Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Rock the Casbah

Senator Gretchen Whitmer speaks out against the emergency financial manager bills that are coming to a vote tomorrow. Out in the hall, there are TVs set-up so you can watch the proceedings inside. Listen to the crowd cheer her on...

Love it. As a veteran who attended many protests in the past few years, I've often wondered why people didn't come into the building. Some would afterward in an effort to track down their legiscritter, but most of the time people stayed outdoors. The Capitol is open to you - although it wouldn't surprise me to see the Republicans now move to close it off "during session" or some such nonsense to combat this. According to KHB, they got a little rowdy in the gallery in chamber, which is a no-no. That's all the excuse the Rs would need.

But before we get to that, let us note that the new Senate Republicans are behaving exactly like the old Senate Republicans. Watch this next trick, straight out of the Bishop Playbook of Devious Behavior, as the outgunned Senate Democrats tried to offer amendments to curtail the power grab.

Nearly all their amendments were defeated, except for one offered by Democratic Sen. Tupac Hunter of Detroit, which would limit emergency financial managers' annual pay to $176,000. It passed on a narrow 19-18 vote, with some Republicans joining about a dozen Democrats to vote yes.

Then, in a sudden change, Republicans who control the Senate brought the amendment up for reconsideration. The salary limit failed 16-21. Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing chided Republicans for saying they wanted to reopen the vote so more Republicans could support it when they instead intended to vote it down.

Told she was out of order, Whitmer shot back, "Go ahead and gavel me." Opponents in the gallery loudly cheered her comments.

That one hasn't made YouTube yet (edit: see below) - I hope some of these other ones do.

Many more communities and schools might fall under the jurisdiction of a revised law, particularly as more suffer financial stresses from a prolonged economic slump and worsening budget problems. Opponents of the legislation say it's a state power grab designed to increase meddling in local affairs.

"We're doing something that I consider so detrimental to our state," said Sen. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland.

Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, gave an even more fiery speech, asking "Is this right, is this just? And the people say no." Opponents in the Senate gallery cheered as he spoke. During Tuesday's debate, Sen. Mark Jansen, the Grand Rapids Republican presiding over the Senate, repeatedly had to warn those in the gallery that no demonstrations were allowed.

Local officials warned the financial manager measures would take away voters' rights by removing the authority of elected school board members, mayors and council members.

WOOD TV has some more video of the protest here. Good to see this getting the publicity that it is. These bills are going to pass, but the actions taken here, combined with the Republican budget cuts, are going to resonate for months to come.

Albin mentioned this would be a "rolling protest" as the budget debate continues. The seniors are coming, the movie people are coming... wouldn't it be cool if we could get all these groups to settle on one day, and produce Wisconsin-size crowds of 50,000 or more?

UPDATE: Oh wow, they did put up the Whitmer segment - listen to the crowd in this one, before they muted the mic:

Maybe we should provide the Dems a cheering section from now on...

UPDATE 3/9: As expected, the Senate passed the bills on a party line vote:

But if they need intervention, emergency managers should have authority to do whatever it takes to declare bankruptcy, or avoid it by drastic steps. That could even mean ordering millage elections or dissolving local governments of school districts and merging them with neighboring ones.

Democrats blasted the bill as a government power grab that would undermine collective bargaining in targeted communities with appointed, high-paid managers that have almost unlimited authority.

Republicans argued that the state has no interest in forcing local governments into insolvency, and that the changes would create an early warning system to detect those in trouble before it reaches crisis levels.They said a stronger mechanism is needed to keep them functioning if necessary.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon has said he expects a large number of local governments to face insolvency in the coming year, and that the state must prepare to deal with them.

What goes unmentioned in all these stories are Snyder's proposed budget cuts are going to force cities and schools towards the need for financial managers - but that's not what the Republicans intend to do. No sireee, not them. They intend to put out the fire by pouring more gasoline on it...