Bad employee claim earns anti-Prop 2 ad an foul from Truth Squad

MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: “Real Harm,” “Dangerous”  and “Our Jobs”

Who: Protect Michigan Taxpayers, Hands Off Our Constitution

What: TV/Web ads

Truth Squad call: Foul

Proposal 2, which would put collective-bargaining rights for public-sector workers in the Michigan Constitution, is one of the hardest-fought races of this election cycle. The nonpartisan Citizens Research Council calls Proposal 2 a pushback against recent actions by the governor and Legislature to restrict the bargaining power and costs of public-sector workers. It would also prevent the Legislature from passing Right to Work legislation.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Bill Schuette handed the governor a memo of his legal opinion on the proposal’s effects, which has been the foundation for attacks on the proposal ever since. The ballot language says Prop 2 would “invalidate existing or future state or local laws that limit the ability to join unions and bargain collectively,” and in Schuette’s opinion, that’s a long list.

Questionable statements: “I’ve studied Proposal 2. It’ll do some real harm. Prop 2 could throw out 170 laws, with a lot of unintended consequences. Prop 2 is about big special interests, people playing politics, and cluttering up the constitution.”

Schuette’s memo is his legal opinion, but he’s also a politician, which means his analysis may not be entirely objective, either. For nonpartisan analysis, a voter might try the Citizens Research Council, which issued its own analysis of the proposal in September. While not marching in lockstep with the attorney general, the CRC agrees that Prop 2 would “(have) the potential to dramatically alter the established powers and authorities constitutionally granted to different branches of government and different types of government in the state.” While individual laws that might conflict with it would have to be challenged one by one, the proposal does have the potential to change or nullify a great many of them.

And that is what underlies the most important word in Schuette’s statement in this ad – “could.” Looking at previous ads that use Schuette’s claims, the Truth Squad noted:

“Since there is not clear legal agreement on what Prop 2 will or won’t do, the use of the word ‘could’ do something is tough, but in-bounds. The use of ‘would’ evokes certainty, but with the language of Proposal 2 leaving so much open to interpretation by the courts, it is possible that the changes envisioned in these ads would happen.”

As for Schuette’s claim that the proposal is “about big special interests,” it’s true that many labor unions are among its principal backers. But its opponents are equally well-financed; Protecting Michigan Taxpayers and Hands Off Our Constitution have the backing of the state Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

The third spot, by Hands Off Our Constitution, features an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy, Terry Fortuna, making sweeping claims about Proposal 2:

Questionable statement: "Proposal 2 protects bad teachers, bad cops and bad firemen. ... You don’t have to know anything about Proposal 2 except, it’s dangerous."

Fortuna’s words play over a superimposed title that reads, “School districts will lose the ability to quickly get rid of teachers who are convicted felons or sexual deviants.” That’s a line from a Detroit News editorial denouncing the proposal, and it’s based on Schuette’s 170-laws memo.

But as the Truth Squad noted in September about this particular claim, “If a school board and a teachers’ union were to agree on a process for handling allegations of sexual misconduct or lying about criminal history, those agreements could very well trump state law if Prop 2 passes. The elected school board is still responsible for negotiating contracts that protect students and staff.  It is difficult to envision a situation in which a school board would agree to ban itself from suspending teachers convicted of having sex with students.”

Overall impression: After weeks of using his legal opinion to support the argument that Proposal 2 is bad for Michigan, the attorney general himself steps in to make the case.

Foul or no foul: Foul on the “Dangerous” ad’s claim that Proposal 2 “protects” bad public employees. If passed, Proposal 2’s effects could be sweeping, with some even unintended. But there’s no proof that the proposal is guaranteed to protect bad employees.

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Charles Richards
Mon, 11/05/2012 - 2:12pm
It is true that Proposal two would not by itself "protect bad employees". But any employee protections written into collective bargaining agreements would prevail. And the MEA has succeeded in inserting clauses that make it very difficult to fire employees guilty of egregious offenses.