Sunday, April 17, 2011

Executive Authority, or Why Michigan Ought to Concern Us

As if undermining the competitive advantages of unions weren't concerning enough, Wisconsin's governor-you-love-to-hate is now reportedly seeking to emulate a recent Michigan law which grants the governor's office sweeping powers over cities and towns. Some have already argued that the states have always had the power to tell cities what they should or should not be doing, which in general they do. But the key difference in the Michigan law, is that this power has been taken from the legislative branch and given to the executive. As it stands right now in Michigan, the Emergency Financial Manager can, almost at will, dissolve city councils, school boards, dictate what policy they can or cannot pursue, even what kind of meetings they can have. In short, an appointed official is able to literally destroy an elected body. This might not seem that extreme to some, considering the dire straits many municipalities find themselves in these days. And indeed, one would be a fool to argue that simply being an elected official means you practice good governance. Plenty of duly elected officials have run the gamut from incompetence to outright fraud. But does that mean we should shift decision-making power - and responsibility - away from the general assembly toward the governor's office? I try, as a general rule, to steer clear of alarmist rhetoric. But I can't seem to get past the idea that the supremacy of executive over legislative power is a defining feature of totalitarian regimes. Which isn't of course to say that I think Mr. Snyder counts as a dictator. Nor do I think you can argue that Michigan has suddenly turned into a fascist state. But I do think the health of a democracy can be measured by the size and quality of its social competition. By that metric, anything which limits political influence to a only few powerful interests is something we all ought to be concerned with.