In the Michigan Legislature’s lame duck session, the Republicans’ bold, unprecedented moves to circumvent the ballot proposal process serve as a reaction to surprising voting trends that favor citizen initiatives for liberal causes.

A nationwide drift has emerged that shows progressive ballot proposals, even in Red States, are often popular with Republicans, including those in staunchly conservative rural areas.

The three proposals on Michigan’s November ballot – legalizing marijuana, reforming the redistricting process, and making the voting process more accessible – each received widespread support just two years after President Trump’s unlikely win here.

The most contentious, partisan ballot issue during the fall campaign, the Proposal 2 effort to end gerrymandering, received support on Election Day by most voters in northern Michigan counties, an area which is considered solid Trump country. According to an analysis by Bridge Magazine, 65 of Michigan’s 83 counties backed Proposal 2, including 48 that had voted both for Republican Bill Schuette for governor on the 2018 ballot and for President Trump in 2016.

The writing may be on the wall, but GOP lawmakers want to rewrite the rules for getting proposals passed.

In lame duck, the GOP has attempted to alter Proposals 1, 2 and 3 by watering them down with so-called implementation legislation. The Republicans also gutted two popular petition drives — those seeking minimum wage increases and paid sick leave for workers — by detouring those initiatives to the state Capitol rather than the November ballot.

Brooks Patterson gives GOP a lecture

And now they are ready to gut the petition process by making it much harder for grassroots campaigns to collect enough signatures to win a spot on the ballot. The bill, which received final approval in the Senate this morning and is headed to Gov. Snyder’s desk, contains an unusual geographic requirement. The measure says that no more than 15 percent of a petition drive’s signatures can come from any congressional district. That would limit the amount of signatures collected in southeast Michigan, particularly in heavily Democratic areas such as Detroit, suburban Wayne County and parts of Oakland County.

On Wednesday, a rather iconic figure among Michigan Republicans, longtime Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, warned that the restrictions sought by GOP lawmakers would make successful petition drives “almost impossible.”

Throughout the U.S., November election results show that the political landscape — on issues, not candidates — is changing.

In increasingly Red State Missouri, even as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate easily defeated the Democratic incumbent, voters supported an increase in the minimum wage, medical marijuana, a broad measure to restrict lobbying, new limits on campaign finance, and moving the overriding authority for redistricting away from legislators.

Not only did those measures pass statewide, but they won majorities in the state’s rural counties, where Republican candidates mostly scored landslide wins.

In Florida, a proposal that restored voting rights for ex-felons carried the state’s rural counties on its way to statewide passage. Medicaid expansion initiatives were approved in the conservative, rural states of Idaho, Nebraska and Utah.

The difference: Ballot proposals don’t carry a party label

Political analysts say that in the current hyper-partisan, tribal atmosphere, where voters are swayed mostly based on a candidate’s party identification, the fact that ballot proposals do not carry a partisan label could explain rural voters’ acceptance of rather liberal proposals.

In a year when most state ballot proposals across the country passed, the 2018 season for citizen initiatives featured numerous progressive propositions related to voting rights, election reforms and renewable energy.

Obviously, the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature took note of all these revelations.

Consider this: A decade or two ago, the idea of voters making Michigan the first Midwest state to legalize marijuana likely would have produced an incredulous response from many that goes something like this: “Are you on drugs?”

The growing acceptance of marijuana liberalization laws — in favor of medicinal or recreational use — are at the forefront of this national ballot trend, echoing the astoundingly rapid changes in public views on gay rights that emerged over the past dozen years.

The enthusiasm gap that perceptibly favored Democratic candidates for Congress and state offices in November apparently has spread to state ballot propositions, as liberals work overtime to get these initiatives passed while conservative opposition groups often mount somewhat feeble campaigns. That was the case in the wins for Proposal 1, 2 and 3 in Michigan.

In 2020 and beyond, this lean toward progressive proposals could continue. If, that is, some future ballot proposals directly attack the lame duck process that seems to have spun out of control in 2018 – in Michigan and elsewhere.


This post was updated at 10:59 a.m. on Dec. 21.