'Battleground Michigan:' National site spotlights 'a dangerous new coalition' on the far right

April 06, 2022, 5:30 PM

An investigative reporter at Salon, a national news and culture site, delivers a deep look Wednesday into what she calls "a sweeping political attack" in Michigan seeking veto-proof changes in state law.

Disparate conservative interests, including Betsy DeVos, push four petition drives that could bypass the normal legislative process.

Investigative reporter and author Kathryn Joyce reports on "militant rhetoric" and "far-right associations" in a 3,700-word report on four petition campaigns. 

Right-wing groups have launched an unusual political campaign in Michigan, uniting major Republican donors — including Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's former education secretary — with far-right militants in an effort to exploit the state's petition rules and bypass the normal legislative process. If successful, this could lead to the veto-proof enactment of a series of bills that would sharply restrict voting rights, curtail the state's public health powers and direct taxpayer money to private schools.

In mid-March, a far-right group called Stand Up Michigan launched a campaign called Four Signatures for Freedom, seeking to gather at least 100,000 voter signatures for four petitions in support of conservative policies similar to those enacted in several deep-red states. ...

Stand Up Michigan, ... the state's leading far-right umbrella group, has attracted and embraced some of the most marginal figures in the conservative movement, including individuals responsible for making violent threats against the government. ... [It] is nonetheless becoming a powerful force in mainstream Republican politics.

Disparate conservative interests have found common cause in collaborating on these petitions.

The distinctive strategy being deployed lets voters "propose legislation via petitions known as citizen initiatives that then go straight to the legislature," Joyce explains under the headline "Battleground Michigan: GOP joins with militant far right in campaign against democracy."

Many states allow for citizens to petition for ballot initiatives, giving the electorate a chance to vote directly on proposed legislation or constitutional amendments. But Michigan law also allows for a different and strikingly undemocratic procedure of legislating by petition. ...

If at least 8% of voters [340,047] who participated in the last gubernatorial election sign a petition in favor of a policy, that proposal can go directly before the legislature for an up or down vote, which, unlike most other legislation, would not be subject to the veto of a governor.

Since last month, this year's coalition includes a Let MI Kids Learn school choice campaign with two petitions backed by DeVos and her family foundations. That group also is recruiting conservative voters to serve as election poll workers in November.

In an email the campaign sent to its supporters, the campaign asked for volunteers to join the same weekend of action that Stand Up Michigan was then promoting, as part of a joint effort to "restore freedom this spring." ...

This level of partnership represents an evolution in DeVos's advocacy, from a concern strictly around school privatization to initiatives to restrict the vote and tie the hands of public health officials.

The other petition drives are:

Secure MI Vote, which would limit voters' access to absentee ballots and impose new voter ID requirements. It essentially "replicates a package of nearly 40 bills introduced in the Michigan Senate last spring to restrict voting rights, many of which were subsequently passed — and then vetoed by [Gov. Gretchen] Whitmer," Salon says.

♦ Unlock Michigan 2, which would sharply limit the Lansing government's ability to impose emergency health restrictions

Salon quotes Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, a Michigan voting rights advocacy group that crusaded successfully for the citizens' redistricting panel that redraw 2022 legislative and congressional districts:

"It's an extreme, subversive kind of anti-democratic effort. But then it's also blessed by the Michigan Republican party, so it's this mix of different factions on the right working together."

"There is an overlap of leadership between these different efforts, and now we're seeing very clear connections between them all," Wang continued. "Regardless of whether they started off as grassroots or with some kind of extremist energy behind them, they've all been endorsed, and sometimes funded outright, by establishment Republicans."



Read more:  Salon

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