Snyder soon to be tested

Will the governor stick to his moderate ideology?

By Eric Rader

Speak Out

Last week, Republicans in the Michigan House failed to secure enough votes to repeal domestic partner benefits for state employees. These benefits were secured last year in a collective bargaining agreement between state employees and the Granholm Administration, and approved by the Michigan Civil Service Commission earlier this year. Right-wing ideologues sought to quash the new protections for state workers even before they took effect. Thankfully, Democrats were able to prevent the Republicans from securing the two-thirds majority they needed to pass the repeal legislation. Though House Democrats were able to successfully stop the Republicans this time, there will certainly be further battles. Unfortunately, the Republicans used a procedural mechanism that keeps the repeal issue alive and may pave the way for a second vote on these benefits later this year.

When he ran for office last year, Governor Rick Snyder campaigned as a political moderate. Indeed, he very rarely mentioned social issues in his highly successful campaign, and focused almost exclusively on the economy and jobs. The governor's landslide win had nothing to do with social issues such as LGBT rights. However, the Republican majorities in the Michigan House and Senate are far from moderate. They have pursued a strongly conservative agenda during their brief time in power. Many people on the majority side of the legislature are determined to push an activist social agenda that would further marginalize LGBTs. The Republicans' efforts to reverse domestic partner benefits for state employees was couched in fiscal terms, with leaders claiming that the state could not afford to provide these benefits to employees during tough budgetary times. Governor Snyder announced his opposition to the civil service commission's decision by focusing on the fiscal impact of the benefits. Our leaders should be reminded that this is not an issue of finances, but one of basic fairness and equality. If benefits are provided to one group (legally married spouses of straight employees), then those same benefits should be granted to LGBT employees and their partners. Certainly the state can find a way to pay for these benefits, even within budgetary constraints.

Governor Snyder may well be a moderate, just as he says. However, he will be under a great deal of pressure to support the radical social agenda of his colleagues in the legislature. The coming months will be a test of his integrity about his ideology. If the governor is truly concerned about economic development, he should welcome the talents of all workers, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. He should already be able to see the value of diversity, given his former role as head of a major technology company. The tech industry has long recognized the importance of a diverse workforce, and many companies have extended important benefits to LGBT employees. Experts in the economic development field have observed that in a knowledge-based economy, people go to states where open-mindedness and inclusion are important. When voters in the state of Michigan approved an anti-gay marriage amendment in 2004, they sent exactly the opposite message to the rest of the country. A self-styled moderate governor like Snyder could go a long way to improving the state's image by pushing back against the right-wing agenda and by supporting equal rights for LGBTs.

The new governor of our state has already announced proposals that are opposed by members of his caucus in the Michigan House and Michigan Senate. One example is Snyder's support for the Detroit River International Crossing Bridge, a much-needed public project that is opposed by many legislative Republicans. It remains to be seen whether the governor can get this project approved. His willingness to buck his own party on some issues should include fighting the conservative social plans of Republicans in the legislature.

Recent polls show increasing support for LGBT rights in this country, most notably on the issue of same-sex marriage. However, governors cannot repeal state constitutional amendments, no matter how obnoxious those measures are. But, executive leaders can use their bully pulpit and legislative initiatives to promote inclusivity. Governor Snyder's statewide popularity has declined recently, but he has a lot of political support within his own party. Many Republican legislators owe their jobs to Snyder, given his long coattails in last year's elections. The Michigan House is on the ballot again in 2012, and the voters are paying attention to what our new leaders are doing. If right-wing Republicans in the legislature are allowed to set the agenda, Michigan's problems will only get worse. The governor has an opportunity to prove that he truly wants to solve our state's problems and unite Michigan--that will be the true measure of his moderation as a leader.

Contact Governor Snyder's office:

517-335-7858

Rick.Snyder@michigan.gov

Contact your state legislators--meet with them when they're home in the district:

http://www.michiganlegislature.org

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