Basement Beat: Part-time legislature effort appears to fizzle out

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

It looks as though the effort to switch Michigan back to a part-time legislature has quietly ended.

I happened to stumble on an old email mentioning it, Googled it to re-familiarize myself with the effort—and then hit on this site, apparently the effort’s organizers.

A post dated for yesterday (June 5) says, “The Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-time Legislature regrets to announce the suspension of its campaign to restore Michigan’s citizen-driven, part-time legislature. “It is now apparent that we will fall short of collecting enough valid signatures before the end of June to get our amendment on the ballot this coming November.”

It wasn’t even up on the group’s Facebook page yet. the last post there is a call for petition circulators to make sure they send in their signatures. The post, dated June 1, says, “We would like to received ALL signatures currently obtained by this Wednesday, June 4th, 2014 at the ‘War Room’ in Hudsonville.’”

Back to the suspension announcement: “Our campaign faced many obstacles including an organized political opposition determined to maintain the status quo in Lansing.

“The Committee will not dissolve. We will carefully examine all facets of our recent campaign. We will consult with our growing list of allies in the full-time legislature, with other experienced grassroots activists, and with other organizations committed to the principle of popular sovereignty. And then we will return to you with a revitalized approach that looks forward to victory in November 2016, or even sooner.”

Any kind of constitutional amendment takes a considerable effort. As I understand it, the group was faced with collecting more than 322,000 signatures by July 7 to get it on the ballot for November.

The effort was aimed at limiting Michigan’s legislature to 60 days in session annually and capping salaries for legislators at $35,000. It would also have limited legislative staffing to 250 people.

I was never wild about the concept. Legislators gonna legislate.

One site I found tries to take down a couple of criticisms of the effort. One I find laughable.

It attributes the following to the Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-Time Legislature’s secretary, Mike Kuras: “(He) suggests that legislators will be spending a lot more time in their home district, unless they can afford and justify working full-time in Lansing for half pay, so they might be far more likely to rely on local experts and the opinions of their constituents rather than those of paid lobbyists.”

Um, no. The opposite.

They’ll have less time to devote to legislating; lobbyists—who are paid to get what they want done—will have that much more advantage over legislators.

michiganpopulist.org also says, “Also, when legislators are at home they wouldn’t be a stones throw from the lobbyist’s offices, and they wouldn’t be available to attend the fundraisers that lobbyists hold two or three days a week in Lansing.”

Again, no.

It may be more inconvenient to get to a lobbyist’s office, but legislators would be idiots to pass up a fundraiser, no matter how long the drive is.

A part-time legislature is just one of those things, to me, where it’s exceedingly easy to find examples of why we need to change the status quo. But it's nearly impossible to find a solution because ultimately we don’t have an answer to basic human nature—failings of greed, ego, ignorance, etc.

And if we already had a solution to those we wouldn’t need to bother with a part-time legislature anyway.

So, while I applaud this group’s goals, what they actually wanted to insert into the state constitution didn’t seem viable to me. Hopefully their future efforts, or those of others, will be better.

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