GOP swamps Michigan in racism, dirty tricks

Commentary

Voters in Michigan can deliver a knockout punch to the Bush agenda. But to do so, they will have to find their way through a Republican minefield that works to scapegoat the victims of an economic crisis that has Michigan autoworkers and the communities they live in reeling.

Official unemployment is over 7 percent and rising, and the rate of home foreclosures is the highest in the nation. In times of economic strife the humane response would be to think of ways to bring people together to develop a collective response to the problems so many are facing. Not so with the Republican Party, which sees the crisis as an opportunity to divide and conquer.

Racism is a major factor in the Republican strategy. On the ballot is a proposal to add an amendment to the state’s constitution barring the use of race and gender to ensure that minorities and women have access to jobs, outreach programs, education and contracts in the state.

The anti-affirmative action ballot proposal was designed to mobilize the far right to the polls. It was also designed to split the electorate — to pit white voters against African American and Latino voters. And the backers of this amendment purposely confused the issue by calling it “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.” To save affirmative action, voters must vote “no” on this misnamed ballot proposal.

The response to this initiative from labor, the religious community, women’s, student and other organizations has been good. Of the five ballot proposals, this is the only one the AFL-CIO has taken a position on, and it has strongly come out for its defeat.

Teamsters President James Hoffa is a co-chair of the organization working to save affirmative action and, in an opinion article earlier this month, he wrote: “We know diversity is a key to America’s greatness. A work force of well-qualified men and women of all colors and ages is what our nation needs to win in a global economy. When all American workers have an opportunity, we all win.” He also exposed the union-busting, corporate forces behind this measure.

Republicans are also playing on people’s insecurity by stoking anti-immigrant notions. Accusations that Democratic candidates are giving away resources to immigrants are seen in television ads and Republican literature attacking Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, state Senate candidate Andy Levin and others. Too often the Democratic response has been weak in exposing the racism inherent in these attacks and how the problems of Michigan’s working families have absolutely nothing to do with immigration.

Immigrants are not taking jobs away from Michigan residents. As the state AFL-CIO says, all workers, regardless of their immigration status, need real and enforceable remedies for labor and employment law violations, and that any immigration reform must provide a path to permanent residency.

Dick DeVos, the far-right Amway corporate-connected candidate for governor, is using his personal fortune to try and buy his way into the governor’s seat. He blames Gov. Jennifer Granholm for Michigan’s failing auto industry — a charge that would not have much staying power if it weren’t repeated over and over again in TV ads. Already, with the two most expensive weeks of campaigning still to come, DeVos has spent over $16 million of his personal fortune on television spots attacking the governor.

The entire state apparatus, from both houses of the Legislature to the secretary of state, attorney general and state Supreme Court are solidly under Republican control. This has worked to tie Granholm hands and forced her to veto more legislation than any governor in the state’s history.

Under DeVos, even more jobs would be lost and the cost of basic services in the state would rise. DeVos is a big proponent of job-eroding “free trade” legislation and eliminating taxes on the wealthy and large corporations. He is also a supporter of intelligent design, private school vouchers and measures to make it even more difficult for labor to organize. Keeping him out of Lansing is a priority for all democratic forces in the state.