“I will veto bills designed to cut out the public’s right of referendum.” This quote from Governor Gretchen Whitmer came in the middle of a State of the State speech full of great moments, so it might not have stood out to everyone—but it represents an important promise to stand up for the people’s right to the ballot.
This statement is especially striking in the context of Michigan’s history over the last eight years, during which our state government was fully controlled by Republican elected officials who consistently trampled on Michiganders’ constitutional right to enact change at the ballot box.
The story starts in 2011, when then-Gov. Rick Snyder signed a new emergency manager law designed to wrest control from local governments. The next year, voters used the referendum process to reject the GOP’s attack on local control. That should have been the end—but instead of respecting the will of the people, Republicans passed another emergency manager law, and the resulting erosion of local control led directly to the poisoning of Flint’s water.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Republicans learned much from that mistake. Last year, activists across Michigan worked on petition drives for ballot proposals to increase the minimum wage and guarantee earned paid sick time—but these issues never made it to the ballot. Instead, Republicans in the legislature adopted the reforms, only to go back and gut them during the lame duck session.
Also during lame duck 2018—after Michiganders overwhelmingly approved three progressive ballot measures during the midterms—Republicans pushed through a bill adding new requirements for petition drives. The purpose was clear: to make it more difficult for people to make their voices heard at the ballot box.
The fact of the matter is Republicans don’t work for the people; they work for their corporate donors—that’s why they attack our right to referendum. It’s the same reason Utah Republicans just overruled the Medicaid expansion voters passed last November, and Republicans in Michigan and across the country routinely oppose fair maps and restrict voting rights.
Gov. Whitmer has made it clear that she’s willing to work with the legislature on needed reforms, but she won’t stand for any more GOP attacks on our democracy. That matters.