The Fortnight in Politics: Right to Work, Fiscal Cliff, Sandy Hook, Susan Rice Withdraws, Amash Gets Spanked

It’s been a month, hasn’t it? The astonishingly mild 60-degree winter in West Michigan serves as a counterpoint to the depressingly extreme politics beyond the Grand Rapids area. Several news ledes warrant a quick review.

Right-to-Work in Michigan

Big Labor picked a fight of their own choosing. Michigan’s One Tough Nerd, Gov. Rick Snyder, decided to fight back, after trying for most of his term to keep labor issues off the table entirely.

Michigan, as a labor-heavy state and birthplace of industrial unionization in the U.S., has long enjoyed a peaceful if uneasy truce in state politics over labor issues. Mutually Assured Destruction, of a sorts. This truce was broken last year, when Bob King — elected in mid-2010 as president of the United Auto Workers — saw the “tea” leaves in Wisconsin and tried to prevent a similar showdown in the Wolverine State.

Backed primarily by the UAW, Michigan unions pushed hard for Proposal 2, a 2012 ballot initiative that would have enshrined a full-throated right to collective bargaining within the state constitution. The proposal failed, equally hard; it went down 57/42 in a state that gave Barack Obama and Debbie Stabenow healthy re-elect margins. King recently suggested that he felt the fight was necessary to protect organized labor. Fair or foul, King knew that if he proceeded with Prop 2, that the Legislature would follow with an RTW initiative. Thus, Prop 2 having been resoundingly defeated, the Legislature acted, and Snyder signed the bills. Despite the drama of union thugs raining down upon the Capital, the entire ordeal unfolded quickly and without too much messiness. And to think — RTW could have been avoided had the UAW kept its powder dry. That’s gotta sting.

The Big Labor argument boils down to this: Since everyone who works in a given union shop enjoys the benefits that accrue to the collective bargaining agreement, allowing non-dues-paying employees to enjoy those benefits amounts to unfair free-riding. (The nature of the free-riding mechanism is always merely asserted, never explained.)  The counter-argument is equally simple: Employees should not be forced to pay to join an organization that doesn’t reflect their values. The whole RTW issue would play out differently politically if the unions weren’t basically the chief fundraiser for the Democratic Party.

The irony of it all is that when it comes to abortion — when a human life is at stake — Dems plead for “choice” but when it comes to working conditions, they suggest that “choice” is an evil. Funny, isn’t it? And by funny I mean idiotic.

The Fiscal Cliff

As of this writing, semi-secret discussions between President Obama and Speaker Boehner continue. There are some indications that the GOP would be willing to accept higher rates on millionaires in return for significant spending concessions and meaningful entitlement reform. The White House doesn’t seem all that eager for a deal, on the assumption that if it waits long enough, Republicans will eventually cave.

I have no clue how this will end up. I do know that irrespective of any specific policy or spending proposal currently on the table, the United States remains on a fiscal trajectory that, in the long run, will prove ruinous. We simply cannot continue to spend like drunken sailors — the IOUs will one day come due, and when that happens, the adjustment pain will increase for every fiscal year we delay serious action.

Obama’s single-minded insistence on higher taxes for the “wealthy” is somewhat difficult to fathom. Surely POTUS is aware that even at 100 percent tax rates on all incomes above $1 million, the Treasury would only net about $616 billion — which, according to John Stossel writing in Forbes, amounts to a paltry one-third of the deficit. And that assumes that the wealthy wouldn’t change their behavior to mitigate their tax liability or change their behavior to reduce their financial risk, and that the lock-up of that money wouldn’t engender a significant economic contraction that lessens the size of the tax base.

The real problem is spending. As I’ve said before, when your entire political-economic platform consists of playing Santa Claus to the nation, it’s hard to accept when the bill comes due that your magic credit card has been maxed out. The Dems genuinely have no alternative strategy for addressing high spending and over-generous entitlement programs. Until they do, the plan of “tax the rich” and “leave Medicare alone” will do little but increase the price future generations will have to pay.

I hope the House GOP caucus sticks together and demands substantial structural reform. I’ll forgive tax hikes if it means we can finally get the spending beast under control with real — not paper, not baseline — reductions in discretionary and entitlement spending.

Sandy Hook Shooting

Last week’s shooting is a tragedy of the first rank. As of this writing, it seems that a young man with a history of mental illness stole some guns from his mother, killed her, forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary and started firing. Dozens died.

The media’s instinct is to “not politicize” the tragedy, which is code for tut-tutting anyone who dares suggest that gun control ought not be on the agenda.

Time and again, we see mass shootings and then in the aftermath, it becomes clear that various taxpayer-funded social-services entities adjudged the danger but failed to act. Instead of directing one’s ire toward gun owners, perhaps we should start to hold the various psychologists and social workers to account, whose negligence allowed a dangerous mentally-ill person to roam free. I’m not entirely serious about this, but it does seem odd that we’re quicker to blame an inanimate object than the specific counselors and therapists who fell down on the job.

The gun-control argument is interesting, in one sense. Proponents suggest that there were no guns, then even a perpetrator suffering from mental illness would end up wrecking less carnage. Perhaps that’s true, but I’m skeptical. First, there are just too many guns in the U.S.; you couldn’t confiscate them all, even if such were permitted by the courts and Congress. Second, a person bent on committing violent crimes might use a gun if he can find one, but if he can’t, he might resort to something else. There’s a reason why bombings are popular in countries with tough gun laws — just ask the Irish. Bad people will find a way to do bad things. Instead of trying to whack at the hydra’s head of weapons choices, perhaps we should re-think our approach to treating mental illness. Particularly when the patient’s suicidal or homicidal ideations are obvious.

Susan Rice Withdraws

Sparing her boss the drama of a confirmation fight, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has asked that her name be withdrawn from consideration to serve as America’s next Secretary of State. Press reports suggest that Sen. John Kerry may well end up being the nominee.

Rice angered Republicans when she went on a whirlwind Sunday-TV interview circuit, weeks before the election, and repeated blatantly false talking points about the attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya — an act of premeditated terrorism that left Ambassador Stevens and several other Americans dead. The White House still hasn’t gotten its story straight about what it knew and when it knew it, regarding the attacks in Benghazi and Cairo.

Rice disqualified herself through her intransigence about those interviews. Her withdrawal marks the first good sense she’s demonstrated in this debacle. 

Justin Amash Learns the Price of Radical Individualism

The Second Coming of Ron Paul has been on a roll. After spending a first term in Congress as the black sheep of the Republican Caucus —

(The Weekly Standard) When I asked fellow freshman Republican Renee Ellmers of North Carolina about Amash, she laughed nervously. “He doesn’t play nice with others,” said Ellmers, a Tea Party conservative popular with the House leadership. … For the Republican establishment, Amash may be more an amusing spectacle than a serious threat. After the first ask, the GOP leadership doesn’t bother whipping Amash on votes. Committee chairs have learned he’s not likely to budge and usually don’t try to negotiate with him. No congressman is an island, but Amash comes close.

Michael Warren’s story in The Weekly Standard is worth reading in full. It tells the tale of a first-term Congressman who’s drinking up the hard-core Libertarian limelight and casting ideologically pure votes in that vein with no regard for party discipline or constituent instruction. And then he has the balls to say he was purged because he was too conservative? I throw the B.S. card on that one.

Amash won because in 2010, the grown-up vote split between two experienced, seasoned primary candidates. Amash got the Paulite wing, and the youth vote.

After 2010, the redistricting changed the district to include a much deeper swath to the south. If the Democrats get their act together, a seat that’s been a mainstay of men like Gerald Ford, Paul Henry and Vern Ehlers could very well flip blue.

Michigan Politics: Post-Primary Edition

The results of Michigan’s August primary are in, and the situation is … interesting.


The results from the AP:

Republican primary
5,715 of 5,732 precincts – 99 percent

Rick Snyder 379,245 – 36 percent ¶
Pete Hoekstra 278,584 – 27 percent ¶
Mike Cox 238,858 – 23 percent ¶
Mike Bouchard 126,807 – 12 percent ¶
Tom George 16,911 – 2 percent ¶

For the governor’s race, businessman and political neophyte Rick Snyder handily trounced the rest of the pack. Snyder’s candidacy is a curious one: A self-described “one tough nerd,” he was the president and COO of Gateway Computers and enjoys an admirable record as a business leader. Arguably, Snyder won because Hoekstra and Cox split the dedicated conservative/establishment vote. Regardless, the nerd gets his chance to pick up the party mantle.

From a purely political perspective, Snyder’s election is thrilling. He is not a hard-right Republican, and this is a good thing. I firmly believe that one of the most significant handicaps for the Michigan GOP is its slavish devotion to its country-club grandees — folks like the DeVos and Yob families, whose pocketbooks ensure compliance but whose social sensibilities are out-of-touch with a state that cares more about economic performance than contrived social mores. The Michigan GOP, like the Kent County GOP, is heavily influenced by the Ada-style country-club elitism that, despite its charms, is simply inconsistent with the culture of a state that remains “Reagan Democrat.” Perhaps Snyder’s candidacy will break open the state party to diverse voices and new faces.

Policy-wise, Snyder is growing on me. I had been an early Hoekstra supporter, and since I discounted Snyder’s potential, I paid him less heed than I should have. Snyder presents a solid pro-business plan for the state. He advocates policies that advance economic growth and more efficient state governance. You see much less by way of unnecessary grandstanding over touchstone cultural-conservative issues from him, and this is good. With Obama-style progressive Virg Bernero — darling of organized labor — as the Democratic nominee, keeping the argument solidly economic in this climate will likely work to Snyder’s benefit.

I dived a bit deeper into just one of Snyder’s points in his 10-point plan, giving a thorough reading into his healthcare white paper. I must admit — Snyder gets it right. Promoting medical homes for high-risk patients, emphasizing lifestyle modification to reduce the long-term cost of chronic illness, and managing Medicaid reimbursement rates will go a long way to fixing what ails Michigan’s creaky health care system. If Snyder can get MDCH to stop doing stupid things like simultaneously replacing both of its Medicaid eligibility systems with software solutions proven to fail in other states, we might be on to something.

Net result: I can stand up for Rick Snyder.

Congressional Races

CD2: Bill Huizenga barely squeaked out a primary win against Jay Riemersma. This is the seat vacated this cycle by U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, who stepped down to run for governor. Although this is a deep-red district, and Huizenga is running as a red-meat Republican, the primary race was surprisingly competitive.

CD3: Justin Amash, a 30-year-old state legislator, took this race with 40 percent of the vote. Amash beat veteran county lawmaker Steve Heacock and state Sen. Bill Hardiman, who took 28 and 26 percent, respectively. The seat is vacant this cycle because U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers is retiring. Amash benefited from the grown-up candidates splitting the serious vote, while the enthusiastic youngsters who listened to the vague promises and ultra-hard-right nostrums from the Amash campaign carried the day. Of course, it helps when the DeVos family bankrolls his federal race just as his parents bankrolled his state race. Among dedicated watchers of West Michigan politics, informal consensus is that Amash is something of a blank slate, like a Manchurian candidate sponsored by the Club for Growth; he is vague on specific policy and remains relatively unpolished, echoing hard-right pieties but lacking in the gravitas to be a major player in Washington. This fall will be fun: Amash will stand against Democrat Pat Miles. Miles, a local lawyer, is a bit more of a practical, middle-of-the-road Dem. In a district long-held by quiet moderates like Ehlers, Paul Henry, and Jerry Ford, it is an open question whether a firebrand conservative with relatively limited experience can persuasively carry the district. Conventional wisdom is that he wins in 2010 but will be vulnerable as his district trends slowly leftward thanks to changing demographics.

CD6: U.S. Rep. Fred Upton beat back a primary challenger, but the margin was surprisingly narrow; he won 57-43 despite his incumbency and absurd spending gap over his competitor.

CD7: Former U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg gets a rematch against the Democrat who displaced him in 2008, current U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer.


The 2010 election cycle will be one for the history books — the spotlight will be on Congressional races, where the results will be largely viewed as a referendum on the Obama presidency and the stewardship of the Pelosi/Reid Congress. Pundits will therefore look to various competitive House and Senate races to the exclusion of most other campaigns — even to governorships, which are crucial this cycle because of decennial redistricting.

If the election were held today, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball suggests the GOP picks up 7 Senate seats, 32 House seats, and 6-7 governorships.

However, the real question for the GOP isn’t whether the House or Senate will be retaken or how many governorships it possesses. Rather, the party must focus on its message and its candidates. For every solid conservative with good credentials and a coherent program, there are candidates who have won primary challenges based solely on a populist message. These candidates may not be the best choice for the job — see “Amash,” above — but they won either because better candidates split the serious vote, or because voter anger propelled the “fresh voice” to victory.

For West Michigan, the election season will be competitive even though the certain races are foregone conclusions. We will see Huizenga and Amash in Congress, most likely. And barring poor performance or suprises this autumn, Rick Snyder will probably move into the governor’s mansion.

So yes, let’s focus on the elections. But the elections are going to change our political culture in ways it hasn’t been touched in a very long time, and this is the part of the equation that is the most interesting of all.

Let the election season begin!