'Changing the rules of politics to help Dems'

Organized Labor's secretive scheme exposed by cyber sleuth

A PowerPoint presentation purportedly found on a union Web site may be the smoking gun that indicates Democrats and organized labor are behind the Reform Michigan Now ballot proposal that would result in a massive overhaul of state government in a single shot.

The presentation lays out the $4.9 million budget, rationale and advantages of the ballot drive to cherry-pick parts of the Michigan Constitution that Democrats believe have prevented them from taking control of state government.

To date, backers of the effort and Democratic Party leaders have refused to say who wrote the controversial proposal and who is bankrolling it. Without question, the proposal is chock-full of populist appeal to voters who polls have consistently shown are angered by the performance of state government. Parts of the plan definitely favor Democrats over Republicans.

The initiative, if it meets state standards and clears an expected court challenge, would allow voters to decide in November whether to rewrite the constitution to, among other things, shrink the size of the Legislature and the state's top courts, roll back legislative salaries and benefits and change the rules on legislative redistricting to give Democrats a better shot at controlling the House and Senate.

"To the extent that this document is what it appears to be, it leaves little doubt that the (ballot proposal) is a partisan power play," according to Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Midland-based free-market oriented think tank that found the PowerPoint presentation on UAW Region 1-C Web site. The presentation, whose title page says "Changing the rules of politics in Michigan to help Democrats," is no longer on the Web site.

Kersey said the center finds appeal in many of the ballot proposal objectives that would make government smaller and less expensive.

But he said the Mackinac Center is concerned "that what motivated so much of it was partisan calculation."

He stopped short of saying the Michigan Democratic Party is orchestrating the ballot campaign, something state party chairman Mark Brewer emphatically denied as recently as last week.

"But there are references (in the presentation) to 'MDP' which I have to figure is the Michigan Democratic Party," Kersey said. "I don't want to speculate, but it does show the calculation was to benefit the Michigan Democratic Party."

Brewer, who has steadfastly denied playing a role in the drafting of the proposal, said in a statement Thursday: "I have been and continue to be supportive of this grassroots proposal that reforms the Michigan government. Provisions such as ethics reform and asset disclosure for elected officials would help create a more open and accountable government that works for the citizens of Michigan rather than the special interests that currently have too much control over the way business is done in Lansing."

A call to UAW Regional 1-C was not returned.

The Michigan Education Association, which represents teachers and other school employees, issued a statement Thursday saying it had not taken a position on the ballot proposal, which is under review by state election workers to see if it meets the form and the signature requirement to appear on the ballot. That review won't be completed for weeks.

"We have serious concerns about the legal issues surrounding the initiative," Ed Sarpolus, the MEA director of government affairs, said in a prepared statement.

The Detroit Regional Chamber announced Thursday that its board unanimously voted to oppose the nearly 20,000-word proposal.

"Transparency of who is leading the effort is important for voters, which is not publicly known right now," Richard Blouse Jr., president and CEO of the Detroit chamber, said in a press release. "The business community certainly recognizes the need for reforms in state government, especially when it comes to solving the problems of chronic budget deficits. However, it's important to be up front about these reforms so they can be fully vetted through open debate."

Dianne Byrum, the spokeswoman for the reform ballot initiative, said her group would disclose its financial backers when it has to legally report in August.


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