Calling what happened during Michigan’s lame duck session “very, very bad,” former State Senator Joe Schwartz blames term limits and the unprecedented influence of corporate money

As we recently discussed, Michigan Radio, as part of their Issues & Ale series, hosted a panel discussion in Ypsilanti late last week on the subject of Michigan’s newly passed right-to-work legislation. The panel, which included former Republican State Senator Joe Schwartz, Kristin Dziczek, the Director of the Labor & Industry Group at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), F. Vincent Vernuccio, the Director of Labor Policy at The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and newly elected State Representative Gretchen Driskell, ran for approximately 90 minutes, and included any number of quotable moments. I was initially inclined to focus my attention, for the purposes of this blog post, on the ridiculously offensive contributions of the representative of the far-right Mackinac Center, who, judging from the response of the audience, everyone seemed to find worthy of considerable scorn, but I’ve since come to the realization that I have better things to do with my time than repeat the lies of a young political operative with a meaningless degree from Tom Monaghan’s ultra-right-wing Ave Maria School of Law. So, instead, I’ll be focusing on the comments made by Joe Schwartz. (I will tell you, though, that Vernuccio had the audacity at one point to suggest that the Machinac Center wouldn’t exist if there weren’t broad support across the state of Michigan for their activities – a claim which was instantly met with a unified wall of laughter and an enthusiastic chorus of “Koch brothers” from the audience, referencing, of course, the fact that Mackinac Center funding comes primarily from out-of-state billionaires, like the Koch brothers, who are supportive of the organization’s corporatist anti-tax, anti-labor agenda.)

There was a lot to like about the event, and I appreciate Michigan Radio’s attempt to tackle such a weighty issue. Sure, it was enormously frustrating, but I think we all knew that was going to be the case when we walked in and bought our beers. We knew that we weren’t going to leave feeling any better about the situation, and we knew that we weren’t likely to arrive at any solutions. Still, though, I picked up bits and pieces that I found incredibly valuable. And, as it turns out, most of these insights came from Joe Schwartz, who, having risen up through the Republican ranks before serving a term in Congress, knows a thing or two about how things are… or at least were… done in Lansing, before everything went to hell at the hands of the Tea Party.

Before sharing Schwartz’s quotes, I should probably mention that, from what I can tell, he now considers himself an Independent, having been forced from elected office by the rising tide on the far-right. So, what he says, I suppose, could be tinged with a hint of bitterness. Still, though, I find it incredibly interesting to hear what old-guard Michigan Republicans think of their party now. With that said, here’s the first of two videos. This one has to do primarily with term limits, and Schwartz’s belief that they’re directly responsible for the radicalization of his former party.

Here’s the transcript.

SCHWARTZ: “The numbers now, in the Senate especially… which is 24 to 12 (Democrat to Republican)… And there was a 10 or 12 seat (Republican) majority int he House as well. That’s a remedy for mischief in an inexperienced, term-limited legislature, where you have a lot of outside pressure, which I think you could probably identify… and so could I… which will remain nameless. And you have a whole bunch of legislators looking at the next election coming, which ain’t that far away, folks. Two years. It’s going to pass like nobody’s business. So the influence to do this… not only right-to-work, but so many other things that were done… to take away women’s rights… in the legislature… and some other things… are typical of term-limited legislatures. And I’ll say again – we’re trying. I’m in a group that’s trying to figure out a way to repeal term limits. Not that I want for people to stay a thousand years in the legislature. You’d have to be really crazy to stay a thousand years in the legislature… but to get some more experience there. And to rebuild our legislature to what it can be, and has been. The legislature is peopled by good people. There aren’t bad people. But it’s a sitution where there’s no leadership. There can’t be, because no one has been there long enough to lead. So, as a result, mistakes are made. And my hope is that, at some point, and it won’t be in my lifetime, but in most of your lieftimes, we will go back to a legislature where there are mentors… where there are people who have seen this happen before, and know it’s either going to work or not work, and people who can stand up to the Governor, whoever the Governor might be at any given time, and people who can resist a whole bunch of outside money that comes in, that thretens these people, especially threatens people with a primary – especially Republicans being primaried from the right. So the dynamic is complex. But a term-limited legislature cramming all of this stuff into a lame duck session was very, very bad.”

I know we’ve been talking a lot about gerrymandering lately, and how imperative it is that we change the way that redistricting is done in Michigan, to ensure that there’s a level playing field going forward, but, as Schwartz reminds us, that’s just part of the problem. It’s not enough to take the power of drawing district lines away from politicians. We also have to make it easier for politicians to stand up to the corporate interests that are constantly threatening to run other, “more conservative,” candidates against them in the primaries, if they don’t do what they’re told. And, as Schwartz says, we need the institutional memory that comes with years of service. While I can certainly sympathize with folks who fought for term limits, as I too am prone to fits of “vote the bums out” anger, I think, in this case, the cure is worse than the disease. The unintended consequences of term limits give us weaker, less experienced politicians, who are more likely to do the bidding of those with the resources to force them from office.

Back to the video… If you watch past the point where Schwartz speaks, you’ll hear Gretchen Driskell correcting Jack Lessenberry, who has, on several occasions, suggested that the unions forced Snyder to pursue the passage of right-to-work legislation when they sought to enshrine collective bargaining in the State’s constitution via Proposal 2. “I don’t believe that Proposal 2 caused the right-to-work vote in (the) lame duck (session),” said Driskell. “That was planned.” (If you’ll recall, RNC Finance Chair Ron Weiser was caught on tape admitting as much.) Driskell then went on to say, “My understanding is that the reason Proposal 2 was put out there was becasue there were so many bills that were being pushed through, and that was the only way to respond.” And she, of course, is right. The assault on labor in Michigan predated the campaign for Proposal 2 by quite some time. And, as such, it’s completely disingenuous to suggest that unions set everything in motion by overreaching against the advice of the Governor. That narrative needs to be put to rest once and for all.

And, with that, I give you the second video, which features Joe Schwartz demanding accountability from those in the MEDC responsible for politicizing the State’s Pure Michigan campaign, by tying it to the recently-passed right-to-work legislation, in a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal.

SCHWARTZ: “There was a big time failure to communicate. And there should be clear policy in the Governor’s office… and I think there may well be… but it certainly wasn’t obeserved here. You don’t do something like that in an organization that is part of the office of the Governor. Quite frankly, I think the Director of the MEDC should tender his resignation. And the Governor can accept it or not accept it. But that was a horrible miscalculation… You can’t tollerate that. In the executive office, you cannot do it.”

How’s that for validation?

And, yes, I realize that I could have probably gotten 100x the traffic for this post if I’d focused on this second video, and run a headline saying, “Former State Senator Joe Schwartz Says Mike Finney Should be Terminated Over Wall Street Journal Ad,” but, the truth is, as much as I disagreed with the MEDC’s decision to politicize the Pure Michigan campaign, I don’t know that it would necessarily help to force Finney from office. First of all, I’m not convinced that the person to replace him would be any better. And, second, I actually like Mike. Sure, I wish that he’d focus a bit more on fostering small-scale entrepreneurship, instead of trying to lure the next Pfizer to Michigan, but, all in all, I think he’s trying to do the right thing for Michigan… And, speaking of fostering small-scale entrepreneurship, if you’re reading this, Mike, I’d like to invite you to come out on January 29 and hear Michael Shuman speak at the Community Capital Forum. The cost of attendance is only $25, and I suspect that the pay-off could be far greater than what we see from the $144,000 ad in the Wall Street Journal trumpeting the fact that we’re now an anti-union state. If you want, I can even pay for you.

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  1. Edward
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I don’t know enough about the history of term limit legislation. Was it something pushed for by the Koch Brothers, ALEC and the other bug business interests who always seem to be pulling the strings? Did they foresee that their influence would grow with the influx of less experienced politicians? My guess is they did.

  2. anonymous
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I thought the whole “Pure Michigan” kerfuffle was primarily a far left blogosphere thing. I know that it got mentioned in the mainstream press, but my sense was that no one in power really cared. I certainly didn’t realize that Lansing insiders gave a damn about it. It sounds now like if we’d pushed harder we probably could have unseated Finney over it. I agree that it likely wouldn’t have helped the cause any, but it’s interesting to know that we could have done it if we’d kept fanning the flames.

  3. Eel
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    When Schwartz talks of a well-financed outside “pressure” that “will remain nameless”, is he talking about DeVos? Or was he looking directly at the the guy from the Mackinac Center?

  4. anon
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    hey “anonymous”: apathy is pretty widespread. it afflicts almost all liberals. it’s hard to fan flames when you’ve got no fan.

    why get finney fired? it was snyder’s decision to run the ad, though of course this will never be admitted or proven.

  5. Knox
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Getting Finney to spend the day with Michael Shuman would be quite the coup. I wonder if he might be receptive to the idea, given that Mark is giving him a pass on the Pure Michigan mess. If so, I’d say that this game was well played.

  6. Meta
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read it yet, but Johns Hopkins recently published a book on term limits and their consequences.

  7. Meta
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    From page 174:

    Opinions from Michigan, however, paint a different pic- ture. In that state knowledgeable observers felt that term limits produced a major advantage for the governor. Without the opposition of strong legislative leaders, Michigan gover- nors now have fewer rivals and can more easily dominate the legislature’s agenda. Term limits in Michigan, therefore, increase the governor’s ability to influence the passage of law and control the state government.

  8. Mr. X
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    So, are we agreed that the three big structural things that we fix in order to set Michigan on the right path are the following?

    1. Redistricting (gerrymandering) reform
    2. Term limit reform
    3. Campaign finance reform

    Am I missing anything?

  9. Aaron B.
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Term limits are a bad idea… or at least short ones are. In my humble opinion.

  10. anon
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    1. get involved in social justice activism in ypsilanti
    2. listen to a lot of dead prez
    3. make a lot of love

  11. Elliott
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Build guillotines, learn to shoplift, amass weapons.

    Just kidding.

    Yes, I think you’ve identified the right three things. Now we just need to build a new party around them.

    I might also add transparency to the mix, although I’m not sure what transparency reform would look like. Maybe it would mean getting proposed bills out to the people a week before the vote, to ensure public discourse. That, I think, would be a big improvement.

  12. TF
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    When Schwartz says that he’s a member of a group dealing with term limits, does anyone know which group he’s referring to? Is it just an informal group of friends, or is there a real movement?

  13. anon
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    by all means, elliott, stay practical.

    mr. x’s 1 2 and 3, while laudable, aren’t happening anytime soon.

  14. 734
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Interview Joe Schwartz for this site, please.

  15. Brainless
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I find it disgusting that rich folks like Phil Power pushed so hard for term limits back in the day and now he “sees the light” and wants to lead us on all down the path of term limits.

    Hey Phil, we were just fuckin’ fine before you and your rich cronies started playing around with the law like it was your personal playground. You sucked as a leader before and you suck as one now. When everybody just quits listening to these slapdicks, we’ll all be better for it.

    Why do I mention Phil? It was his group that helped organized this meeting. You’re all getting sucked into the vortex again.

    And yes, the Koches (and Powers) of the world knew exactly what would happen under term limits. It was clear as day that the legislature would be filled with rookie morons and not machine stalwarts like Dingell. Who would you rather try to buy off?

  16. Brainless
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    “…to lead us on all down the path TO THE REMOVAL of term limits.”

  17. anon
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    brian, i wish it were the “koches.”

  18. Gerrymandering
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ll leave this in the other thread on gerrymandering as well, but I wanted to bring your attention to Elections Canada, the independent, non-partisan group in Canada that oversees redistricting, elections, etc. You can read more about them at Wikipedia.

    It’s astonishing to me that the United States doesn’t have an equivalent.

    From Wikipedia:
    “Elections Canada (Élections Canada in French) is an independent, non-partisan agency reporting directly to the Parliament of Canada. Its ongoing responsibility is to ensure that Canadians can exercise their choices in federal elections and referenda through an open and impartial process. Elections Canada is the sole agency responsible for administering Canadian federal elections.”

  19. anonymous
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I hadn’t heard that Phil Power was bankrolling Issues & Ale, but apparently you’re right.

    With that said, having been at this meeting, I don’t think they were necessarily pushing an anti-term-limit agenda. The only person to mention term limits was Swartz. I suppose, however, that he could be working with Phil to reverse that legislation, though.

    Are Power and Swartz in cahoots?

  20. Mr. Y
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    One would imagine that something like this would not happen in Canada.

    “201,000 in Florida didn’t vote because of long lines”

  21. LisaD
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    You can see Michael Shuman for free, actually. He is speaking from 9-10:30am free – the $25 is for the session after that.

  22. Brainless
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Powers has stated publicly that he is now against term limits – after being adamantly for them when they were passed. He figures, because he’s rich I suppose, we should all just listed to him since he was so goddamn right the first time.

    Phil is a nice person, but I wish all these rich assholes who have the means to start these “think tanks” would just shut the fuck up.

  23. anon
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    i’m with you on that one, brian.

  24. John Galt
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Rich people should get more votes. Or, better yet, there should be a marketplace so that they can be bought. Then they wouldn’t have to have think tanks and try to persuade people to vote their way. They can just set up vote buying kiosks at the mall.

  25. Karen Hart
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    And it’s going to get worse.

    Did you see this headline?

    “75% of people want house term limited”

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] how, last winter, Michigan Republicans, flush with corporate money and armed with legislation drafted in far right think tanks, set out to end collective bargaining, […]

  2. […] how, last winter, Michigan Republicans, flush with corporate money and well armed with legislation drafted in far right think tanks, set out to kill unions, and […]

  3. By How Dick DeVos made Michigan a right-to-work state on January 27, 2014 at 10:40 am

    […] we know too well what happened next. DeVos, with the help of his friends at ALEC, began pulling unprecedented amounts of corporate money into the State. And, with this money, he was able to bring in high-dollar strategists like Frank Luntz, who […]

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