The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 05, 2018

'What's not at stake?' Looming general election offers workers a chance to finally bring change

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

If the turnout for the Aug. 7 primary election is any indication, Michigan voters are highly motivated this year. If you and your family haven't been similarly motivated to vote in this year's general election, now would be a great time to get interested.

The first priority is getting registered to vote - and to cast a ballot in the all-important Nov. 6 general election, you must register by Tuesday, Oct. 9. Michigan residents who are 18 or over by Election Day can register in person at their local city or township clerk’s office or secretary of state’s office. Or online, Google “State of Michigan Voter Registration Application” and print out the form - at this late date on the calendar it would be best to hand-deliver it to your local clerk's office instead of dropping it in the U.S. Mail.

"If we had a swing of just a couple of friendly state House members in the last election, we could have saved the state's prevailing wage law when it came up for a vote in June," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "But looking ahead, this upcoming election is critical to stopping any further anti-labor legislation that we have seen constantly over the past eight years. Our members need to know who our friends are in this election, and then they have to take time to vote. That hasn't always been the case in the past."

A record 2.1 million votes were cast two months ago in the Aug. 6 statewide primary - a number that says nearly 29 percent of Michigan's voting-age population went to the polls. That easily beat the previous high of 1.7 million votes cast in the 2002 gubernatorial primary ballot. Compare that 29 percent participation rate to the general election for governor four years ago, when only 17.4 percent of the state's voting age population bothered to cast a ballot.

The heightened interest in this year's elections might be due to the Trump Effect, it might finally be backlash against the anti-worker and pro-business bias in the state Legislature, it might be backlash against the Flint water crisis or it might be focus from the pro-marijuana crowd or redistricting proponents that are among this year's ballot issues.

For organized labor in Michigan, the stakes in this year's general election are enormous. The ballot offers the state's voters a chance to determine who will sit in the governor's office, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer or Republican Bill Schuette, as well as who will control the secretary of state and attorney general's offices. University board of trustees are up for election. Voters will choose who will represent them in the state House and Senate and on countywide positions. State Supreme Court justices are on the ballot, as are county and local district judiciary seats. 

There have been numerous examples of anti-worker and anti-union legislation that have been adopted by the state Legislature, which have been in single-party Republican control for the past eight years. The most aggregious for the building trades: the state Legislature's refusal in June to simply allow the prevailing wage repeal question to be placed on this year's November ballot. Instead, they repealed the law, and then added a $75,000 enforcement appropriation to it so that it couldn't be repealed by a voter referendum.

"We know all too well that for far too long the rules have been manipulated to favor corporations and the wealthiest one percent," said Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber. "Our freedoms as working people have been under attack in Michigan and we’ve had to fight harder than ever to protect the things we need to sustain our families. But this year we have a chance to change that. 

"We have an opportunity to elect people who will change the rules to help create an economy that works for everyone. From electing Gretchen Whitmer our next governor, to pro-labor members of Congress and the state legislature, we have an exciting slate of candidates who will make working families their top priority."

Aside from the long list of names of candidates for office, there are also three proposals on the Nov. 6 ballot. In particular, passage of Proposal 2 could have a crucial impact on leveling the playing field for both major parties regarding how candidates are chosen for office.

Proposal 1 would legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Proposal 2 would establish an independent citizens redistricting commission, which would take the redistricting process out of the purview of politicians. Passage of the proposal would amend the state Constitution to transfer the authority to draw congressional and state legislative district lines from the legislature and governor to an independent commission. The selection process will be administered by the Secretary of State. Thirteen commissioners would be randomly selected from a pool of registered voters, and consist of four members who self-identify with each of the two major political parties, and five non-affiliated, independent members. 

Proponents of the proposal say that while the new system wouldn't be perfect - there would still be politically-backed people involved in the redistricting - it would finally allow voters to choose their politicians, and not vice-versa. The redistricting process in recent decades has come under wholesale criticism for the weird shapes of some districts, which were drawn to ensure candidates of the party drawing the lines get an advantage.

Proposal 3, the Voting Rights Policies Initiative, would amend the state Constitution and broaden voting access and specify the rights of qualified voters. It would allow them to vote a secret ballot; for military and overseas voters to be sent a ballot 45 days before an election; to vote straight party on all partisan general election ballots; to be automatically registered to vote when obtaining a driver’s license or personal identification card from the Secretary of State, unless the person declines; to register to vote by mail on or before the 15th day before an election; to register to vote in person at any time with proof of residency; to vote an absentee ballot, by mail or in person, without giving a reason; and to have election results audited to ensure the accuracy of elections.

"You look at the ballot: everything's at stake; what's not at stake in this election?" said Jeannette Bradshaw, the registrar for IBEW Local 58. "We can sit on the sideline this election season, or we can make the choice to get involved. This is our chance to help determine a future for the state's workers, for our kids, for education, our roads. Do we want to keep what we have, or do we want to make things more positive, especially for the state's working people?"