Susan J. Demas: Republicans get creative to make sure Democrats don’t win any more elections

April 22, 2021 9:25 am

Crowds arrive for the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump supporters gathered in the nation’s capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

There’s an unfortunate stereotype that conservatives just aren’t very creative, probably because they’re always yammering that the National Endowment for the Arts is a boondoggle and museums would make lovely parking lots.

But you don’t have to gaze at the dogs-playing-poker-style paintings of that dude that portrays Donald Trump as a Greek god saving ungrateful humanity to know that right-wingers can be right-brained, too.

Just look at what Republican lawmakers have been up to this year. Following the violent Jan. 6 pro-Trump insurrection in which Vice President Mike Pence likely came close to being murdered and our democracy almost was disappeared like a reporter critical of Vladimir Putin, Michigan Republicans have been either spreading crackpot conspiracy theories about it or pretending the coup attempt never happened at all.

So do you believe that a majority of Republicans who control the Legislature accept that Democrat Joe Biden clearly won the presidency?

Oh, you sweet summer child. While some Lansing folks who know better are doing just that, only a handful of Republicans have grudgingly said publicly that Biden won (yes, even though his margin was a whopping 7 million votes).

And now they’ve turned their attention to their new goal of making sure that Democrats never win another election.

Now you might think that Republicans would shift their policy goals to better align with public opinion, adopting commons-sense policies like making sure everyone has affordable health care, or violent people can’t easily get assault-style weapons, or encouraging everyone to get vaccinated so the pandemic doesn’t kill another 17,000 Michiganders.

Ah, but that would be assuming that Republicans are into governing, something for which there’s zero evidence. But again, political insiders like to pretend that isn’t true because then it’s harder to win at the official Lansing pastime of both-sides-do-it bingo.

The most egregious example of Republicans’ new ploy is the dozens of voter suppression bills that look remarkably similar to legislation in almost every other state, thanks to a well-funded national conservative effort. Civil rights and election experts have called them “Jim Crow 2.0” because of their naked attempt to disenfranchise voters of color. (This comes after multiple GOP attempts to straight up throw out 2020 votes in heavily African American cities like Milwaukee and Detroit).

The icing on the cake is that it doesn’t matter that a majority of Michiganders don’t support these efforts nakedly making it harder to vote. Thanks to a quirk in Michigan law, only about 3% of the population needs to sign on to the shady ballot initiative (it’s coming) and the GOP-controlled Legislature can adopt it. And get this: Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has zero power to veto.

It’s the tyranny of the minority, which is how the GOP rolls these days.

But Michigan Republicans aren’t satisfied with the same voter restrictions that Georgia and other states are passing. They’re digging into the vault for some deep election-rigging cuts.

In 2012, Republicans had lost Michigan — and all of its Electoral College votes — for five straight presidential elections. Deeply frustrated, Republicans like then-Rep. Pete Lund (R-Shelby Twp.), who’s since gone on to run the Michigan branch of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, and then-Michigan GOP Chair Bobby Schostak endorsed divvying up Michigan’s Electoral College votes by congressional district.

At the time, Republicans held a 9-5 advantage in the congressional delegation, conveniently brought to us by none other than Lund, who happened to chair the committee drawing the maps. (Michigan voters got tired of such shenanigans and in 2018 approved an independent redistricting commission).

So even though President Barack Obama won Michigan by more than 400,000 votes in 2012, the GOP scheme would have awarded more than half the state’s 16 electoral votes to Republican Mitt Romney.

A Michigan GOP spokesman told a reporter, presumably with a straight face, that it “really provides a more true view of the Electoral College, because you have electoral members throughout the state who are able to represent the views of their community and constituency.”

As Orwell would say, all votes are equal, but Republican votes are more equal than others.

Republicans in blue states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin flirted with similar ideas after the first African American president won a second term. The ploy never ended up going anywhere and that actually ended up working out well for the GOP. Because in 2016, Donald Trump won all three states and all of their electoral votes, propelling him to the presidency, despite losing the popular vote.

But with Biden flipping those states blue in 2020 and Republicans clutching to debunked conspiracy theories about Trump’s loss like Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) mumbling about dead people voting, it’s not surprising that lawmakers are going back to the well with legislation changing electoral vote rules to ensure that they can still win by losing.

This week, there was a hearing on HB 4319 sponsored by Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) and HB 4320 from Rep. Jeff Yaroch (R-Richmond).

And there were the same wink-and-nod arguments with Yaroch declaring, “I would argue that at this point, our current winner-take-all system nullifies the votes of many people.”

We get it. After more than a decade of hearing from GOP luminaries like Sarah Palin that her party represents “Real Americans” unlike Obama, Trump spreading racist birther conspiracies that catapulted him to the presidency where his top goal was to demonize immigrants, and Republican activists trying to stop Detroit votes from even being counted last year culminating in an armed insurrection in D.C., the GOP agenda is clear.

They’ve given up on ideas and governing and are solely focused on amassing power through undemocratic means. And they’ll troll us every step of the way to gin up outrage from their base and own the libs.

This is a test for anyone who truly cares about democracy. Just because it prevailed on Jan. 6 doesn’t mean the future is guaranteed.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.