Democrats

Susan J. Demas: The Resistance Blooms in the Heart of Republican Country

Photo credit: Progressive Women's Alliance-Lakeshore

Photo credit: Progressive Women's Alliance-Lakeshore

Whenever you walk into an Elks Lodge, it’s like stepping back into the 1970s, if not before.

From the vintage photos on the walls to the omnipresent wood paneling, they typically have the cozy feel of your grandparents’ basement. I’ve done my fair share of interviews in lodges in small towns across the Midwest, usually dispatched by editors looking for veterans, union members and independent voters to include in various stories.

Last Friday night, I was asked to speak at an Elks Lodge in Grand Haven, a beautiful and conservative hamlet on Lake Michigan, which thankfully, given my commute from Lansing, wasn’t buried under two feet of snow. It was the monthly meeting of the Lakeshore chapter of the Progressive Women’s Alliance. The organization blossomed after the 2016 election, starting as a few women chatting at a local pub to a fired-up group searching for bigger and bigger venues.

As I looked out from the middle-school-style stage, I was frankly stunned to see that roughly 200 people were crammed in the hall — women, children and a sizeable number of men — for a talk on the 2018 election more than seven months out.

I do a fair number of speeches, especially in election years, so I have my trusty notes scrawled on a yellow legal pad on key races in Michigan and across the country, party breakdowns in legislative chambers and big factors shaping campaigns.

But after talking to several people gathered before my speech about the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, Michigan’s terrible roads and the latest round of indictments in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, I decided to do something new. I ended up just speaking extemporaneously for 20 minutes about activism, organizing and the history of social movements, and didn’t glance at my notes once.

For an introvert who was paralyzed by extreme stage fright as a child, I’ve often thought how odd it is that a sizeable part of my career is now public speaking and TV interviews. The turning point for me was being asked to speak as a 17-year-old college freshman at a 1994 free-speech rally against an anti-LGBT policy at the University of Iowa. As the mother of an LGBT teen, I’m glad I found my voice back then on such an important issue.

So last Friday, I began my talk by noting that the GOP has controlled all three branches of Michigan government since 2011 and I’ve spent countless hours at the Capitol covering and interviewing Republicans in charge.   

“They don’t know about you,” I said. “They don’t know how many progressives are right here in the heart of Republican Ottawa County. They don’t know that you’re willing to give up your Friday night, when you could be doing much more fun and interesting things than listening to me talk about politics. They don’t know how many other groups — Indivisible and Our Revolution chapters — there are in Michigan, especially in conservative areas. And this is why I think you’re building something big for the 2018 election.”

Several people at the event told me how alone they felt as liberals in Grand Haven, especially before the ‘16 election. One man recalled how overjoyed he was to see even one John Kerry for President sign in 2004 in a neighbor’s yard after he moved in from the Detroit area.

But they’re not alone. When I went to the second annual Women’s March in Lansing in January, there were 5,000 people from across Michigan jammed on the Capitol lawn. Many were kids like my daughter and her friends from their high school Feminist Club.

Susan J. Demas/Women's March, January 21, 2018

Susan J. Demas/Women's March, January 21, 2018

We live in frightening times, especially immigrants threatened with being rounded up and sent back to war-torn countries, LGBT people whose rights are being dismantled by the Trump administration, and struggling people who are being kicked off safety-net programs like Medicaid.

But this has brought out the best in people who are willing to stand up for their friends and neighbors and fight for justice and equality — which is what really makes our country great.

At the Progressive Women’s Alliance event, one of the last questions came from a woman about the Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative to end gerrymandering in Michigan. She said that an oft-quoted political pundit recently lectured her that it would never succeed and it was stupid to even try, because conservatives would file lawsuit after lawsuit.

She asked me what I thought, and I agreed that there would likely be legal and legislative challenges, as people in power tend to want to stay there. “Anything worth doing is going to be hard. And that should never stop you,” I added.

But I suppose I really didn’t need to tell a room full of progressives in Ottawa County that.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Under Republicans, the Center Doesn’t Hold

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Last week, yet another troubled man armed with an AR-15 assault weapon committed mass murder.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17, mostly children, is the 1,607th mass shooting since a gunman blew away 27, mostly first-graders, in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

Gun control debates typically go nowhere afterward. Most Republicans roundly reject mainstream, popular and common-sense ideas like universal background checks, banning assault rifles and regulating online, private and gun show purchases.

It’s not a mystery why.

The powerful NRA has become completely unhinged, routinely releasing violent, apocalyptic videos urging people to embrace “the clenched fist of truth” against the “madness” of progressive protests against President Trump and ominously warning the New York Times: “We’re coming for you.”

And so the mainstream conservative position is now to reject nearly any regulation on personal gun ownership. In Michigan, Senate Democrats couldn’t even get domestic abusers and those on the no-fly list banned from the GOP’s “guns everywhere” concealed carry expansion legislation.

There’s hope for some small changes after Parkland, as student survivors like Emma Gonzalez are speaking out, even as some right-wing lunatics spread disgusting conspiracy theories about them.

“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS,” Gonzalez declared at a gun-control rally just two days after her classmates were murdered.

But Trump is already pushing cockamamie ideas like arming teachers, which doesn’t inspire confidence.

The problem is GOP has veered so far right on issues that reasonable reforms seem like pipe dreams. It’s almost impossible to win Republican primary today supporting abortion rights and it’s fashionable to say you don’t even believe in exceptions for rape, incest and the mother’s life. The President Reagan approach to immigration is now “amnesty” and most Republicans say nothing as ICE tries to round up parents dropping their kids off at school. The market-based approach of Obamacare was derided as socialism.

Perhaps this ideological inflexibility emerged from how the GOP approaches taxes. After winning lower taxes in the 80s and revitalizing their party, Republicans now see this as the prescription for any economic circumstance.

It doesn’t matter if the stock market is booming or crashing, the economy is growing or shrinking or unemployment is rising or falling. It doesn’t matter if people are hurting, roads are crumbling or schools are failing. Cutting taxes is the only way to go. Those who say maybe enough’s enough are shunned.

So realistically, the only way to enact what used to be considered moderate policy on pressing moral issues like guns, immigration and health care is to elect Democrats in Washington, Lansing and other state capitols.

The center doesn’t hold right now.

We need to stop pretending that it can, just because U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) did the bare minimum of his job and met with his constituents after a massive tragedy at the CNN town hall. We need to stop pretending that vague tweets from the president about saving the Dream Act, which protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, mean anything after he unilaterally killed it last year.

I know and like many Republican legislators personally. I’ve sometimes been one of those “both sides” columnists. But the GOP, as an institution, has shown little ability for compromise and moderation in the last decade. And its embrace of Trump’s nativism, sexism and corruption will go down as a very dark chapter in our country’s history.

As the mother of two teenagers who I pray never experience anything like Parkland, I say enough. As the mother of an LGBT high-schooler who was mercilessly bullied by Trump-supporting upperclassmen after the election, I say enough.

And as someone who believes in those quaint notions of liberty, equality and justice for all, I say enough.

Dante famously wrote that “the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.” That’s where we are right now. No one should pretend otherwise.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Inside the Quest for the Democrats Great White Male Hope in Michigan

Michigan politics has taken an ugly turn since 2016, and it’s not just on the Republican side.

Our state helped elect President Donald Trump — after he kicked off his campaign by calling immigrants “rapists and murderers,” animatedly mocked a disabled reporter at a campaign rally, and admitted to sexual assault on the “grab ‘em by the pussy” “Access Hollywood” tape that came out weeks before the election.

If you’d like to believe that a plurality of 10,000 voters plunked for Trump solely because they dig lower taxes, that’s fine. But no other Republican managed to win Michigan since 1988 — and they all promised mondo tax cuts — so perhaps that take is a bit myopic.

Many Democrats have naturally been concerned about how to win back areas that went big for Trump, mainly Macomb County and the Upper Peninsula.

The public discussion has focused on how to hone the party’s economic message and how much of Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist populism to incorporate.

But the private, knee-jerk response of some Dems after Hillary Clinton’s loss is that the party needs to run more straight white men, especially at the highest levels. This idea has currency with a faction in the unions, but there are a number of white-glove, cocktail-party circuit intellectuals who subscribe to this strategy, as well.

What’s absent from the discussion is how Barack Obama, the first African-American president who frequently joked about his “funny name,” managed to twice win landslide victories in Michigan not too long ago, including those areas some are convinced will only vote for white dudes.

As things currently stand, the Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner is former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), who served for more than 14 years in Lansing. Her top competition is Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, the former Detroit Health Department head who’s in the Sanders mold and would be the nation’s first Muslim governor. There’s also businessman Shri Thanedar, who immigrated from India, and former executive Bill Cobbs, who’s African-American.

Most Democratic leaders and voters are fine with the field, which, after all, is pretty representative of the party.

But for the forces utterly convinced that a woman, Muslim, immigrant or African-American absolutely cannot win the top job in Michigan next year, the mission is clear: Find the Great White Male Hope.

That quest began in earnest after U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), who rose to national prominence after the Flint Water Crisis, announced in May that he wouldn’t run.

The problem is that big-name candidates aren’t interested and time is running short. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan insists he won’t run. No one thinks Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel wants to give up a job he’s got for life next year. And no one wants attorney Geoffrey Fieger, the party’s 1998 nominee, to run except, well, Geoffrey Fieger.

University of Michigan Regent Mark Bernstein, who’s also a big metro Detroit lawyer, seemed like the best prospect this summer. But he ultimately said no and promptly endorsed Whitmer to boot.

That leaves Andy Levin, the son of U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Southfield) who worked for Gov. Jennifer Granholm and ran an unsuccessful 2006 state Senate campaign. He’s spoken to a number of Dem groups about possibly running for governor or Congress.

The smart money is on Levin keeping his powder dry until his father retires, which could be next year. The Levin name would be almost impossible to beat in the district covering Macomb and Oakland counties. And it’s awfully late to mount a gubernatorial campaign, as he’ll need to raise serious money against some well-funded opponents (in both parties).

Besides, does Levin really want his campaign to be defined by being the last white guy left standing? He already feels pressure to emerge from the shadow of his father and uncle, former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. There doesn’t seem to be much upside here.

And here’s the truth. Anyone who thinks a white male Democratic gubernatorial nominee will be insulated from racialized and bigoted attacks on social media or from shady SuperPACs is living in a dream world. The culture wars have kicked back into high gear, with everything from an immigrant teenager seeking an abortion to black NFL players kneeling during the national anthem becoming major political flashpoints.

Buzzfeed did a thorough investigation of the connection between the Mercers, who are big Trump donors; white nationalists; and Breitbart News, which is run by former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon who’s looking to play hard in 2018 races. Even if these big forces don’t get involved with Michigan elections, there are plenty of copycats who will after seeing Trump’s ‘16 success here.

Now the hits might be more personal against some candidates. Right-wing forces will probably try the same gendered attacks against Whitmer that bloodied Clinton. For a sampling of the likely stealth campaign against El-Sayed, you can just check out the rants against Sharia law former GOP National Committeeman Dave Agema frequently posts on Facebook.

But this battle is coming no matter what. This isn’t the time for Democrats to run scared. It’s time for them to fight for the kind of Michigan they believe in.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Republicans Would Like You To Kindly Forget They’ve Raised Your Taxes

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History, as we all know, is written by the winners. And in Michigan, Republicans have been on a nearly seven-year winning streak, controlling all three branches of state government.

So Republicans, led by Attorney General Bill Schuette, the likely 2018 gubernatorial nominee, have been spinning a pretty convincing horror story about the diabolical Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm tax hikes a decade ago. The only way to destroy them is to elect Schuette and Republicans next year, of course.

This is a very smooth talking point. Plenty of people will believe it just because everyone knows Democrats are tax ‘n’ spend fiends while Republicans despise taxes more than venereal disease.

There are just three big facts that annihilate this premise: The 2007 tax hikes were a bipartisan affair; Republicans under Gov. Rick Snyder raised taxes even more in 2011 and again in 2015; and the GOP has been in power for seven years and could have chopped your tax bill at any time.

If any of this is news to you, that may be because most of Michigan’s political reporters didn’t cover the ‘07 theatrics and plenty weren’t even there for Snyder’s ‘11 tax hikes. Most lawmakers from those sessions have been term-limited and even many knowledgeable staffers have departed the Capitol.

But facts are stubborn things and shouldn’t be forgotten. And as someone who has been around for all of this tax drama, I’ll volunteer to be the annoying voice of intellectual honesty.

Let’s start in 2007, a frenzied time of a short-lived government shutdown and all-night sessions when lawmakers (and even a few reporters) were reduced to sleeping on the Capitol floor. Michigan was dead broke, thanks to a recession that actually started on the watch of GOP then-Gov. John Engler.

Granholm struck a deal with then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) to temporarily raise the state income tax from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent. As the Senate was GOP-controlled, the plan had to have R votes to pass, and it did. So Bishop, now a congressman, can truthfully state he wasn’t one of them, but he certainly did sign off on the tax hike deal.

They also made a mess of the sales tax and eventually fixed it with a Michigan Business Tax (MBT) surcharge. Fun times.

So when Snyder was elected three years later, the Republican’s first order of business was to slay the MBT. Most economists agreed it was a terribly structured tax, so that was all well and good, but Snyder’s plan for a $2 billion corporate tax cut did have a rather big problem.

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You see, unlike the federal government, Michigan can’t run a deficit. So in order to make up for the $2 billion hit to the state budget, Snyder proposed budget cuts and — get this — a $1.4 billion tax increase on individuals. The income tax stayed locked at 4.35 percent the first year and then would stick at 4.25 percent.

But the real hit to taxpayers’ wallets was getting rid of tax deductions for basic things like owning a home, having kids, donating to charity, saving for retirement, and paying for kids’ college. Suddenly, plenty of people used to receiving tax refunds in April were socked with bills for thousands of dollars.

That was fun, too.

But because Snyder and Republicans weren’t ready to quit their tax-hike addiction, they followed all that up in 2015 with the first gas tax hike in 20 years. By upping the tax from 19 cents to 26.3 cents, Michigan vaulted into the top five states, per the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

In return, we were supposed to get better roads and bridges. Now maybe you’ve met someone who thinks they’re driving on fewer potholes now; I’ve yet to interview anyone who does.

Since Jan. 1, 2011, we’ve had a GOP governor, House, Senate and Supreme Court. The GOP could have cut taxes for folks at any time. But even this winter, the Republican-led House failed to pass an income tax cut.

Now Schuette wants us to believe that Democrats somehow are to blame for all these tax hikes and only electing Republicans in ‘18 can save us.

Republicans have failed to protect taxpayers time and time again in the last decade. That’s their record. They can’t rewrite history.

If they want us to believe that things will be different this time around, they should have to answer for their record.

But they’re probably banking on a weakened and neophyte media and a demoralized Democratic Party to save them from tough questions. And to be honest, that’s not a bad bet to make.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Michigan Politicians Should Face the Trump Test in 2018

“Why won’t the president condemn white supremacists?”

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That was the question that dominated cable news and social media after a white power rally in Charlottesville, Va., turned violent on Saturday with one of the attendees allegedly mowing down a crowd of anti-fascist protesters. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured.

President Trump, who’s never been one to shy away from criticizing anyone or anything — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as “Little Marco” for his lack of gravitas; actress Rosie O’Donnell for being “a pig”; and even Nordstrom’s for dropping handbags made by his daughter, Ivanka — issued some vague, underwhelming tweets.

Then in his first public remarks, he condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” Now it’s quite fashionable in D.C. journalism to blame both sides — it’s a well-paying schtick, no doubt — but even some of the top purveyors of that brand of conventional wisdom like David Gergen and Chris Cillizza tore into Trump on a CNN panel for “both-sidesing” Nazism.

On Monday, Trump issued a half-hearted statement finally calling out the KKK and white supremacists, but no one was buying it. So on Tuesday, Trump lost it at his infrastructure-themed press conference and said there were some “very fine people” at the white power rally. And he told us more about what he really thought:

“What about the alt-left? You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”

Nope. Nope. Nope. No Nazis were killed in the protest.

White supremacists showed up in paramilitary garb, waving Nazi and confederate flags. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe described in disturbing detail how the police were outnumbered and outgunned by the white power forces.

And then James Alex Fields, 20, allegedly rammed his car into anti-racist protesters, which Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, says meets the legal definition of terrorism.

There doesn’t seem to be much mystery about what Fields believed or was trying to do. His high school teacher describes him as idolizing Nazis (he “thought they were pretty cool guys.”) While at the Dachau death camp during a post-graduation trip to Europe, Fields allegedly said, “This is where the magic happened,” according to two classmates.

Trump’s disgusting remarks did get rave reviews from the likes of David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK and wannabe GOP politician, who tweeted his thanks for the president’s “honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM [Black Lives Matter]/Antifa[cist].”

In other words, we have our answer as to why Trump wouldn’t denounce white supremacists. He didn’t want to. And he’s willing to defend them, even when one of their own allegedly killed a woman in cold blood.

Elected officials, however — Democrats and Republicans alike — have been blasting Trump and the neo-Nazi movement. It’s important to have politicians on the record about this.

I would go further, however. During the course of the 2016 campaign, Trump said dozens of outrageous things — calling Mexicans “rapists”; insulting gold star father Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq; urging people to check out the sex tape of a Miss Universe he had called “Miss Piggy” and more.

Reporters asked many Republican officeholders and candidates about these statements and often got pushback that it was unfair and “biased” to even ask. Now that Trump is president, he’s still tweeting attacks and blasting enemies at his rallies.

But reporters don’t ask Republican officials much about this anymore. Unhinged rants by the leader of the free world are just the new normal. And besides, he won the election (even if 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton), so that means the American people have endorsed this, right?

Well, with all due respect to my colleagues, that’s crap. But here’s something I think is far more important to ask Democrats and Republicans running for Congress, statewide office and leadership positions in 2018: Where do you stand on Trump’s policies, which will certainly impact Michigan?

Given where Trump stands on white supremacists, his proposal to drastically limit legal immigration, build a wall with Mexico, call for police to be “rough” with suspects and his Muslim ban have to be viewed through that lens. Those who want to hold key offices in Michigan deserve to be questioned about these policies and more.

And if these candidates whine that the “fake news” media are being mean, well, then they’re probably not up to the job.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: I’ve Been Covering Politics for 16 Years. I’ve Never Seen Anything Like Trumpcare’s Collapse Last Night.

I’ve been covering politics for 16 years and obsessively tracking current events since my high school goth phase. And I’ve never seen anything like I did last night when the U.S. Senate’s version of Trumpcare spectacularly went down.

You couldn’t script a more dramatic scenario, with U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who survived five years in the Hanoi Hilton only to recently be diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, came back from his hospital bed to cast the deciding vote against the so-called “skinny repeal” (which would have left 16 million without health insurance by next year).

Before midnight, it looked like Trumpcare was a done deal. When I watched McCain brush off Republican pressure on the floor and hug U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) I refused to believe my own eyes. It was going to pass. It was just a matter of time. That was where the smart money was.

But I have never been so happy to be wrong. Why? It’s pretty simple. Trumpcare’s failure means 20,000 fewer deaths and a lot less suffering. This is not an exaggeration. That’s what the research shows.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) had hung tough against various versions of Trumpcare and also voted “no.” No, it’s not fair that McCain has overshadowed their repeated principled stands, but the sheer drama of the staunch conservative riding back into D.C. to fight for people — which seemed unbelievably ripped out of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — was always going to be the main storyline.

Likewise, many stories don’t mention that every single Democrat in the House and Senate, from the most liberal single-payer advocate like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to vulnerable 2018 red state conservative Dems like Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), never wavered and voted against Trumpcare. Not bad for #DemsinDisarray.

And, as always, the tireless work of everyday people who called, wrote and protested about their health care being snatched away often gets short shrift. But that’s how social change really happens. And it did make a huge difference.

I was trying to think of a comparable scenario to the early-morning drama in the U.S. Senate. I guess it would be like if four more GOP state senators had stood up on Dec. 6, 2012, and shockingly voted against Right to Work in Michigan. But as much of a might-makes-right spectacle as that was, it was not a matter of life or death like Trumpcare is for thousands of Americans.

The last time I was this shell-shocked was starting at 9 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2016, when I saw where the returns were heading in Wisconsin and Michigan for the presidential race. This feeling is much better, so if you’ll excuse me, I am going to savor it for just a little longer.

Susan J. Demas: Run, Dr. Mona, Run

Why We Need People Like the Flint Whistleblower To Get Political

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a bona fide hero.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that without her unflagging advocacy for her patients and the people of Flint, we could still be in the throes of deadly denial about the water crisis.

Many others sounded the alarm, from residents to pastors to politicians like U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), a likely 2018 candidate for governor.

But elected officials’ motives are always viewed with suspicion by the media and public. The default assumption nowadays is that politicians are always looking out for their career first and the people they serve second. Quite a few self-serving politicians — say, a president who can draw money from his myriad businesses at any point without disclosing it to the public — have certainly fed this stereotype.

So it’s not really a surprise that we’re much more comfortable with non-political figures, particularly Hanna-Attisha and Virginia Tech Professor Mark Edwards, serving as the proverbial “white hats” in this wretched story.

But when you have a public health crisis of this magnitude, you can’t avoid politics for long. After all, the state, and to a lesser degree, the federal governments are the reason why people were poisoned, according to Gov. Rick Snyder’s own task force. And the government ultimately has the responsibility to help those harmed and make damned sure this never happens again.

Last year, both Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, spent a lot of time in Flint before Michigan’s March primary. They even agreed to a last-minute presidential debate in the city.

None of the GOP hopefuls bothered to stop by and Donald Trump only visited the non-operational water plant there long after he secured the nomination. But that didn’t stop Republicans like Snyder and now-Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel from sniffing that Democrats were politicizing the tragedy.

I’m on record noting that everyone politicized the crisis and no one should care. At least it brought some much-needed attention and aid to the long-suffering city.

Hanna-Attisha first dipped her toe in political controversy when she couldn’t stop shaking her head “no” at a Snyder administration’s January 2016 press conference. The physician took issue with how then-Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyons minimized the damage caused by lead poisoning. A year later, Snyder smartly appointed Hanna-Attisha to serve on his Child Lead Exposure Elimination Commission.

There was certainly some private grousing among Republicans that the pediatrician was making Snyder look bad over Flint, but people were smart enough not to say so publicly.

But the grumbling has gotten progressively louder after Hanna-Attisha spoke this winter at the Michigan Progressive Summit, which is kind of like Lollapalooza for liberals. The Iraqi-born immigrant praised the 1936 Flint sit-down strike and slammed the Emergency Manager law for being “undemocratic.” She revealed she’s not a fan of the Electoral College and criticized gerrymandering.

She also wrote a powerful New York Times op-ed on Trump’s Muslim ban, noting that her family arrived in the United States in 1980 “full of hope, trading a future of war, fascism and oppression for one of peace, freedom and opportunity.” The doctor argued they would have been denied entry to the country if the ban had been in place, which is causing the “American dream to fade away.”

And Hanna-Attisha accompanied Kildee to Trump’s address before the joint session of Congress. She issued a joint statement with him afterward slamming the president for failing to mention Flint and vowing to cut the Environmental Protection Agency.

She’s told the media she’s not going to run for office. But this will probably all make her a political target anyway. The right-wing Independent Women’s Forum just published a mocking post on the “March for Science” this month in Washington, which appeared to question the physician’s qualifications to speak there.

Hanna-Attisha will likely soon be subject to admonishments from conservative and centrist opinion-makers that she’s sullying her cause by “getting political” or becoming an unwitting tool of the left. That’s naturally pretty insulting to someone with a medical degree.

And it also underscores a destructive, self-sabotaging force in politics today. Most people — even those who work in and around government — agree that politics is a filthy, filthy business. And so therefore, anyone who sullies their hands by speaking out or running for office is viewed as being somewhat tainted.

That’s, of course, a terrific (and perhaps a deeply cynical) way to drive good people away from politics.

Think about it. Why wouldn’t we want people making positive change in Flint or anywhere else to talk publicly about political problems or make the leap to being a candidate for office? That’s how this is supposed to work.

I understand why Hanna-Attisha may not want to run for anything. She would lose plenty of friends and discover she has enemies she never imagined. Her personal life would be put under a microscope and judged. And some of the same folks who fell over themselves praising her unselfish work in Flint would now finger-wag that she’s just a typical politician.

But we desperately need people like Hanna-Attisha in public service, now more than ever. And if our political culture drives people like her away, it’s hard not to wonder if it’s irrevocably broken.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Welcome to the Liberal Tea Party

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Liberals are often parodied as effete, humorless, latte-sipping politically correct yuppies living in blue-state bubbles.

Variations of that stereotype popped up in a seemingly endless array of hot takes following Donald Trump’s shocking win last year. Politicos rushed to declare that left-wing smugness was the culprit, with many deciding that feckless Democrats were destined to wander in political desert for years to come.

So it seems to have come as quite a shock to just about everyone — the nascent President Trump administration, Republicans who control Congress and plenty of members of the beltway media — that liberals aren’t simply rolling over in 2017.

From the Women’s March in Washington (which dwarfed the attendance for Trump’s inauguration) to protests of his Muslim ban in airports across the country, progressives have proven they’re capable of organized displays of outrage — and even doing so effectively.

Many Republicans and pundits expected Democrats to follow their defeatist playbook after George W. Bush’s narrow, U.S. Supreme Court-decided 2000 victory. The Dems would privately sulk but would largely go along with the new president’s cabinet picks in the name of national unity. They’d work with him on issues that were popular in the polls, while liberal activists wouldn’t be heard from for years.

That wasn’t a bad bet to make. Democrats have been more prone to compromise than Republicans in recent years.

And the party clearly has big cracks cutting through it, as some Bernie Sanders loyalists sat out the general election or voted for third-party candidates over Hillary Clinton. Disaffected Sanders supporters likely exceeded Trump’s margin in the three states that put him over the top in the Electoral College: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

As a result, state Democratic parties are facing upheaval, although an insurgent movement petered out at Michigan’s state convention last weekend. But the Sanders-vs.-the-establishment dynamic is still playing out with the Democratic National Committee chair race.

So you could see why conservatives and analysts might think progressives would be too preoccupied with internecine warfare to fight Trump.

As it turns out, liberals can walk and chew gum at the same time. They haven’t forgotten that Clinton actually won almost 3 million more votes than Trump, even if pundits eager to blame out-of-touch lefty ideas for her loss have.

Every day, the new president does something to make progressives’ blood boil — and it’s fueling demonstrations, donations to liberal causes and interest in the Democratic Party.

Just consider the first month of Trump’s presidency. He’s tapped exceedingly controversial figures, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a blockbuster GOP donor whose disdain for public schools is well-known to those of us in her native Michigan.

Even more troubling is the faith Trump instilled in now-resigned National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — who has a fondness for baseless conspiracy theories and may have jeopardized American interests with Russia.

Trump also threatened the U.S. judiciary (a co-equal branch of the government, courtesy of the Founding Fathers) after judges rebuffed his sloppy executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

These have been mobilizing events. Liberals regard Trump’s presidency as a national emergency.

Pundits looking for the progressive playbook in the Trump era needed only to go back to 2009. That was when the Tea Party became a driving force in the GOP, spurred by Barack Obama’s historic victory that would usher in the stimulus, Affordable Care Act and Wall Street regulation.

Conservatives packed the town halls of Democratic members of Congress and shouted them down. Now it’s turnabout fair play, with progressives jamming GOP members’ events.

Count me among those who expected the new leader of the free world to get off to a flying start, aided by GOP majorities in both the House and Senate. After all, that’s worked out pretty well for Gov. Rick Snyder, who’s been blessed with strong legislative majorities to rubber-stamp much of his agenda.

I thought House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would already have his tax cut for the wealthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would have slayed Obamacare as promised.

But Trump’s Twitter tantrums and national security follies are throwing a wrench into the long-awaited implementation of an ambitious conservative agenda. And Republicans are clearly unnerved by angry liberal protests.

Now progressives won’t be able to block Trump and the GOP Congress on everything. There will be plenty of setbacks. But they’re certainly enjoying more early success than anyone ever imagined.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Will Michigan's hated pension tax survive Rick Snyder?

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

This column ran in Dome Magazine.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s ultimate legacy will be the Flint water crisis. But as our CPA governor, he likely views his greatest accomplishment as his 2011 tax overhaul.

But you have to wonder how much of it will survive Snyder, who’s termed out of office in less than 20 months. After all, many parts of his plan, especially the “pension tax,” are unpopular.

The governor announced his tax reform shortly after taking office, to great fanfare. It was vastly complicated, as Michigan has to balance its budget every year (unlike the feds). To get there, Republicans jammed through big cuts to universities, K-12 schools and social safety net programs.

As far as Snyder’s hodgepodge tax plan went, Republicans swooned over the $1.7 billion tax cut for businesses. Actually, many people (especially accountants) favored the simpler, flat 6-percent corporate income tax over the inscrutable Michigan Business Tax –– which was living proof that bipartisan compromise isn’t an inherent good, but sometimes produces incoherent messes.

Luckily for Snyder, he didn’t have to worry about playing nice with Democrats. He was blessed with strong GOP majorities in both chambers who stood ready to help the governor –– even though he asked them for (gasp!) huge tax increases on individual ratepayers.

Yes, it was a sight to behold. Many Republican lawmakers, who had rode the ‘10 tea party wave to victory, were suddenly sounding like Democrats as they defended $1.4 billion* in annual tax hikes. That came through increasing the income tax rate; cutting the homestead property exemption and Earned Income Tax Credit; and axing big tax deductions for children, charity and college tuition.

And Democrats got their turn to finger-wag about sky-high taxes.

But the bitterest pill to swallow was getting rid of the exemption on pension income, i.e. the pension tax. Snyder initially proposed taxing everyone’s pension, making the case that it was about fairness, especially for younger workers.

While Snyder’s argument was fiscally defensible, he badly misread the politics. That was just a bridge too far for GOP lawmakers, who depend heavily on senior citizen votes.

“The governor’s probably right on the fairness issue, but I just don’t want to tax seniors, period,” Sen. Joe Hune (R-Hamburg) summed it up in February 2011.

So the compromise undercut Snyder’s fairness doctrine completely by instituting three tiers of taxation: None for those born before 1946; a partial exemption for those born between 1946 and 1952; and a much smaller exemption for those born after 1952.

In other words, those about 64 and younger got a raw deal, as usual.

The pension tax brings in $300 million each year, but it still carries an outsized, potent political kick. Democrats have been running on the issue for years. While it’s never proved decisive, the reviled “senior tax hike” does box Republicans in.

That’s why Republicans like freshman Rep. Tom Barrett of Potterville, who never had to vote on the tax, ran campaigns opposing it.

And that’s why one of the House’s newest members, Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch) –– just elected in February to replace disgraced ex-Rep. Todd Courser –– just introduced legislation taking aim at the hated tax. Howell’s bill would hand Baby Boomers --- who coincidentally are a big GOP constituency –– a bigger tax break.

It seems unlikely the governor would sign such legislation, but we’ve already seen some chinks in his 2011 tax reform armor. The 2015 roads plan included an income tax rollback, although it’s not clear that the state will hit the trigger in the future.

So it’s an open question if the pension tax will outlive Snyder’s tenure. Most of the leading candidates for governor (Lt. Gov. Brian Calley excluded) would probably be open to scrapping it. Democrats like former Sen. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) would surely see it as a political plus. And GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette, who fought for pensioners’ rights in Detroit bankruptcy, knows a political liability when he sees one.

Of course, it all comes down to money. And while $300 million isn’t a huge chunk of the state’s $10 billion general fund, it isn’t chump change, either. And with big liabilities looming over the Flint water crisis and Detroit Public Schools’ near-insolvency, it just might not be fiscally possible for the next governor to kill the pension tax.

The bigger question, really, is if Flint, DPS and other crises mean Michigan returns to the bad old days of huge budget cuts throughout the year and government shutdowns.

If that happens, it will be the complete obliteration of our current CPA governor’s fiscal legacy. And that would truly be something.

* Corrected, 10:11 a.m.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: A Tale of Two Speakers: What Kevin Cotter Could Have Learned from Curtis Hertel Sr.

“He never bragged a lot about stuff. He just quietly did it.” –– State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. on his father, legendary former Speaker Curtis Hertel Sr., who passed away on Easter Sunday

Last week, Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter fired off not one, but two fearmongering press releases about transgender students in Michigan schools.

But when one of his predecessors, Curtis Hertel Sr., unexpectedly passed away at age 63 on Sunday, Cotter could only muster up a trite tweet with his condolences.

This speaks volumes about the current speaker’s priorities.