Last Thursday in an exclusive, Rachel Maddow deftly explained what may appear to be a rather arcane controversy in voting in Michigan’s House of Representatives.
The state’s constitution, amended in the 1960s under Mitt Romney’s father, provides that new laws cannot come into effect until after a legislative session, which can mean up to a 14 month delay. There is an emergency exception to this, allowing a law to go into ‘immediate effect’, and the state’s use of this exception is what Maddow zeroed in on.
That exception requires a two-thirds vote in both state houses, however, despite their sweep in the 2010 elections the Republicans, do not have the numbers in the House of Representatives. Despite that, they have been waving through almost every single law to take ‘immediate effect’ — and Maddow played video of this happening on the House floor (see below) even though the Speaker was being asked for a roll-call vote by opposition Democrats.
The Democrats went to a judge to ask for this practice to stop and although the first judge agreed, an appeal court judge did not.
What Maddow did not note was that state Democrats had also passed numerous laws under Governor Jennifer Granholm also using the ‘immediate effect’ law, so they have obviously had a recent Damascene moment.
The context in which Maddow placed these goings on is one of ongoing and systematic removal of voting rights in Michigan such as under the local ‘emergency managers’ law, which has left about half of the state’s African American population without voting rights. Though local commentators ask why the party did not complain loudly about those ‘emergency manager’ laws going into ‘immediate effect’ at the time.
Democrat Rep. Jeff Irwin told a local blogger that they had been asking for roll-calls but:
“The big difference now is that since the Senate follows the Constitution [with two-thirds roll call votes], there was always one chamber where immediate effect votes would be counted and extremely divisive bills would not earn immediate effect in the Senate.”
That previous Senate also had a GOP majority, so the system was more bipartisan as opposed to the highly partisan body it has become. Many of the contentious bills passed explicitly fit the reason why the 1960s constitution embedded delayed effect — such as ones which immediately impact personal or family finances like one which withdrew same-sex partner benefits. But Irwin’s explanation still doesn’t explain why the Democrats only acted now and not when such bills were being waved through with ‘immediate effect’.
House rules “longstanding practice”, says the GOP, means that the Speaker can just ignore calls for roll-call votes, although the actual rules requires a “record of the vote and name of the members of either house voting on any question shall be entered in the journal” if 20 percent of the House requests such a vote.
GOP House Speaker Jase Bolger said in a statement:
“It would seem the liberal sour grapes have resulted in an overflowing dose of whine.”
Another law which went into ‘immediate effect’ changed the state’s voting requirements, making it harder to vote. Under the state constitution, it should have not gone into effect until after November’s Presidential election. Maddow singled that out as having a national impact in a key swing state and also noted the links with the exploitation of similar, previously little used, rules which allow for either the blocking of voting or the removal of voting — such as the GOP’s dramatically increased use of the filibuster in Congress — by the GOP elsewhere.
But the failure of Maddow to cover the historic use of ‘immediate effect’ is more than a little disappointing. She does mention it in Monday night’s report but barely.
Eric B., writing for the Michigan Liberal, calls her out — loudly — for this but writes that, no, her error does not let the great ‘defenders of the constitution’ in the GOP off the hook:
Onto the meat of the Republican defense that they get to do it because it’s always been done that way. Well, no, that’s not an excuse for violating the constitution, and this is pretty clearly that. Even if we get past the point that their argument isn’t entirely valid, you simply can’t just skip the parts of the constitution that are inconvenient to you when called out. And, speaking of that, the House Democrats should have raised this last year when it was starting (probably they didn’t because Immediate Effect was previously no big deal because legislation had to have a bipartisan stamp on it in the first place). They didn’t.
Watch Rachel Maddow’s Monday night report:
Image: Rachel Maddow Show screengrab
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