Opinion | Michigan earned an 'F' in government integrity. Help us do better

Nancy Wang

Nancy Wang is the executive director of Voters Not Politicians

Three years ago, Voters Not Politicians was preparing to hold 33 town halls in 33 days across Michigan to hear voters’ solutions for ending gerrymandering in our state. 

Two years ago, we embarked on a ballot initiative campaign, and a year ago we celebrated after successfully amending the Michigan Constitution to take politicians out of redistricting and establish an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw our state legislative and congressional district maps.

Not even a day went by before our volunteers, supporters and voters across the state started asking, What’s next?

We surveyed our volunteers and held town halls again -- this time, to learn what issues voters wanted to tackle next. A common theme ran through the discussions, the same theme as three years ago -- the desire to have our votes count, our voices heard, and our elected officials accountable to us. 

Passing redistricting reform was a huge step toward fixing the lack of accountability in Michigan’s state government. With fair district maps, voters choose their politicians -- not the other way around -- and can vote them out if they fail to serve our interests. But how do voters hold elected officials accountable while they are serving? 

Right now, we can’t. In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity gave Michigan an “F” grade and ranked it the worst in the nation in government integrity because of our lack of even basic ethics, transparency, and accountability laws. Layered over this are Michigan’s strictest-in-the-nation term limits, which cause huge turnover and hinder politicians’ ability to govern well. The result is corruption, ineffectiveness and widespread voter dissatisfaction. 

The good news is that we can strengthen our system to foster good representation. Like our fight to end gerrymandering, a successful accountability campaign will require a robust, citizen-led effort. But it has the potential to transform our state government and put political power back in the hands of voters, much like redistricting reform will -- by making politicians accountable to the people who elect them.  

Voters Not Politicians is working on policy priorities to:

  • Require personal financial disclosure by lawmakers to alert the public to potential conflicts of interest
  • Strengthen conflicts of interest rules
  • Establish meaningful ethics oversight of the Legislature – a process the public can trust
  • End the abuse of the lame-duck session to prevent outgoing, unaccountable lawmakers from cramming through extreme legislation
  • Expand sunshine laws to the Legislature and governor
  • Close the “revolving door” that allows people to cycle between government and lobbying firms, to protect against corruption
  • Fix Michigan’s term limits to give the lawmakers we elect time to learn the procedural aspects of governing, to understand the areas they are regulating, and to build trusted relationships with colleagues, so they can serve voters effectively 

These are basic policies that we need for good government. They have been on the table for years, but not addressed. 

The next few months will be pivotal. Voters Not Politicians will host town halls across the state in the new year, and we invite every Michigander to provide input and join the push to make our government work for us. By bringing ethics, transparency, and accountability to Lansing, we can shed our “F” grade in state integrity and clean up our government. We the voters achieved a huge win with redistricting reform in 2018. Let’s do it again with accountability in 2020.

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Ronald Wallace
Sun, 01/12/2020 - 5:16pm

The more People that exercise their vote in Michigan, the better our government will be. All Voters to the polls. I vote for the Voters. Go Ms. Wang.

Dan Moerman
Mon, 01/13/2020 - 8:56am

The trickiest part here is the suggestion of changing the term limits issues. It's pretty clear that, in the time they have in Lansing, no one can become a policy expert on any issue, like K-12, or Licencing, or higher ed, etc. As a result, horrible outfits like ALEC can peddle their right wing policies like "Stand your ground" laws, voter id laws, immigration restrictions, energy (that means rejecting climate science), etc. And inexperienced legislators, who don't know how to craft legislation, end up pursuing bad laws, and bad policies. (Imagine: ALEC supports smoking cigarettes!) Our term limits regulations must permit some legislators to really become expert on various issues. "Four years and out" doesn't allow that.

Sondra Johnson
Mon, 01/13/2020 - 9:08am

I’ve always thought the best term limit is the ballot box. This means we need to educate our voters to research their candidates thoroughly. I would also like to see a limit put on the amount of money each candidate can spend on their campaign. All campaign advertisements need to be edited for truth and any false statements whether complimentary towards candidate or negative toward rivals need to be removed.

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 7:42am

The best term limit would be the ballot box EXCEPT the system is rigged in every possible way by incumbents (of both parties) to protect incumbents (of both parties). Even campaign finance reform is designed to make it more difficult for challengers to raise money. None of what is suggested above does anything to help challengers. Until a serious proposal that limits the advantages of incumbency is put forth I can’t see any reason to change term limits. Keep in mind that, while you can vote to remove your representative or senator, it’s the other 109/37 that can pass bad laws or refuse to pass good ones.

This work by VNP, after their laudable redistricting work, makes it clear that they’ve sold out for fig leaf “reforms” in exchange for eliminating term limits. Also keep in mind those halcyon pre term limit days were the days when John Engler and Dominic Jacobetti ran roughshod over the Capitol.

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 2:06pm

Before changing the laws, how about expanding the access to information that informs voters about the politicians they are voting for. It does little to have full financial disclosure if the voters do not get the information or once they receive it do not understand it. And how many, other than lobbyists, have a trusted relationship with a politician? How many voters have written a letter or communicated with their local / state / federal politician? And if you want everyone's vote to count, how is that possible with a huge turnout being in the 37% range of eligible voters? How about concentrating on requiring a 50% + 1 of eligible voters to pass anything? Maybe that would stop the appeal of getting a minorities favorite agenda placed on a ballot where less than 20% turnout is predicated.

Susy Avery
Tue, 01/14/2020 - 8:46am

Still wondering who is funding this VNP group. Initial filings show $250,000 from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and $250,000+ from a couple of hedge-fund billionaires from Texas. All legal and in addition to their other smaller donations. But their larger funders cause one to wonder if this group is truly bunch of 'volunteers' going around the state to hear/talk about transparency.

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 11:23am