Elections have consequences. People get the government they deserve.
These two cliches have been playing in my head for the past few years as I watch my birth state of Michigan suffer under the rule of Gov. Rick Snyder. It was no surprise the Republican handily won the gubernatorial election in 2010 after eight relatively lackluster years with Democrat Jennifer Granholm running the state.
What is a surprise is Snyder was re-elected in 2014.
Rick Snyder: The Fiefdom Governor
The “tough nerd” showed his true colors almost immediately. Included in Snyder’s first budget, shifting tax burdens away from businesses and onto pensions in the name of “economic growth.” He also expanded the emergency manager powers, which has turned into the hallmark of Snyder’s reign as Michigan’s governor.
Since Snyder took office, he’s implemented emergency managers 15 times, typically in predominantly African-American populated cities, such as Flint, Detroit and Benton Harbor. That’s more than Michigan’s previous two governors combined.
How’s that working out? Well, we already know what happened in Flint. Benton Harbor has been in a nonstop battle over a golf course; a battle that was exacerbated by the installment of an emergency manager (by Granholm, in April 2010) who stayed until March 2014, nearly the entirety of Snyder’s first term. And it was under Snyder that the controversial golf course project was launched.
Detroit was taken into bankruptcy under Snyder’s appointed manager, Kevyn Orr, and the results are…well, it depends on whom you ask. Did Orr save Detroit or kick the can down the road? The million dollar question: did emergency managers actually affect long-term, positive solutions that couldn’t be accomplished through elected government in those cities?
Lest we forget Snyder’s use of emergency managers includes his support for a 2012 law expanding emergency manager powers, despite being rejected by Michigan voters. Of course, Snyder and his allies enacted this piece of legislation after he was re-elected; after the will of the people was recorded on this matter…and promptly ignored by the governor. That is an absolute fact.
Lack of Voter Turnout = Rick Snyder’s Re-election
Shady work on the emergency manager laws notwithstanding, it’s not as though Snyder waited until his second term to spring his ultra-conservative agenda on Michiganders. The expansion and usage of emergency managers happened in his first term along with killing tax breaks for pensioners to make up for giving tax breaks to state businesses.
So how did a guy who is clearly a hardline conservative manage to win re-election in a state that hasn’t gone to a Republican presidential candidate since 1988? Simple: voter turnout, or lack thereof.
Turnout for Michigan’s 2014 gubernatorial election was 41.6 of the voter-age population; its lowest since 1990. By contrast, 66 percent and 63 percent of voting-age Michiganders turned out to the polls in 2008 and 2012, respectively. It doesn’t take a mathematician to glean from this all those Obama voters—who are typically Democrats—stayed home in 2014 (and 2010, really, when voting-age turnout was 42.9 percent).
Check out this article at Drawing Detroit. A county-by-county review of voter turnout in 2014 yields a troubling reality: less than 40 percent of voting-age adults came to the polls in 13 of Michigan’s 83 counties. Even worse, all but one of Snyder’s emergency managers have been implemented in four of those 13 counties: Berrien County (Benton Harbor), Genesee County (Flint), Muskegon County (Muskegon Schools) and Wayne County (Allen Park, Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park).
Graphic courtesy of DrawingDetroit.com.
According to U.S. Census data, these four counties account for more than 25 percent of the state of Michigan’s voting age population, yet more than 1 million people in those counties did not exercise their rights to vote. A shade more than 128,000 votes separated Snyder from his second term as governor and unemployment. Suddenly, that figure seems ridiculously small when you consider the number of people who didn’t vote.
Elections Have Consequences
Given what has happened in Flint, it’s difficult to look at the 2014 election results and realize the consequences were dire. In addition to Snyder’s re-election, Republicans also gained four State Senate seats to push their majority to 63 – 47. Big deal, right? Well, considering two of those elections took place in low turnout counties and the results were separated by 547 and 58 votes respectively, I’d say the results are most definitely a big deal.
Every Four Years Ain’t Cuttin’ It
A common refrain this election year is “the system is rigged” against the middle class, college students, women, etc. Sadly, many of these same people shouting about the “rigged” system have only themselves to blame. Voters ages 18 – 29 are among the loudest voices in 2016, as they were in 2008 and 2012. But something happens between presidential elections and mid-term elections that renders this voting bloc MIA. In 2014—an election year with the lowest voter turnout since WWII—14 million fewer 18 – 29 voters turned out at the polls.
No, college student. The system isn’t rigged. The system is largely ignored. By your peers. That’s why your issues are not top-of-mind the same way health care and social security are mainstay political issues. You don’t get to complain about a rigged system if you’re a half-time participant in the process. If you only show up once every four years, you just might be getting the government you deserve.
According to BallotPedia.org, Michigan does not allow for: early voting, online voter registration, same-day registration or “no-excuse” absentee voting. Some might argue these factors present barriers to voting and they’d be correct. However, there is no direct, causal relationship between these barriers and low voter turnout. Look at the state of Illinois, by comparison. It allows for early voting, online and same-day registration as well as no-excuse absentee voting and its turnout was lower than Michigan’s in 2014.
In the end, it’s incumbent upon the voters to motivate themselves to get to the polls on Election Day.
You Get the Government Someone Else Thinks You Deserve.
Given what’s happened in Genesee County, specifically, I’d never blame the voters or non-voters for the failings of its state government. However, it’s plain to see if you don’t vote, you get the government someone else thinks you deserve. There’s only one way to reverse this trend.