Thursday, June 23, 2011

Look out, Snyder! Sugar Law is on the Case!

Back in April, I wrote about Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) law being used to usurp the authority of elected officials in predominantly African-American Benton Harbor, Michigan (“Fascism comes to Benton Harbor,” April 19, 2011). I lamented the fact that this municipality had the dubious honor of being the first to experience Governor Rick Snyder’s assault on representative democracy.

Snyder – who must have the most off-putting, high-pitched, nasally voice of any politician in Michigan history – signed the law in March to provide what he said were “necessary tools to help deficit-ridden cities and school districts bring their finances back into the black.” It allows him to appoint emergency managers to take over local units of government, fire elected officials, sell off or privatize community assets, nullify contracts and even dissolve whole cities.

If that’s not bad enough, the cash-strapped communities must pay the salary, benefits and expenses of the autocrat manager – and the costs of any employees or contractors he or she hires. According to Michigan Messenger, these expenses can be substantial: Benton Harbor’s emergency manager, Joe Harris, is paid $11,000 per month.

That’s kind of like being forced to buy the condoms for your rapist, isn’t it?

Looks like the plaintiffs represented by the Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice – a national, nonprofit law center that defends the rights of working folks – aren’t cool with the blatant power grab either. Sugar Law filed a lawsuit yesterday in Ingham County Circuit Court asking that the EFM law be declared unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs contend that the right of citizens to elect their local officials is guaranteed in the state Constitution and financial stress is not a legitimate ground for scrapping the democratic process. And the law is so extreme, they say, that it “establishes a new form of local government, previously unknown within the United States or the State of Michigan, where the people within local municipalities may be governed by an unelected official who establishes local law by decree.”

I never thought I’d use words like “fascism” and “autocratic” when referring to my government. Then again, I never thought I’d see Republicans openly wage class warfare and utilize Orwellian doublespeak to explain and justify their actions.

I’m just not seeing how forcing a deficit-ridden city to incur additional expenses and fund its own conversion from a democratic entity to one subject to the decrees of a dictator helps to bring its finances back in the black.

Even if Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina – to whom the case was assigned – rules in favor of the plaintiffs, Snyder will appeal. And if it goes before the GOP-controlled Michigan Supreme Court, I won’t be holding my breath for a favorable result.

I’m glad the folks at Sugar Law aren’t as cynical and pessimistic as I’ve become.

To learn more about Michigan’s new “government by decree” policy, visit Sugar Law’s “Democracy Emergency” website.

Sources: Michigan Messenger, Detroit Free Press, Lansing State Journal.

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