Michigan’s tea party activists are suffering right to work envy while watching the Indiana governor march his Legislature relentlessly to the finish line on that issue. Our Republican governor recently said right to work is too divisive and he doesn’t want the Legislature to send a bill to his desk. And GOP Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville’s comments on the matter have wavered between highly skeptical to outright hostile. In retaliation, the activists have threatened to recall Richardville.
But they might want to read up on the Michigan Constitution, because mounting a recall challenge isn’t the only method for taking matters into their own hands, and it isn’t the best weapon they have. Article 2, section 9, provides citizens with the power to initiate laws and send them to the Legislature for approval. If both chambers vote by simple majority to approve the bill within 40 days, then it becomes law.
The governor has no role in the process and can neither sign nor veto the measure.
If lawmakers do not act within 40 days, or reject the proposal, then the proposal goes to the full electorate at the next general election. In either case, citizens have the direct power to force the issue and then time to pressure their lawmakers for approval while the 40 day clock is ticking.
And, while right to work activists would certainly prefer to avoid an election and have lawmakers ratify the proposal, there is a silver lining to having it sent to the polls. If the voters approve the measure, then it requires a ¾ supermajority of any future Legislature to undo it – or another vote of the people – the next best thing to a Constitutional amendment.
The Constitution stipulates that an initiated bill must be submitted with enough valid signatures to equal at least 8 percent of the total votes cast at the previous election for governor; or about 264,000 names. Unlike mounting a recall drive against Richardville, which would require sending bodies to his district to collect the signatures, activists can collect names from wherever they live on an initiated law petition. Every tea party activist in the state could chip in to help right in their own back yard.
Defeating a lawmaker in a recall election is not easy. It has been done just three times in state history, and Richardville’s constituency probably leans more pro-union than the state as a whole.
And, perhaps most importantly, there is no guarantee that the Republican senators who remain would pass the law in the wake of losing their leader.
Using the initiative process forces the right to work issue to the center of the debate in a way that a recall never could. It plays to the strength of a tea party activist base that is dispersed across the state. If they really want a right to work law, Michigan’s tea parties should go out and take it.
Randy Richardville can’t stop them.