugocracy with real-live right to work legislation. Gives me a greater respect for the guy! The thugs will, of course, attempt to occupy Lansing on Tuesday. That’ll be fine theater.

    • #2
    • December 10, 2012 at 5:48 am
  3. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    paulebe, I agree with your entirely. I was ready to write off Snyder as a wuss. Now he seems to be prepared to inherit the wind. At the very least, things will be interesting. They may even matter nationally — a lot.

    • #3
    • December 10, 2012 at 6:35 am
  4. Profile photo of Adam Koslin Inactive

    This may be completely erroneous, but Occam’s Razor suggests a simple answer to your question, Prof. Rahe; people tend to like conservatives when they are neighbors, friends, aldermen, mayors, etc., but can’t stand them when they have to stand on abstract policy, media techniques, and stereotypes. Or perhaps in Michigan the Dems have just made themselves obnoxious?

    • #4
    • December 10, 2012 at 6:50 am
  5. Profile photo of BrentB67 Inactive

    I think you make a very good point. The action is going to be in the states because they have to balance their budgets in some form.

    The ability of the states to manage their affairs in their best interest is the way forward for limited government conservatives. Federalism and the 10th Amendment should be powerful planks going forward.

    This also raises the issue that if we are going to ensure states have the right to manage their affairs and keep more of what their residents earn at home we are going to have to be tolerant of some social choices in certain states including SSM, abortion, and marijuana legalization.

    I believe over time the success and failure of diverse cultural choices made at the state level will shift our culture to more traditional values and away from the experiments mentioned in the previous paragraph.

    • #5
    • December 10, 2012 at 6:58 am
  6. Profile photo of Foxman Inactive

    ” the left made a valiant attempt to secure the passage of a series of referenda designed to entrench union privilege in the state constitution”

    As I understand it, Gov. Snyder agreed to back off on right to work if the unions would back off on proposal 2. The unions did not back off and this is what they get.

    • #6
    • December 10, 2012 at 7:06 am
  7. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Foxman: ” the left made a valiant attempt to secure the passage of a series of referenda designed to entrench union privilege in the state constitution”

    As I understand it, Gov. Snyder agreed to back off on right to work if the unions would back off on proposal 2. The unions did not back off and this is what they get. · 0 minutes ago

    Yes, I think that you are right on this. It is the revenge of the nerd.

    • #7
    • December 10, 2012 at 7:10 am
  8. Profile photo of liberal jim Inactive

    Either the state will change or productive people will continue to vote with their feet. People who believe in limited government free market principles and who are willing to invest in them have been leaving liberal enclaves like MI for decades.

    Except for a few exceptions the national Republican party no longer is identified with any principles let alone conservative ones. When an individual who is truly conservative runs in a local race the fact that he is a Republican is overlooked by some and he wins.

    If your going to support a career politician you might as well vote for the one who is best suited to bring home the bacon. There is little reason to vote for a Republican in more liberal states unless you are convinced doing so will radically change things. That is the case in many local races, but is at best only a remote possibility in most federal elections.

    • #8
    • December 10, 2012 at 7:49 am
  9. Profile photo of Scott R Member

    Does anyone know what recourse unions would have to overturn the law? Did they already shoot their wad with the preemptive attempt to amend the constitution? Would it now require their electing a Dem statehouse and a Dem governor to undo this? Or could they attempt to recall Snyder, as in WI, or put the law to a referendum, as in OH?

    Likely union success will depend on such practical matters. If overturning the legislation requires an entire years-long reversal of party control in MI, then I’d think the positive effects of the law and the inertia of this “new MI” would prevent a return to the old days.

    • #9
    • December 10, 2012 at 8:00 am
  10. Profile photo of Scarlet Pimpernel Member

    It took me four days to hitch hike from Stabenow . . .

    I thought I read a couple of weeks ago that the GOP legislature pushed Right to Work, but Snyder was opposed. It looks like he’ll sign the bill now.

    It might also be worth noting that supporting liberty of contract is not the same thing as being anti-Union. In the 19th century, the questino in the U.S. was whether Unions were legal at all. That’s the sense in which Lincoln expressed his support for unions, if memory serves. Right to Work v. Union monopoly is a different debate.

    • #10
    • December 10, 2012 at 8:05 am
  11. Profile photo of Pilli Member

    Paul, How does this new measure, when enacted, effect government unions in Michigan?

    Have you noticed a trend in union leadership toward emphasizing public sector unions more and private sector unions less? Possibly because they killed the private sector jobs (Hostess) but they know that the public sector won’t go bankrupt?

    • #11
    • December 10, 2012 at 8:09 am
  12. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Scott Reusser: Does anyone know what recourse unions would have to overturn the law? Did they already shoot their wad with the preemptive attempt to amend the constitution? Would it now require their electing a Dem statehouse and a Dem governor to undo this? Or could they attempt to recall Snyder, as in WI, or put the law to a referendum, as in OH?

    Likely union success will depend on such practical matters. If overturning the legislation requires an entire years-long reversal of party control in MI, then I’d think the positive effects of the law and the inertia of this “new MI” would prevent a return to the old days. · 9 minutes ago

    I am no expert — so do not trust what I say on this. But I believe that the laws are structured in such a way as to rule out referenda. To overturn them, the unions must take both houses of the legislature and the governorship. That is what I have read. It means that in Michigan 2014 will be a big deal. This may give these laws the time to have an effect on the funding of election campaigns.

    • #12
    • December 10, 2012 at 8:14 am
  13. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Pilli: Paul, How does this new measure, when enacted, effect government unions in Michigan?

    Have you noticed a trend in union leadership toward emphasizing public sector unions more and private sector unions less? Possibly because they killed the private sector jobs (Hostess) but they knowthat the public sector won’t go bankrupt? · 4 minutes ago

    My sense is that in Michigan private-sector unions are on the decline. The jobs have gone elsewhere. Public-sector unions are now more of a force. There are two laws — one for private-sector unions, the other for public-sector unions. They have the same result: the open shop. Being a union member and paying dues is not a condition for employment.

    • #13
    • December 10, 2012 at 8:17 am
  14. Profile photo of donald todd Member

    Paul A. Rahe: with Washington deadlocked

    Watching Boehner et al and his disenfranchisement of the conservative wing of the Republican Party in the House, the Washington deadlock may be ephemeral. 

    • #14
    • December 10, 2012 at 8:40 am
  15. Profile photo of Foxman Inactive
    Pilli: Paul, How does this new measure, when enacted, effect government unions in Michigan?

    Have you noticed a trend in union leadership toward emphasizing public sector unions more and private sector unions less? Possibly because they killed the private sector jobs (Hostess) but they knowthat the public sector won’t go bankrupt? · 33 minutes ago

    Detroit

    • #15
    • December 10, 2012 at 8:44 am
  16. Profile photo of Mark Member
    Adam Koslin: This may be completely erroneous, but Occam’s Razor suggests a simple answer to your question, Prof. Rahe; people tend to like conservatives when they are neighbors, friends, aldermen, mayors, etc., but can’t stand them when they have to stand on abstract policy, media techniques, and stereotypes. Or perhaps in Michigan the Dems have just made themselves obnoxious? · 2 hours ago

    I agree with much of this comment. At a national level Republicans have a branding problem (along with prez and senate candidate problems) and these are the races easiest to nationalize. State political races are harder to nationalize which is why you have R governors in D states like Michigan, NJ, Ohio, Wisconsin and New Mexico and why Michigan voters can vote down union backed referendums while the R prez and Senate candidates are massacred by the same voters.

    • #17
    • December 10, 2012 at 9:51 am
  17. Profile photo of Duane Oyen Member

    Two things.

    1) This is less significant on the down side than was Ohio, because Michigan has not been a swing state for years.

    2) I wonder if a better strategy regarding private work force unions might not have been the set up an empty auto plant as an irreversibly right-to-work enterprise zone where Kia could get a good deal on a US assembly plant without being destroyed by the UAW featherbedding work rules. A successful demonstration project would open the door to full RTW.

    That said, the bigger problem is probably public unions, and the public service officer exemption discretion is not ideal, but is also the better part of valor. And the time is now to address RTW for government unions, returning to the FDR standards.

    • #18
    • December 10, 2012 at 11:51 am
  18. Profile photo of ConservativeWanderer Inactive

    Well, it looks like this has he big unions upset, because apparently they’ve called in Teh Won to pay them back for their support last month.

    President Obama on Monday weighed in on the fight over changing Michigan into a right-to-work state, saying the move was all about politics and about your “rights to bargain for better wages.”

    During a visit to a Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Michigan, Obama signaled the White House will be more active in this labor fight than it was during a similar fight in Wisconsin in 2011. He described the proposed changes in Michigan as being part of a “race to the bottom” that won’t help the economy.

    “What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” Obama told a small crowd at the plant. “We don’t want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top.”

    Obama said the laws “don’t have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics.”

    • #19
    • December 11, 2012 at 1:26 am
  19. Profile photo of Chris O. Member

    Paul, I probably have less cause to speculate, though I’ve spent a significant part of my life in “Michiana” on the south side of Lake George, IN/MI, not very far at all from Hillsdale. You have a standing invitation if so inclined.

    As I see it, Michigan is in the process of re-culturizing. Where there was once an elite that looked east for inspiration, now there are the remnant recipients of those policies.

    I almost look at this as a “vote how you shot” phenomenon. The Michigan of today is willing to try out new ideas. They have to. But they are still stuck in the political affiliation of yesterday. Old habits die hard.

    Mark rightly pointed out that it is easier to present those ideas in a statewide election away from the ad blitzes of presidential campaigns. That is why Michigan is able to elect a Republican governor and legislature. I’ve seen in this state Republicans win in heavy Democrat districts because they spent months going door-to-door.

    Local matters; individuals matter; ideas matter. The problem in 2012 was key people thought not being Democrat was enough to win.

    • #20
    • December 11, 2012 at 1:56 am
  20. Profile photo of Douglas Wingate Inactive
    Paul A. Rahe: …[T]he Republicans…garnered in 2010 and 2012 a strength at the state and local level that they have not seen as a party since the 1920s. …The year 2012 may be remembered…as a year in which the Republican resurgence hit a minor bump in the road.
    Thanks for this seemingly good news. I was unaware of the extent of the new strength. Is there, somewhere online, an especially informative summary of the new state of the parties in state and local governments?For my part, I’ve tried to stop speaking in terms of advantage to “Republicans,” per se, because I don’t think I can reasonably favor the advantage of John Boehner, for example. Likewise, “the Right” and “rightwing” seem to mean too many different things to different Americans. “Conservative” has the defect that while everyone is trying to conserve something, the word doesn’t convey what’s to be conserved. Moreover, in this time, left-“liberals” seem to be the ones trying futilely to conserve what can never be conserved. What we favor seems to be classical liberalism, as opposed to left-“liberalism,” but I’m open to other suggestions.
    • #21
    • December 11, 2012 at 2:07 am
  21. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Chris O.: Paul, I probably have less cause to speculate, though I’ve spent a significant part of my life in “Michiana” on the south side of Lake George, IN/MI, not very far at all from Hillsdale. . .

    As I see it, Michigan is in the process of re-culturizing. Where there was once an elite that looked east for inspiration, now there are the remnant recipients of those policies.

    I almost look at this as a “vote how you shot” phenomenon. The Michigan of today is willing to try out new ideas. They have to. But they are still stuck in the political affiliation of yesterday. Old habits die hard.

    Mark rightly pointed out that it is easier to present those ideas in a statewide election away from the ad blitzes of presidential campaigns. That is why Michigan is able to elect a Republican governor and legislature. I’ve seen in this state Republicans win in heavy Democrat districts because they spent months going door-to-door.

    Local matters; individuals matter; ideas matter. The problem in 2012 was key people thought not being Democrat was enough to win. · 10 minutes ago

    Edited 9 minutes ago

    Very interesting. Thank you.

    • #22
    • December 11, 2012 at 2:09 am
  22. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    ConservativeWanderer: Well, it looks like this has he big unions upset, because apparently they’ve called in Teh Won to pay them back for their support last month.

    President Obama on Monday weighed in on the fight over changing Michigan into a right-to-work state, saying the move was all about politics and about your “rights to bargain for better wages.”

    During a visit to a Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Michigan, Obama signaled the White House will be more active in this labor fight than it was during a similar fight in Wisconsin in 2011. He described the proposed changes in Michigan as being part of a “race to the bottom” that won’t help the economy.

    “What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” Obama told a small crowd at the plant. “We don’t want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top.”

    Obama said the laws “don’t have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics.”

    43 minutes ago

    It is going to get hot.

    • #23
    • December 11, 2012 at 2:11 am
  23. Profile photo of ConservativeWanderer Inactive
    Paul A. Rahe
    ConservativeWanderer: Well, it looks like this has he big unions upset, because apparently they’ve called in Teh Won to pay them back for their support last month.

    President Obama on Monday weighed in on the fight over changing Michigan into a right-to-work state, saying the move was all about politics and about your “rights to bargain for better wages.”

    During a visit to a Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Michigan, Obama signaled the White House will be more active in this labor fight than it was during a similar fight in Wisconsin in 2011. He described the proposed changes in Michigan as being part of a “race to the bottom” that won’t help the economy.

    “What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” Obama told a small crowd at the plant. “We don’t want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top.”

    Obama said the laws “don’t have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics.”

    43 minutes ago

    It is going to get hot. · 2 minutes ago

    As hot as Wisconsin?

    • #24
    • December 11, 2012 at 2:14 am
  24. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Douglas Wingate
    Paul A. Rahe: …
    Thanks for this seemingly good news. I was unaware of the extent of the new strength. Is there, somewhere online, an especially informative summary of the new state of the parties in state and local governments?For my part, I’ve tried to stop speaking in terms of advantage to “Republicans,” per se, because I don’t think I can reasonably favor the advantage of John Boehner, for example. Likewise, “the Right” and “rightwing” seem to mean too many different things to different Americans. “Conservative” has the defect that while everyone is trying to conserve something, the word doesn’t convey what’s to be conserved. Moreover, in this time, left-“liberals” seem to be the ones trying futilely to conserve what can never be conserved. What we favor seems to be classical liberalism, as opposed to left-“liberalism,” but I’m open to other suggestions. · 3 minutes ago

    There ought to be something somewhere on Real Clear Politics. The Republicans have something like 30 of the 50 Governors, and they have full control in 24 (or is it 27?) states. I have not seen a really thorough discussion.

    • #25
    • December 11, 2012 at 2:14 am
  25. Profile photo of M Tabor Inactive

    As a rural “nook and cranny” type, I sure do love when academics talk about my life, my mindset, and the decisions I make with the same tone and curiosity of a scientist commenting on new growth in a Petri dish.

    • #27
    • December 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm
  26. Profile photo of jarhead Inactive

    I never thought I’d see this day when a right-to-work law was passed in Michigan. As a teenager in Michigan, I had to join the UFCW to get a job in a grocery store. As a college kid, I had to join the UAW to get a summer job in a factory in Grand Rapids. As an adult, after the Marines and finishing college, I had to move out of MI to find a job, and I made sure it was non-union. For the relatives who are still there, I’m so glad for them that the legislature and the governor had the guts to pass and sign this legislation.

    • #28
    • December 12, 2012 at 5:02 am
  27. Profile photo of Chris O. Member
    Jeff Petraska:

    http://irlee.umich.edu/Publications/Docs/RightToWorkInMichigan.pdf

    A friend of mine posted this link of Facebook. Responses, anyone? · 15 hours ago

    One of the principal objections many members have to paying dues is that their money goes to fund political activities and candidates that act contrary to their political preferences. Mr. (Dr.?) Zullo mentions the political activity as part of a serial list of points, almost an afterthought. Yet, these activities are often the most visible.

    When a union strikes, workers don’t work. In a closed shop, there is no choice. The union will subsidize them for a time, but they won’t receive full pay and benefits. That could be another motivating factor for not joining.

    Finally, Mr. Zullo concedes a definition of work I personally disagree with. In his view, it is the employer (or in his ideal, the union) that has all the power. Those that work do so at the pleasure of others, never based on their own endeavor. If someone has the drive, then you could forgive him or her for not wanting to negotiate terms alongside a group that does accept this passive condition.

    • #29
    • December 12, 2012 at 8:05 am
  28. Profile photo of Palaeologus Member
    Scott Reusser: Does anyone know what recourse unions would have to overturn the law? Did they already shoot their wad with the preemptive attempt to amend the constitution? Would it now require their electing a Dem statehouse and a Dem governor to undo this? Or could they attempt to recall Snyder, as in WI, or put the law to a referendum, as in OH?

    Scott, Schrodinger’s Cat has it right that a simple referendum is off the table since RTW was run as an approps bill. They could attempt a Constitutional amendment.

    But I think they’d have to have one to make appropriations subject to referenda, and then another to dump the law. But I’m no lawyer.

    As far as a recall goes, I believe (not sure) that they can try it again. They already did once and failed miserably, but I think the only limits are waiting for 6 months and that it can’t be done in the last six months of a term. I haven’t heard or seen that it can only be attempted once. But again, I may well have missed something.

    Here is a basic description of Michigan’s recall procedures.

    • #30
    • December 12, 2012 at 8:36 am
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