NORMA STEWART: Residents deserve fair, open government

TO THE EDITOR:

“Democracy Dies in Darkness” is the tagline for the Washington Post. It should also be a wake-up call for Michiganders who have the least transparent state government in the nation according to the Center for Public Integrity. We rank dead last in accountability, in part because we exempt our governor and state lawmakers from public disclosure laws.

Earlier this year, Republican state House members received bi-partisan constituent praise for passing bills that would require these lawmakers to make their official correspondence public. This praise was premature and undeserved since these bills were dead on arrival in the Senate. These controlling House members show no interest in pressuring the Senate to act on this important, ethical issue. Conditions remain ripe for conflicts of interests to occur out of public view.

By contrast, the very same Michigan State House and Senate demonstrate perfect coordination in fast tracking legislation that they really care about. With Republican-only support, legislation that expands special interest campaign spending flew through both chambers and was signed by the governor. These legislators have expanded Lansing’s exclusive playground for elite donors, while you and I still can’t fully see what they are up to.

Michigan citizens are also kept in the dark when politicians pick their voters behind closed doors. Every 10 years new district lines are drawn using updated census data. Wealthy lobbyists influence this backroom redistricting process to keep their puppet politicians in power. Lines are drawn out of public view by the party that controls state government, be it Democrats or Republicans. Politicians can’t resist creating districts that will practically guarantee their re-elections, using big data and computer software.

This unfair process is known as gerrymandering and both parties do it when given the opportunity. If you care about issues such as healthcare, taxes, education, roads, etc., you should care about gerrymandering. Politicians of any party who know they will be re-elected in a rigged system can ignore you and listen to their wealthy funders.

There is a nonpartisan, citizen-led ballot initiative underway that can stop politicians and powerbrokers from manipulating legislative outcomes. A citizen commission of registered voters would be created to draw district lines. Four Democrats, four Republicans and five Independents would be randomly selected from a pool of qualified applicants from across the state to serve on the commission. Final maps must be approved by at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two Independents. Lobbyists, consultants and politicians would be banned from the commission. Unlike our current secretive process, there would be open public hearings. The maps, methodology and data used to create districts would be available to the public. Signatures are currently being gathered to put this proposal on the November 2018 ballot.

Democracy does, indeed, die in darkness. All citizens deserve an open government and fair representation. This ballot initiative empowers citizens to bring one critical aspect of our government out from behind closed doors. Visit votersnotpoliticians.com to learn more.

Norma Stewart

Filer Township

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