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

Nancy Wang

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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