A failure of leadership: Snyder’s about-face on right-to-work betrays voters
Two years ago, a newly elected Rick Snyder told the Free Press editorial board he was determined to be a new kind of governor — a pragmatist focused like a laser on initiatives that promised to raise standards of living for all Michiganders.
And until last week, we believed him.
For two years, we supported Snyder as he took painful steps to restore Michigan’s fiscal stability and confront a crisis in which plunging tax revenues and mounting obligations to retired workers threatened to cripple the state’s cities and school districts.
We criticized the governor for signing legislation that burdened a woman’s right to choose, condoned discrimination against gays, and beggared colleges and universities to pay for business tax cuts.
But we also indulged many compromises Snyder maintained were necessary to advance his pro-growth agenda. And when ideologues on the right and left mounted campaigns designed to hamstring state government by limiting its authority to raise revenues, regulate labor relations, and fund critically needed infrastructure, we joined the governor in opposing them.
In short, we trusted Snyder’s judgment.
That trust has now been betrayed — for us, and for the hundreds of thousand of independents who voted for Snyder with the conviction that they were electing someone more independent, and more visionary, than partisan apparatchiks like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Rick Scott.
Last week, in an abrupt about-face Snyder’s defenders said was born of his frustration with organized labor, the governor unleashed a legislative blitzkrieg that seems certain to bring a bill barring closed-shop contracts to his desk next week.
He has already promised to sign it.
Watching Snyder explain his right-to-work reversal was disturbing on several levels.
His insistence that the legislation was designed to promote the interests of unionized workers and “bring Michiganders together” was grotesquely disingenuous; even as he spoke, security personnel were locking down the capital in anticipation of protests by angry unionists.
Snyder’s ostensible rationale for embracing right-to-work legislation — it was, he insisted, a matter of preserving workers’ freedom of association — was equally dishonest.
The real motive of Michigan’s right-to-work champions, as former GOP legislator Bill Ballenger ruefully observed, is “pure greed” — the determination to emasculate, once and for all, the Democratic Party’s most reliable source of financial and organizational support.
Off track for a better state
Michigan voters have never trusted business interests or organized labor to govern Michigan unilaterally, and they have been appropriately wary of schemes to secure a permanent advantage for either side. Thus the ignominious demise of Proposal 2, which a majority of voters correctly perceived as an attempt not just to tip the scales of labor negotiations in unions’ favor, but to lock them there for decades to come.
Snyder and other critics of Proposal 2 called it an overreach — and we agreed, even when proponents warned that Snyder and his Republican legislative allies would move to crush the labor movement if the voters rejected Proposal 2.
Nonsense, we assured them — Gov. Snyder is smarter than that. Too many of Snyder’s higher priorities would be jeopardized, we reasoned, if he picked a needless fight over right-to-work.
Our reasoning was sound, and it remains so. What we miscalculated was Snyder’s resolve to buck his own party’s most irrational ideologues and keep his eye on the main prize: a better Michigan.
It’s all about politics
Like the failed labor initiative it seeks to avenge, Snyder’s right-to-work legislation is an attempt to institutionalize Republicans’ current political advantage. Everything else is window dressing, and most of these diversionary talking points are demonstrably false.
The argument that right-to-work status makes states more competitive or prosperous is refuted by a mountain of evidence that shows right-to-work states trailing their union-friendly counterparts in key metrics like per capita wealth, poverty rates and health insurance coverage.
Snyder’s contention that workers’ First Amendment rights are compromised when a union they have freely elected to bargain on their behalf proposes a contract making union dues compulsory is equally specious. Employees are always free to reject such a contract or decertify the union that negotiated it, just as stockholders can force the ouster of corporate managers they deem unresponsive to their needs.
Snyder has long acknowledged that steamrolling right-to-work legislation through the Legislature would have enduring negative consequences for productive collaboration between workers and employees. His decision to embrace such legislation now destroys, in an eye blink, the trusting relationship he and his business allies have struggled to establish.
It also yokes a governor who once aspired to be seen as a new kind of Republican with the most ideological, backward-looking elements of that party — the very people whose exclusionary vision of the country’s future was rejected by voters in last month’s election.
Snyder’s closest brush with candor came when he suggested that his endorsement of right-to-work was less than voluntary — a decision “that was on the table whether I wanted it to be on the table or not.”
But that is less an excuse than a confession that Michigan’s governor has abdicated his leadership responsibilities to Republican legislators bent on vengeance.
What reasonable person now believes that Snyder has the will or the wherewithal to deliver Michigan, or even his own party, from the failed politics of division?
Michigan voters who provided Snyder’s margin of victory in 2010 feel betrayed, and they have every justification. If he was ever serious about being the governor who brought Michiganders together, Snyder has just sent himself back to Square One.