Windmillin'

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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Singing from the populist songbook

This week Michigan Senator Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) introduced a set of bills to in part,  prevent “censorship of our founding documents” (SB 120). Typical stuff . While that can be dismissed as the usual hot air of  political posturing, one of the other bills is  more substantive, one (SB 423)

establishes requirements for schools to incorporate teaching provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the Michigan state constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and would require the Michigan Department of Education to incorporate those subjects into standardized testing of students.

Left unsaid in  MLive, was that our Senator Mark Jansen stepped up as a co-sponsor.

It is a measure, in short, right out of the concerns (and playbook) of social conservatives. At its heart it wants to create an educational space for God, anti-Federalism, and free enterprise. It’s the standard issue stuff of old time southern populism, and not surprisingly, it can be found in ALEC’s book of model legislation. We’ve seen this before.

There is a healthy irony here, where otherwise education-skeptical, limited government conservatives stand up and mandate educational requirements. Then again, it perhaps unintentionally reveals a view of education in the conservative heart. Schools are seen as singularly powerful, absent the cultural considerations (poverty, race, etc.), so what is taught or not taught can then become the determiner of our social life. Education is not only ideological, but presently teaching the wrong ideology, the ideology of the elites rather than the presumed normative stance of the non-ideological, neutral stance of the average citizen.

So it is, that the recipe for fixing what is wrong in American education must turn about changing its ideological heart by teaching

America’s founding documents, including documents that contributed to the foundation or maintenance of America’s representative form of limited government, the Bill of Rights, our free-market economic system, and patriotism. (SB 120)

Yet even a cursory review reveals what’s missing: the total absence of any of the great national documents regarding African Americans. Well, yes, in politeness, they did leave off the bit about slaves being worth only 3/5 a vote in the original Constitution (that was white of them), but where is the insistence that children of this state learn about the Emancipation Proclamation? Or the Lincoln’s great Second Inaugural. Or for that matter, the Gettysburg Address? For a party that once championed, bled and died for these great truths, this is a peculiar omission.

And this provides the other head-scratching item: it would have been so simple, so obvious, such an easy play for shoring up Republican image before minorities. But that omission is not a flaw, but a feature of the underlying ideology. The southern populist view of education is forged in the Jim Crow era with the educational disenfranchisement of blacks, America and its schools were self-evidently for whites. In contrast, the educational vision of Michigan rooted in the Northwest Ordinance was always broader, bigger, bolder. Although Michigan residents could be every bit as prejudiced as the southern populists, the schools were shaped by the Federalist (not the anti-Federalist) vision of republican virtue and equality.

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Filed under: Horace Mann, Republican Folly, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Two Cheers. Maybe.

There was understandable cheering this last week when Governor Snyder vetoed two of the bills in the seven bill voter reform pacakage. Some of the more noxious forms of voter suppression (check this box if you are really a citizen) were taken off the table is good news. But other measures would take away much of these gains. “Streamlining” was  how MLive reported it. The Secretary of State called it  SAFE, but for voters in poor neighborhoods, it was anything but.

The principle piece of mischief in the bill (SB 751) is the mechanism for cleaning up the inactive files. There’s a sensible reason, if you’ve moved out of district you shouldn’t be enrolled on the poll book. Fair enough. As the law reads as passed, the Secretary of State sends out a card seeing if a person is at the address. If they don’t get it or don’t return the card within 30 days of the election, the person is  put in the challenged roll; if that person doesn’tt vote that November, they are removed from the roll entirely — deregistered. Because obviously, they’ve left.

Even if they still live in the neighborhood.

As a matter of practical politics, the SoS sends out the cards for the mid-term (gubernatorial) election, nobody’s home, and voila! the voter is removed from the poll book for the upcoming national election.

This seemingly neutral plan is functionally a direct attack on poor voters who often change residence, even if in a neighborhood. Add to it, that  the poor (and many others) do not bother to vote in the mid-term election, and one has the result where a person may think they’re registered and come November in a presidential year find that they are not. Of course, this can be addressed with strong voter registration drives, and here again the package of bills puts the barriers in place to make these drives more cumbersome and so less effective.

But wait there’s more.

The fundamental mischief is not in the process outlined above, but in what lists are used to determine who should get this “drop cards.” The law reads

Sec. 509aa. (1) A clerk may use change of address information supplied by the United States postal service or other reliable information received by the clerk

Two observations merit attention. First this is information “received by the clerk,” that is, provided to the clerk by third parties. Who may present this information is left unclear. Second, there is the the question of what constitutes “other reliable information.” This is no where specified in the bill. As was seen two years ago in Macomb County, such information could be something as vague as foreclosure notices. Importantly, “other reliable information” is also likely to be filled with a number of false positives.

The second piece of mischief is with one word, “shall.”

(2) Upon receipt of reliable information that a registered voter has moved his or her residence within the city or township, the clerk shall send by forwardable mail all of the following to the voter:

That shall obligates the clerk to act. In effect this makes the office of the clerk a tool for any third party group. Third party groups could include political parties obviously, business groups, even one supposes, PACs. Just so long as they have “reliable information,” it’s kosher.

In short, what we have here, is one of those classic ALEC-inspired measures to keep marginal voters away from the polls. It’s not a measure designed to help Gov Snyder (though it can take effect this election), it’s far more likely target is the presidential contest of 2016. Weirdly, in this very aggressiveness we can see the conclusion of conservatives that President Obama is or was considered likely to win.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , , , ,

Civic Roadblcks

Voter suppression is again on tap as Dave Murray reports.

LANSING, MI – Proposed election law changes are based on Republican attempts to target black, Latino and possibly Arab voters, the head of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus testified Tuesday.
But Republicans said there are loopholes in election laws that have allowed non-citizens to vote. They also said they want to prevent fraud by ensuring voters are properly identified and requiring training for groups registering voters.

Well that settles it, doesn’t it? Who can be against better registration? And oh, the messiness of those registrations — shouldn’t someone be doing something about it? Hence the novel idea to put a stop to all this by tighter deadlines for turning in registrations and greater “control.” This pleases Kent County clerk Marry Hollinrake; it will likely make her work easier at the office. But the move comes at a price.

The obvious one, naturally is that with fewer voter registration drives among poor and minority communities, the fewer voters.  And the fewer poor and minority voters there are, the fewer Democratic voters. No wonder folks like ALEC and other conservative advocates have liked this. And truth be known, this is not the first time that conservatives have raised roadblocks to participation.

There’s a second cost, less obvious but no less serious: civic engagement. Even in the best of circumstances the poor vote in relatively low numbers, however the organizers of the registration drives are a different matter, they are often the community activists who feed a vibrant political culture. They form or come out of that social starata of mediating institutions that all healthy societies need. Institutions of self government are made stronger when the community and its volunteer networks have a stake. It’s not just political parties.

Registration drives do as much for those running them as they do for the actual enrollment. Activists become more engaged in their community; in their participation they not only nurture a commitment to their causes but build a stronger link to their community. And by their actions they also help nurture a notion that change is possible through these democratic means. Putting up barriers stops that civic hope.

Of course, there is a partisan benefit here, a discouraged opponent makes your policies easier to enact, however it is action that comes at the cost of alienation. In an era of increasingly opaque government and civic life, this alienation only reinforces the helplessness that make it harder for these communities to take charge of their own affairs. No one, least of all the economic and political conservatives, is served by this failure of self governance.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , ,

The not so Smart ALEC

I confess, I’m going to miss him, but the other day our most conservative representative in our State House was out carrying water for the corporate Right. As the Press reported:

State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, says kids are graduating from high school without a sound education in our constitutional underpinnings.
He and 22 Republican co-sponsors have introduced a bill mandating the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are taught in public schools.
His bill also calls for a daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

I had earlier snarked that “there’s nothing I like saying more than liberty and justice for all,” but that misses the other mischief that’s underway.

For of course, Rep. Agema has no intention of promoting the actual study of the Bill of Rights or of the Declaration, let alone the Constitution. This is, shall we say, something of a rigged curriculum that he advocates. His bill (HB 5240) not only specifies that the documents should be taught, but the correct interpretation, as well. My personal favorite principle is

and the principles of a strong defense capability

Though I confess that rivaling it were the advocacy of both the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist papers. As the song goes, “first you say you do, and then you don’t.” For a measure that intends to push for recovery of foundational principles this borders on the incoherent. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Horace Mann, Republican Folly, , ,

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