Michigan citizens filed a lawsuit on June 22 against Republican Governor Rick Snyder and the Michigan Republican House and Senate for effectively taking away their right to vote for local government officials and appoint unelected emergency managers or corporations in their place. Back in March, 2011, the Republican Michigan legislature passed Public Act 4 (PA-4) to appoint emergency managers to take over entire operations of cities, towns and school districts and fire local elected officials without any say from citizens. Journalist and author Naomi Klein calls it a "frontal assault on democracy."
John Philo, lead attorney and legal director of the Sugar Law Center filed the lawsuit saying it establishes a new form of government, unknown anywhere else in the US. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the new law which takes away the right to elect mayors, city councils and school boards with an unelected manager. Philo says "it's a back door way to end collective bargaining and effectively silence local firefighters, police, teachers, nurses and anyone who serves the public." New York's Center for Constitutional Rights has also joined to represent the plaintiffs. The law, if not overturned or repealed, has "unlimited, unilateral and unchecked" power to change all local laws, sell off public assets, lay off workers and repeal collective bargaining. The irony is although, taxpayers have no say in the process, they must pay for the managers.
And the real assault is against mostly black and Hispanic towns and cities as the law is directed at towns and cities that are in severe financial trouble, many of which are inhabited by low income residents and communities of color, according to Attorney Philo. The law is not about financial emergency managers being appointed but about emergency managers which makes appointment of commission members, makes policy decisions and takes away all power of the voter in local elections.
Edith Lee- Payne, a Detroit civil rights activist who marched with Dr. King, and the lead plaintiff says "there are laws made by our founding fathers so why would they be compromised?" Apparently, 66% of the state is in severe financial straits and could lose the right to vote in local elections and lose local elected officials.
If left unchecked, this could be the new Republican trend aimed to disenfranchise minority voters legally. This is by far the most draconian effort to hamper citizens' right to vote. If citizens are denied the right to effectively elect local officials, many may see no need to vote in federal elections in 2012. The trend started with takeover in school districts. Michigan just took the ball several steps further to include whole towns and citizens.
The new law states that an individual or a "firm" or corporation may be the entity to privately take over the "emergency" management of the city or towns there. And Naomi Klein sees that the trend may be catching on where corporations are concerned. She says Sandy Springs, GA is run by a private company. Klein says it's quite a lucrative venture for firms and corporations. So now corporations may be running our cities and towns.
No matter what the Michigan legislature may call it, it says folks do not have the brains to run government or elect local officials. That should be done only by a manager, firm or corporation. We fought wars in other countries to prevent one person from stealing democracy. Now, we let corporations have individual rights and run whole cities and towns and get paid. What will the Republicans think of next to disenfranchise voters?
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now interviews Attorney John Philo, civil rights activist Edith Lee-Payne and author and journalist Naomi Klein.