VIEW FROM LANSING: Creating a power hookup for 2012

By Tim Skubick
Guest Columnist

At first blush you’d be inclined to say these two groups have nothing in common. But blush again.

The Michigan Education Association and the American Association of Retired Persons met for an hour recently as they search for common ground on the political front.

What’s the old adage about power in numbers?

The teachers union brings about 2 percent of the state’s population to the table, and if you roll in spouses and relatives it is a force to be reckoned with. There are about 1.5 million retirees in the state and, while AARP doesn’t have all of them, that clearly is a voting bloc that carries some oomph.

Put them together, which is what the talk was all about, and you could have one of the strongest voting blocs in the state. Which is why talks will continue toward that end.

AARP, of course, is still fighting mad about the Gov. Snyder pension tax. Even though he bent some on it, it is still a non-starter for the group.

The MEA has retirees as well, but is still up in arms with the Gov. Snyder emergency manager law that could see union clout eroded – if not eliminated – in some financially troubled school districts

“How do we work together?” is the central question posed by one of the participants.

Recalls were discussed but were not the major topic. Theoretically, the MEA-AARP axis could have an impact if it decided to get behind any of those. The reading from this vantage point is that they won’t. It’s probably a waste of time, energy and scarce financial resources, with what payoff?

If you recall a GOP lawmaker from a predominately Republican district, you may get rid of that person but end up with another elephant lover in the same seat. Everything ventured and nothing gained.

Looking toward the 2012 election, when the entire Michigan House is up for grabs, is a more likely joint project.

An endorsement from the combined groups would be a much sought-after blessing. What candidate would not want access to the combined e-mail lists of the two organizations? What candidate would not want the grassroots volunteers that could knock on doors, do literature drops and work the phones to get out the vote?

In addition to the grunt work that could be done, here’s the real kicker: Members of both groups vote. Oh yeah.

Internal numbers reveal that 74 percent of AARP members show up at the polls and the MEA number is just north of that, approaching 80 percent. That, in a word, is huge.

If they can work out the logistics, the coalition could rival the power of organized labor or even the business community, which in recent years has gotten its collective act together, too.

Oh, was it mentioned that both groups do have some money to toss around as well?

The fact that they are talking suggests that they want to work this out. Egos have to be meshed and points of disagreement need to be minimized, which is no easy task when you consider the MEA leans a little left while AARP leans a little right, but it might work.

Then again, over the years other would-be “powerful” coalitions have talked about joining forces. But in the end, all it produced was just that … talk.

Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.

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