First Lesson from Flint: Repeal Emergency Management

Water shutoff protests in Detroit in 2014 (Photo: WSJ)
Water shutoff protests in Detroit in 2014 (Photo: WSJ)

As the calls grow for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s resignation – last night he was heckled out of a bar in his hometown of Ann Arbor – we should also keep our eyes and protests laser-focused on the racist and anti-democratic emergency management (EM) law he imposed that made Flint’s water crisis even possible.

This week, the NAACP listed repealing EM as top priority on its list of 15 things to be done to help Flint. Michigan democrats introduced legislation to repeal the law, which was bolstered by Snyder in Public Act 4 of 2011, and then voted down in a 2012 statewide referendum by the voters of Michigan. The Republican-led state legislature brought it back by attaching it to an appropriations bill that is immune to voter referendum. In short, the voters of Michigan have already struck this thing down. The elected officials now need to do the same.

How is the EM law racist? It’s simple: look at the breakdown of cities currently or formerly under EM (Snyder claims all 15 are out of EM, but that’s disingenuous because all have a “receivership transitional advisory board” with final say over all contracts and city operations):

  • Benton Harbor (90% black)
  • Detroit (82% black)
  • Ecorse (46% black)
  • Allen Park (2% black)
  • Flint (57% black)
  • Hamtramck (19% black, 22% Asian)
  • Lincoln Park (6% black)
  • Pontiac (52% black)
  • River Rouge (50% black)
  • Detroit Public Schools (84% black)
  • Highland Park School District (94% black)
  • Muskegon Heights School District (78% black)

Cities under state Consent Agreements (to avoid EM):

  • Highland Park (94% black)
  • Inkster (73% black)
  • Royal Oak Township (95% black)
  • Wayne County (41% black)
  • Benton Harbor Area Schools (90% black)
  • Pontiac Public Schools (52% black)

In total, over half of the African-Americans living in Michigan have had their voting rights taken away by the EM law, compared to only 2% of whites. By taking away the power of black elected officials to run their cities, the EM law completely deflates the power of black votes. The recent partial repeal of the Voting Rights Act in the south doesn’t even come close to disenfranchising black voters as badly as Michigan’s EM law. This is straight racism.

The worst indictment of EM, though, is what happens under its watch:

  • Benton Harbor – pristine waterfront privatized, city park converted to private golf course, crony contracts given to city company Whirlpool, government whistleblower sentenced to 2 to 10 years in prison
  • Detroit – water shut off on thousands of low-income families, largest tax foreclosure in the history of the United States
  • Flint – mass lead poisoning through tainted water
  • Detroit Public Schools – mass school closings, inhumane conditions in schools, state avoiding repairs because of intent to sell school buildings, mass teacher sick-outs and threatened strikes
  • So much more…

Last week, under pressure, Flint’s state oversight board voted 5-0 to return limited powers of appointment to elected Mayor Karen Weaver. She still has to submit qualifications in writing to the board for their approval, though, and the elected city council still has no say in the matter. This is a token return of power, not what Flint’s Mayor needs to get her city out of the crisis the state put it in.

It’s time to repeal Public Act 4 and rid Michigan of emergency management for good. If Snyder wants to save any face and preserve a modicum of positive legacy in this state, let him be the governor who resigns with his head held high after returning democracy to the state he stole it from.