When Republicans have everything, will they have enough?

Last week’s election was won by Republicans in a rout. Rick Snyder was re-elected governor, and the GOP solidified its hammerlock on the Michigan Legislature, picking up four seats in the state House, now 63-47, and even a seat in the Senate, now 27-11.

In the aftermath, it’s useful to try to peer behind the daily cut and thrust of politics to glimpse the powerful underlying forces at work. Here’s a quick guide:

Overreach: Like a moth attracted to a bright light, the party that wins elections often feels compelled to take its new majority to extremes, thereby antagonizing the very voters who put them in power in the first place. It’s a bipartisan reflex, as common as it is dangerous.

Former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm shanghaied thousands of people (often family members) taking care of elderly patients in homes into “joining” the Service Employees International Union. Organized labor tried to jam collective bargaining guarantees into the state constitution in 2012. Both attempts collapsed amid savage criticism. Labor’s overreach also caused irate majority Republicans to make Michigan a right-to-work state just weeks later.

Now, with their heavy majorities in the new legislature, Republicans will be faced with similar urges. An early conservative favorite idea is changing with the present rules for allocating state votes in the Electoral College.

Michigan is among 48 states that allocate all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins a majority of votes statewide. Republicans have long grumbled about this “winner-take-all” system that has regularly given Democrats the state’s electoral votes since 1988. Some GOP conservatives for years have talked about changing the system so that a presidential candidate would get electoral votes for winning in each congressional district.

The effect would be considerable. President Barack Obama earned Michigan’s 16 electoral votes in 2012, when he defeated Mitt Romney by 9 percentage points. Under the proposed change, Michigan’s electoral votes would have been split 9-7 in favor of Romney, even though he lost Michigan by 449,313 votes.
Such a change would be enormously controversial and regarded as deeply unfair by many.

Last year, delegates to the Republican state convention overwhelmingly supported this method of allocating electoral votes. The governor has said he isn’t interested in such a change; to gauge GOP tendencies to overreach, keep an eye on what happens here.

Roads: If there is one issue that a clear majority of Michigan citizens support, it’s fixing our terrible roads. According to polling last winter and community conversations sponsored by The Center for Michigan, citizens are fed up with bad roads and (by a smaller margin) are willing to pay more in taxes to get the job done. Experts in the state’s Department of Transportation report that Michigan spends less than any other state in the union on our roads: $174 per person annually, compared with $235 in Illinois and Ohio and $315 in Minnesota. Another way of looking at it, as Bridge Magazine reader Charles Richards points out, is spending per lane mile. Michigan spends $11.70, while the national average is $17.20.

Different numbers; same point. Gov. Snyder and legislative leaders agree fixing the roads will cost more than $1 billion annually, which the state doesn’t now have. The legislature ducked funding the road program before this year’s election – no surprise. But hours after his victory, Snyder called for an increase in road funding in the lame duck session of the legislature.

Since the legislature that takes office on January 1 will be more conservative (several extreme tea party supporters were elected last week) moving now makes practical and political sense.

Ignoring the clear consensus that roads need to be fixed would be a significant sign the legislature is prepared to put anti-tax ideology above public opinion.

Govern, not gridlock. A clear message from this election is that voters are tired of partisan gridlock, whether in Washington or Lansing, and strongly prefer a system that actually gets things done.

President Obama’s Democrats were blamed for Washington dysfunction and paid the price. Gov. Snyder’s Republicans passed some controversial stuff – right to work, taxes on pension income, for example – but won the election by showing they could get things done in the face of Democratic whining.

So part of the political calculus of the next two years will be to see if Republicans can quell disputes inside their own caucus and assemble a robust agenda for governing that avoids the sin of overreach. Newly elected legislative leaders ‒ Majority Leader Arlen Meekoff in the Senate and Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter ‒ are substantially more conservative than their predecessors. They’ve got the votes to steamroll any Democratic opposition, but can they overcome the governor’s somewhat middle-of-the-road preferences?

For the past two years, I’ve puzzled at why minority Democrats in the legislature never tried to join with Snyder and other moderate Republicans to put together a working majority. Best I can figure is they preferred to beat up on Snyder in hopes of winning the governorship in this election just past.

Well, now they won’t have that chance till 2018. Another important thing to keep an eye on over the next months is whether a moderate bipartisan coalition is beginning to emerge in Lansing.

Elections bring change; that’s their nature. And change is never easy. But the trick is to figure out what underlying forces are at work, and understand how they play out in the daily news headlines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Gene Markel
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 10:33am
Automation and robotics are approaching the replacement of 4 of every 5 new manufacturing and assembly jobs that will be created in Michigan for the next ten years. Robots replace people. Robots don't pay taxes. People pay taxes. No people, No jobs, No Taxes. How will the state maintain its infrastructure with the taxes generated by a declining population? Michigan has shunned movie making one of the last labor intensive industries.
Bernadine Bennett
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 11:53am
We have to build the robots instead of buying them from low wage countries. Just like the carriage makers and horse breeders went into the car business.
Curtis Blessing
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 10:42am
I do not believe Prop 2 in any sense caused irate Republican lawmakers and Governor Snyder to enact Right-to-Work in lame duck 2012. The sequence of events was merely a convenient political excuse for caving in to the far right and poisoning Michigan politics for the foreseeable future. RTW has always been on a cherished wish list of some, and circumstances , including a MIGOP Trifecta and a governor who was prepared to cave to the bullies in his party, dictated the timing of RTW.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 11:02am
The Republicans in this state won't be happy - until there isn't a decent salary, retirement, or health care plan in the state for anyone actually working for a living, and the privileging of capital over labor is complete - until it is impossible for any woman of child bearing age to control her body and health care - until taxes on millionaires are zero and on working people so high that they have no energy to complain about their treatment - until the public schools have been so starved that no educational opportunity exists for anyone who doesn't have the wealth to go to private school, in order to ensure that the wealthy have an ignorant populace to control - until everyone lives in fear of our militarizing police forces (especially if you have then nerve to not be 100% caucasian in background) and conservative "gun rights" activists can terrorize everyone else that isn't cowed sufficiently by the police forces, - until our waters are polluted with industrial wastes, there is a landfill, mine, or oil well on every block, all the wild life has been hunted into oblivion, and the roar of motorized engines can be heard in every corner that once was reserved for non-motorized recreation, - until the Snyder/DeVos/VanAndel nexus and their band of donor buddies have completely disenfranchised everyone who might try to vote against their hand picked candidates via redistricting, manipulation of electoral college vote distribution, voter ID laws and any other underhanded tactics they can dream up . Sadly, this list could go on and on and on.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 1:42pm
How could you forget with all your other hysterics, REINSTITUTING SLAVERY?
Sun, 11/16/2014 - 9:21am
The new serfdom pretty much covers that.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 7:21pm
Dwhyte's comments were on the mark. He should be writing for Bridge, since Phil Power's columns have become so "ho-hum." Power couldn't even get the results of the election right, stating that "republicans won in a rout." Citizens actually voted for more democrats into Congress and Michigan’s House of Representatives this past election than republicans. Republicans, because they won state-wide offices in 2010, re-wrote redistricting rules to highly favor themselves, packed more likely democratic voters into their districts than their own. Of course it's a lot easier for republicans to win if you can write your own rules. Gerrymandering by republicans was the grand overreach and Power never even mentioned that in this article.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 1:23pm
With only 1 or 2 net Electoral College votes to be won, why would a presidential candidate campaign in Michigan or commit to any policies that would benefit Michigan? Even if Electoral College votes are to be divvied up, why wouldn't it be done proportionally rather than very undemocratic apportionment via terribly gerrymandered congressional voting districts? Gerrymandering presidential elections would be a bridge too far I think. Bridge Magazine identified the source of funds needed for roads in September:http://bridgemi.com/2014/09/tax-breaks-for-businesses/http://bridgemi.com/2014/09/tax-breaks-for-manufacturers/http://bridgemi.com/2014/09/tax-breaks-for-oil,-mineral-industries/Raising taxes on the beleaguered middle class is not the answer.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 1:36pm
Someone give me one advantage for the employee who is under an at will contract to work.. Right to work does give the employee a choice but the undoing of the unions also has it's price. Dwhyte unfortunately you are right on with some of your points. R.L.
Charles Richards
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 2:45pm
Most people in this country work under an employment at will contract and seem to do very well. Those employees in southern Europe who work under a permanent contract that makes it impossible to fire anyone for incompetence or lay anybody off in the event of an economic downturn have a great deal of security and are quite happy with their situation. But the inflexibility of those contracts makes employers very reluctant to hire anyone because they can't be sure they won't become a heavy burden that will endanger the company at some time in the future. Thus you have unemployment rates of 25% to 40% among people under thirty in Greece, Spain and Italy. Older workers' security comes at the expense of younger workers. And unemployment rates for Europe as a whole run five or six percentage points above American unemployment rates. There is a tradeoff between the security of individual workers and the welfare of workers as a group. When Henry Ford offered five dollars a day to his workers, it wasn't because of union pressure. It was to reduce costs and improve productivity. He had 13,500 employees and 5,000 quit every month. Why? It was because he had been paying the going rate and there were plenty of jobs at that rate. Nor did the workers have any interest in being particularly efficient or doing their jobs properly because they could walk out and get a job that paid just as well. But when he began paying five dollars a day, the workers developed a keen interest in doing their job well and keeping their job. All this occurred under employment at will. So R.L. may be right in saying that a particular employee may have no short term advantage in employment at will, but the community at large reaps large benefits from it in terms of increased productivity. And his fellow workers gain from substantially improved employment opportunities.
John Q.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 4:35pm
Yet there's no evidence to support these claims. 30 years of flat or declining income relative to productivity. So much for that theory.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 10:13pm
R.L., The first consideration for an employee is the viability of the employer, which in turn raises the concern about the employer's competitiveness. It is true there are poorly run companies that are not competive, but if the company is competitive it is most likely aggressively utilizing and investing in the employees. What is the purpose of the union and how does it strive to make an employer more competitive? The next consideration for an employee is the work environment. Is it safe and healthy, is there sufficent training, do the employees have the authority appropraite for their role/job expectations, are they allowed to use their knowledge and skills and recieve recognition for their performance, will they be working with people of similar commitment and performance or will the work protocols support a lower performance level, etc.? For those companies that have been around a long time and are competitive they are agressively make the work place safer, expanding the employees' role/responsibilities and their authority, and supporting them with more education, more access to support and less direct supervision. How do union provide technical training such a computer knowledge and skills, health and safety knowledge, and authority to the employees? Another consideration is compensation. Are the employees knowledge and skills and performance compensation competitive in the market place? How do unions reward knowledge and skills, and performance? Simply having been provide the necessary knowledge and skills does not mean all apply them equally so is it better for an employee to be compensated on a fixed scale or on a performance scale above a base? Considering less and less work is done by hand and mesured by peice work, and more and more is by supporting technology are the unions adjusting accordingly or are the still focusing on the lesser knowledge and skill dependent type work? I have worked in both environments and found the employees that are more driven by knowledge and skills want more independence and personal recognition for their effective application of that knowledge and skills. My experience is that as the competitve business environment is changing the reliance on the knowledge and skills and their application by individual employees continues to be more important, so employers are more cognesent of the individual employee, extending more authority/descision making to the employee (providing less direct supervision), and investing more in the employee. Are you sure the unions are keeping pace with the changing environment.
Martha Toth
Wed, 11/12/2014 - 5:25am
Just heard this weekend about a trained engineer transitioning to teaching because he did not want to live as a migrant worker as had his parents. This is what it has come to in his field, where almost all the large corporations hire engineers for specific contracts, and they must move on when the contract work is done. My Lockheed Martin engineer daughter who works on contract can verify this system. It's a Brave New World of exploited and disposable workers, even for professionals with graduate degrees.
Mon, 11/17/2014 - 10:43am
Having worked my entire life in small organizations, I've never felt the need for union representation. I can make my own case for my value, and my employers have been able to know me well enough to value me accordingly. However, I was raised in a household where my father worked for larger corporations, where it wasn't possible for management to know the worth of individuals and adjust their pay accordingly. In the absence of a union, there would still have been 'pay grades'...just no practical ability to argue (or have your representative argue) for what those should look like, and where various skill sets fit within them. To believe that even a highly skilled knowledge worker has true influence on their wage and benefit environment in a large enterprise is naive. This is a privilege accorded to a very few at the very top. I suspect that the future will see a return to the type of organizing we saw during Henry Ford's era; this time in the technology industry.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 1:47pm
So Gov Snyder thinks that labor unions are such pathetic useless organizations that the only way people will join them is if pass a law requiring it? And many of the commenters above seem to agree. Couldn't we say the same thing for churches?
Nancy Shiffler
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 3:05pm
Every time Governor Snyder says he is "not interested" in an issue, it means he will ignore the debate and sign whatever bill lands on his desk. He says he's only interested in the economy; the legislature ignores him and does what they want. That's not leadership; that's parallel play.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 3:36pm
Charles Richards, Henry Ford paid his employees $5 a day so they could afford to buy the products they were creating, which was good for business in general. When American workers make so little money that they have very little left after the basics, they stop buying. They also cut back on the basics, spending less for groceries and gas, and forego vacations and the like. It's a downward spiral.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 5:00pm
And let's all remember that Henry Ford was as right wing as they come! Paying workers a living wage, and providing the sense of security that makes them feel they can buy a house, a car and other big ticket items is an engine for economic growth, and he knew it. It's a shame today's wanna be oligarchs can't figure this out.
Al Churchill
Wed, 11/19/2014 - 6:40pm
Sue At the time that Henry Ford instituted $5.00 his annual employee turnover rate was 310%. I would like to suggest that was a reflection of, not only a low wage, but horrible, horrible conditions in the plant. Harry Bennet and his Service Squad, made up of ex- cons, planted company spies throughout the Rough complex. Also, the $5.00 was contingent upon a worker allowing Ford service agents into their home to find out if they were living consistent with Ford's requirements. If not, no $5.00
John Q.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 4:37pm
Dear Phil - If you're going to claim that the Democrats wouldn't work with Snyder, how do you think Medicaid expansion passed?
John Mills
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 5:51pm
If we aren't going to elect the president by popular vote, the next-best thing is to change the Electoral College to congressional districts. You know what's unfair? That a Democrat in Alabama has no voice in presidential elections. That a Republican in California has no voice in presidential elections. And yes, that Republicans in Michigan have no voice in presidential elections. Changing our Electoral College apportionment would not be unfair. That's ridiculous.
Martha Toth
Wed, 11/12/2014 - 9:14am
The whole point of the Electoral College was to give smaller states an outsized voice in choosing the president. It was a way to get the colonies to come together to replace British rule. If we are going to replace it (which seems both warranted and doable now), it should be with direct popular vote. If we are going to keep it, allotment by Congressional district is NOT the next best option, since it further devalues the votes of minorities in our gerrymandered districts. The next best way would be to assign electoral votes in proportion to the overall popular vote -- in which case we may as well just go to the popular vote.
Wed, 11/12/2014 - 6:58pm
Martha, Are you suggesting we also change how US Senators are selected to one of national popular vote rather than each state having 2 since by your reasoning that provides a disproportionate weighting to the smaller and less populated states similar to the Electorial College? I still believe in states' rights and the importance of having a counter balance to population density. It would seem by your approach all choices would be made by popular vote which would drive everything to the interests of the highest density population centers. That approach would prevent important issues recieving a balanced discussion by elected officials in DC. I have learned that there are different subcultures in America, the more self reliant rural to the more government depedent inter cities, etc. Your approach would drive everything to respond to highest density desires. Even in MIchigan I see value in hearing the concerns of the UP, Northern LP, west Michigan, rather then simply relying on the higher population areas such as Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, and Lansing. I have watched how Detroit has function and wonder how the state would function if it were the dominate political force in Michigan. I see MIchgian as credible model how the US would function if all US elected offices were determined soley based on popular voting with the balance of such things as states having equal representation in the US Senate and a degree of balance by Electorial College votes. The temptation to claim that the value system we have was created solely to lure smaller states to support the Constitution ignores impact of the system we have. By creating a system that provided a degree of parity in the US Senate we have had a counter weight to the differences of interests. I find it even more valuable today with the speed of change, the impact of visual and verbal appeal, the swings in emotions, etc. I have learn there needs to be a means to slow and force deliberations into our political process. For whatever reason we were built on a tempered , representative, form of democray that has served us and the world well. It may be slow and frustrating, but that slowness allows social change to become part of the fabric of our country rather then have social change oscilatting to the extremes driven by individual events and demagoguery. You may not see how the midwest states differ from the east coast or west coast states, but the do in part because the sparseness of the states, I believe that it is important that they have an impact on the politics in DC not just being sunted aside because of the sparseness of their geography.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 7:30pm
At least Charles Richards had the courage to respond. I have three people in my family including myself who lost jobs none of which were for illegal reasons. Fortunately I had a union and had other options. My wife and daughters termination were very costly, financially and emotionally. Thanks to Gov .Snyder and others his right sizing and better practices cost my wife a good pension two years short of her full pension. There are hundreds of reasons to get rid of people none of which are illegal many of them are at least questionable or immoral. The business world wonders why there is so little loyality anymore . I don't wonder any more. R.L.
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 9:15pm
Mr. Powers, I always enjoy reading your perspective on the politics of Lansing. I appreciate your knowledge of history in politics and sharing your insights and wisdom. Thank you!