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Michigan Recall Workers Stymied By Officialdom

By James Donahue

Some Michigan Republicans have been caught up in the “grand old party” so long that they don’t appear to have noticed that the G.O.P. has been losing its grip on reality.

After electing Republican Rick Snyder to succeed retiring Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, a lot of Michigan voters realized that Snyder’s campaign, built on promises to balance the state’s budget, involved union busting, shutdown of services and a total takeover of all local elected county, city and township boards that find themselves wallowing in debt. And that describes many local governments throughout the state.

The actions by Snyder and his Republican legislators in Lansing stirred a statewide recall campaign by disgruntled voters and threatened union workers.

Michigan rules for conducting a recall petition drive are strict. Once the wording of the petition is approved, the campaign workers have a limited number of days to collect a certain percentage of names of valid registered voters. In this case, a total of more than 800,000 names had to be filed on or before August 5 to get the issue on a ballot in November, 2011.

After that, every name has to be checked to make sure the person is a registered Michigan voter. If enough names can be struck from the petition, the campaign fails. If the petition gets filed too late, the effort fails. Then the job is to get enough voters to go to the polls and approve the recall. Statistics show that most recall petition campaigns do not succeed.

Launching the campaign against Snyder took a lot of hustling by a large number of organized workers. Needless to say, after weeks of hard work, the group failed to file the petition by the August 5 deadline.

The workers ran into some unexpected obstacles along the way.

In Saugatuck, an old established Republican stronghold for more years than we would like to remember, village officials reportedly banned petitioners from approaching people on public sidewalks.

And in Genesee County campaign worker Denise Miller was blocked from freely gathering signatures in Linden County Park. Park officials first told her she had to get a permit to petition signatures on park grounds. After she complied, the parks office restricted Miller to stand in a designated area, three-feet by three-feet square, located in an isolated area of the 135-acre park.

The American Civil Liberties Union has since gotten involved in both the Saugatuck and Genesee County incidents. ACLU attorney Miriam Ankerman said the agency has received “a significant number of complaints from people across the state who are sayng they are being limited by cities on circulating the recall petition.”

The Genesee County case appears to be heading to U. S. federal court. The ACLU is asking U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh to strike down the rule requiring a license to circulate petitions and especially the rule restricting the area in which a petitioner can stand. At issue is the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

In addition to the tiny three-foot square space, Miller’s permit limited her to petition between July 1 and August 1 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., even though the park was open until 9 p.m. She also was restricted to placing her sign within 10 feet of her square. Other activity signs are routinely placed more than 100 feet away throughout the park

It is obvious that elected and appointed Republican officials were busy doing everything they could to block the threat of a recall against Governor Snyder.

We can expect a heated re-election campaign when Snyder seeks his second term in 2014. State union leaders and many local government and school officials worry about the damage Snyder and his cohorts will accomplish in the meantime.