To understand the motive for the Reformed Michigan Government Now! proposal, one need look no further than this map*:
As the Grand Rapids Press detailed, US Census figures for migration show a state hemorrhaging population. This dark blue vector from Wayne to Saginaw is a dagger to the heart of Michigan’s industry. Collectively, these four counties lost more than 35,000 between 2006 and 2007. That’s 12,000 households with a combined income of perhaps $600 million (assuming $50k/HHI), or $24 million lost to the state budget.
The map reminds us that these departures are not mere statistics, but are associated with very real places, and so with all too real lives. People leave because their hope has vanished. Work is gone. For them the future (in Michigan) is closed.
How then can we control our destiny?
In the midst of this, the extremist, pro-business decisions of the Taylor-led court only further increase the sense of a lack of control. In this light, the RMGN! proposal is all too easily understood. It was time to take back the state; time to take back control of one’s life, even as it drained down I-75. Time, in the words of one east side activist, for “rough action.”
In short, the politics of RMGN arises from a blend of external factors (“issues”) and the economic and psychic hammering that takes place along the I-75 corridor. It’s no wonder, then, that “smoking gun” powerpoint would have shown up where it did, at the UAW 1-C website.
RMGN and Fair Tax?
The issue of control explains much of the populist turn in the measure. One way we re-assert our power is by our thinking that the solution is easy if only we had courage. Here, the RMGN plan is little different than the Fair Tax idea bandied about on the other side: both share the same populist, (pseudo) man-on-the-street solution. Likewise with the redistricting and its 50-50 split: there is the same faith that if one only changed the mechanics of the system then we’ll get better results. Even with the proposed reduction of the courts, there again came this same confidence that the reshuffling of the chairs would produce a better result.
At the heart of RMGN, then, was this defensiveness, an instinct for preservation. In an uncertain world, it sought by essentially mechanical means to regain control of its political life. Its very radicalism speaks to a lack of confidence, a self-doubt about the future. Even as the cars head down I-75, the proposal hoped to halt the damage, to preserve what could be preserved in this time of economic shipwreck.
So what is the future?
Who can blame the authors for trying to turn back this tide? But this concern with preserving present power handicaps us as we look to Michigan’s future. Like old King Canute, we cannot turn back the tide.
What we can do, is work to build the boats — the candidates and the policies — that will allow our State to sail again.
* The map’s data set is somewhat suspect. While the draining of population along the I-75 corridor is correct, Kent and Ottawa counties have continued to add population even as the east side has declined. This spreadsheet, gives the census numbers and the change both in nominal value and percentage.