By Yousuf Ali, Staff Writer

Yousuf Ali is a Staff Writer at the Michigan Journal. Yousuf’s views do not necessarily represent those of the Michigan Journal.

There was a governor named Gerry

Who was quite desperate for victory

So, he drew a map to have his party win

Even if voters thought them worse than sin

Thereafter, all districts look extraordinary

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article in the Michigan Journal expressing support for two candidates for the University of Michigan Board of Regent’s election:  Denise Ilitch (Dem.) and Ron Weiser (Rep.) As it happened, both won. In fact, Ron Weiser not only won a seat on the Board of Regents, but became chairman of the Michigan Republican Party shortly thereafter. I am under no delusions that my op-ed was somehow decisive in ensuring victory for either of the two regents. At the same time, I feel a sense of responsibility to express my displeasure at the gross misbehavior of the organization headed by one of the people whom I endorsed.

Over the last three decades, the Republicans have maintained a grip on the state legislature, as they have been the party in power in both 2000 and 2010 after which the districts were redrawn. In fact, several analyses have stated that Michigan legislative districts are amongst the most gerrymandered in the country. Consequently, it’s hardly any surprise that the heads of the Voters Not Politicians (VNP) campaign would report collecting 300,000 signatures for their petition proposing a ballot initiative giving the voters a chance to determine whether or not the status quo should continue.  Indeed, Michigan voters are sick and tired of having politicians subverting democracy by drawing abnormally shaped districts, and in the process, avoiding listening to the actual concerns of voters. Of course, the Michigan Republican party understands that such an initiative is a threat to their power and is doing its utmost to stop it.

It is in the nature of politicians to do everything they can to hold onto power, a tendency that is perfectly exemplified by the Michigan Republicans’ response to the VNP initiative. Instead of trying to make the case that Republican legislators are capable of drawing fairly constructed districts, the Michigan GOP is not only warning its members not to sign the ballot initiative, but some Republican  attorneys are planning a legal battle to prevent the measure from making it to the ballot. This is hardly surprising, as convincing voters that legislators can more fairly draw district lines than an independent commission consisting of Democrats, Republicans and Independents is rather difficult. Indeed, the biggest threat to the decades long subversion of democracy would be an exercise of democracy by asking the people directly whether or not they favor the status quo or wish for a change through a ballot initiative. This is something that those in power are afraid of and consequently are doing their utmost to prevent. In the face of this challenge, those seeking genuine democratic change must redouble their efforts to reform the current system.

In addition to signing the ballot proposal, there are several other ways to support its passage. As you can imagine, organizing such an initiative is by no means cheap, so donations to the organization behind the initiative, Voters Not Politicians,  would go a long way towards ensuring its passage. Contrary to the claims of the partisan propaganda machine, it is a non-partisan initiative as evidenced by the fact that it proposes a commission including an equal amount of Republicans and Democrats. The only people who would claim this to be partisan are the ones most guilty of what they accuse. Furthermore, one can become a petition circulator and gather signatures, so that the initiative may be presented to the voters. Last but not least, if and when the petition appears on the ballot next year, vote for it. No matter how many signatures we may collect or how much money we donate, all of our efforts are for not if people do not vote for it. In addition to our own votes, we must spread the word to family, friends, acquaintances, etc that they will have the chance to revitalize democracy in Michigan.

It would be a shame to let this opportunity go to waste.