Important New Petition Drive in Michigan

A petition drive has been launched by Voters for Fair Use of Ballot Referendum, aka Voters for FUBR (pronounced foo’-bar). Bill Lucas, of Ferndale Michigan, founded the organization in late 2012. Its purpose is to prevent the legislative abuse of attaching appropriations to new laws to render them referendum-proof.

Voters for FUBR are circulating a petition with a proposal to amend the portion of Michigan’s Constitution regarding appropriations to laws, and to additionally provide for the power of referendum to amend/repeal a portion of a law.

The group hopes to gather 323,000 valid signatures to earn a spot on the 2014 ballot. The Associated Press reports that Voters for FUBR has approached larger organizations, but have yet to gain their support.

This is familiar ground for me personally, as I was one of the founding members of the coalition that successfully petitioned to repeal the Emergency Manager law. The process was difficult and it consumed a year and a half of the lives of many dedicated volunteers and activists. The coalition was key to our success. Without the support of AFSCME, Michigan Forward, Reject Emergency Managers, Rainbow PUSH, NAACP, and a number of other faith-based groups, unions and individuals across the state, we would never have earned a spot on the ballot.

As most are aware, the Michigan legislature enacted a new Emergency Manger law in their shameful lame-duck session, and attached an appropriation to it, as they did to the Right-to-Work law.  The RTW appropriation was straight-up abuse of the democratic process. Re-enacting the EM law was just plain criminal, however its appropriation was legally required because the law would have been an unfunded mandate — BUT, they could have written that into a separate tie-barred bill.

Another point lost on many was the fact that even if there had not been appropriations in either bill, they could not have been put to a referendum. They were both passed at the tail end of the legislative session, and petitioners would have had only 90 days into the next session to complete a process that takes well over a year. There are many hoops to jump through for a ballot proposal:

  1. File a Ballot Question Committee with the Secretary of State.
  2. Develop and have petition language approved by the state.
  3. Coalition build.
  4. Fundraise for legal costs and printing of the petition (a lot of money!).
  5. Recruit and train volunteer petitioners.
  6. Gather signatures.
  7. Compile and verify petitions.
  8.  Submit petitions.
  9. Campaign for the proposal itself.

In the case of the Emergency Manager law we repealed, it had been enacted at the open of the legislative session of 2011, therefore we had till 90 days after the close of the 2012  session to complete the process, about 13 months — and that was still a tight timeline!

Voters for FUBR will face other familiar challenges. Their initiative is similarly “un-sexy”, and will require more public education than a straight-up recall. People will erroneously think that the leaders of the drive are a well-funded sophisticated organization with banks of computers and trained staff — the public will get angry with the slightest little burp in the process. The mainstream media will be wishy-washy in their coverage, at times with a derisive under-current to their reporting. Right-wing organizations will put a lot of money into challenging the validity of the petitions and the ballot proposal itself.

This new ballot proposal is very important. It won’t be an easy task for Voters for FUBR to achieve, in fact, it will be monumental — but it’s worth the effort and I support them, and hope the voting public does too.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree