(update: There was an embarassing numbers mistake below. What I read as $17 million for Justice Corrigan, was 17,000. Oh what a difference those extra 000s make. My apologies. The numbers (and their impact) have been corrected)
The Reform Michigan Government Now proposal increasingly ought to come with a warning: be careful what you wish for. The proposal has enough red meat for both Dems and the populist, “Barry County center” crowd: cut the courts, cut the salaries, cut the departments, limit lobbying. There’s a lot there to really like.
So who could be against this? Why those disgruntled folks over at the Michigan Chamber. For some odd reason, they believe their ox is about to get gored. Who would have thought?
What should concern Democrats, is what happens if RMGN does go to the ballot (and that’s in doubt), what exactly can we expect to happen? Four items come to mind.
1. Madder than a wet hen. That would be the Chamber. For RMGN to get on the ballot means their court case lost. And it’s pretty clear, they are willing to ramp up for war. So the real question about the Chamber is what kind of cash will they bring to defeat the proposal?
2. Money Talks. The developers of the proposal appear not to have fully considered the counter-moves. The expectation that only $4 million will be enough seems reasonable only if one imagines no real resistance. Considering that Justice Corrigan’s campaign in 2006 raised over $650,000. As this measure threatens the grip on the court by the economic conservatives, there is plenty of incentive for the Chamber to raise significant amounts of money and match RMGN expenditures. Indeed, given the potential harm to their cause, it would seem quite likely that they will outspend the RMGN proponents. In that case, supporters of RMGN will need ante up. For candidates, the reality will be that money that would have gone to campaigns will be redirected to counter the RMGN attacks.
3. GOTV Incentive. RMGN creates incentives for two groups to come out to vote: the GOP base, and “populists” attracted to some of the red meat aspects of the proposal. For the GOP, RMGN gives them a message — one already picked up by the press: this is a Dem power play. Moreover, since RMGN does away with the Apol standards, the RMGN can hypothetically lead to the sort of intricate, non-compact districts we usually associate with gerrymander. Myself, I would run ads showing these horribly contorted redistricting schemes from other states, and say, “this is what the Democratic Party wants to bring to Michigan.”
But the “populist” crowd is the one that ought to concern us. In appealing to our Barry County types, RMGN draws in voters who are naturally in the McCain camp. To the degree that RMGN works well with these populists, it creates problems for the national ticket. The interests of RMGN and the interests of Obama are not the same.
4. Compromised Brand Creates Gubernatorial Headaches.
The battle for the Governor’s office will begin in 2008. RMGN is already getting labeld as a Dem power play, and in doing so it compromises the Dem brand with the centrist voters. For the GOP, the battle against RMGN lets prospective candidates for 2010 to stand up against “the power mad Dems” — they increase their centrist appeal; this is a launching pad just waiting to happen.
Now consider the headaches RMGN poses for Dem contenders. How do you resist the charge that this is a power play? They cannot stand on the “say no” side with the Chamber. How do the prospective candidates build a reputation for being for fair government? There are perhaps two Dems who can stand up and protest the measure (and so buy prospective candidates some room): Sen. Carl Levin, and the Governor Granholm. Of course, if they stand up, then a wedge emerges in the Party between the RMGN crowd and regular Democratic party members.
So let’s review
RMGN creates a drain on political funds.
RMGN motivates voters sympathetic to McCain, thereby tossing the state into a toss-up status
RMGN undercuts potential candidates for 2010 Governor’s race.
RMGN opens divisions in the Democratic party
Sound familiar? It looks like the Michigan Primary all over again.