Since mid-February, much of the media's coverage of the working-class backlash against the Republican's radical state-level agenda has focused on Wisconsin's protests of Scott Walker's union-busing legislation. Unfortunately, the draconian policies being enacted by Michigan's newly-elected Governor Rick Snyder make Walker's power grabs seem timid by comparison.
Due to legislation passed by Michigan's Republican-controlled state legislature and signed into law by Governor Snyder, the democratically elected government in the city of Benton Harbor has been dissolved. Benton Harbor's elected officials now have only the power to call meetings, adjourn them, and approve minutes.
The power to do everything else is up to one man, Joseph Harris, Governor Snyder's appointed emergency manager of the city. Mr. Harris can now break union contracts, gut public services such as police and firefighters, and close schools unilaterally, without any sufficient checks and balances on his power.
One of the most basic elements of democracy, the ability to choose your own elected representatives, is under attack in Benton Harbor. Rick Snyder undoubtedly deserves to be blamed for his atrocious decision and should be held accountable during a recall election. However, the citizens of Benton Harbor deserve a share of the blame too.
In 2008, Barack Obama was quite popular in Benton Harbor. Out of 3,786 votes cast in the city's four precincts, only 75 votes went to any candidate other than President Obama. However, despite an extremely popular candidate on the ticket, turnout in Benton Harbor's four precincts accounted for a disturbingly low 36.3 percent of registered voters. For some perspective, in Berrien County, the county which Benton Harbor calls home, the turnout in all other precincts was a respectable 63.9 percent of registered voters.
Predictably, this trend held true when Rick Snyder was on the ballot last November. Turnout in Benton Harbor was an abysmal 16.4 percent compared to 39.2 percent across the rest of the county. Therefore, it is no surprise that Benton Harbor became the first test subject in Governor Snyder's laboratory of autocracy. What would their angry residents do, vote him out?
Democrats and progressives must stop the government takeover of Benton Harbor and publicize this story from coast to coast in order to make sure Americans know why they have to vote, and what's in store for them if they elect Republicans to office. Be strong, be decisive, and use the message the Republicans would use if the tables were turned. Say flat-out that if you don't vote, your government, your rights, and your voice will be snatched away from you by those overreaching Republicans.
Remind voters every single day from now until November of 2012 that Republicans want to remove your democratically elected officials and replace them with a single person who has unchecked power. If the message coming from the left is strong and unified, it will resonate with voters, increase voter participation, voter turnout, and lead to a better-educated electorate.
Do it Democrats, I beg you guys. You can even have some fun with this. Call the emergency manager a czar and make Michele Bachmann's head spin.