In Michigan: Revenge of the Kochs?

Let’s say you and your brother are a pair of billionaires who reap your profits from the poisoning of the earth and whose daddy co-founded the John Birch Society — and you poured millions into the 2012 elections, only to see your candidates felled by a party led by a black guy who’s big on green energy, and who bailed out the U.S. auto industry in a way that voters seemed to like.

Wow. You must be feeling pretty powerless, especially after all of that press about how you’re the mighty and nefarious force behind the Tea Party, whose brew has suddenly gone a bit tepid. So whattaya gonna do?

Why, find a way to crush those pesky labor unions in a place that will hurt them badly. Say, the auto capital of the world, where an entire industry (and consequently, its unions) was saved through government intervention by that integrationist tree-hugger: Michigan. You’ll show those “urban” voters who liked that stinkin’ bailout!

So, in a lame-duck legislative session last week, the Republican majority rammed through a destructively anti-union bill, which the governor — in contradiction of his previous policy — has pledged to sign. (Brother Kilgore has the deets here.) And the Koch-founded group, Americans For Prosperity, gave the governor a big high-five.

Local analysts chalk it all up to payback by Michigan legislators for the unions’ attempt to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution via a referendum known as Proposal 2, which failed at the ballot box on November 6, and for the repeal of Snyder’s “emergency manager” law, which succeeded. But from where I sit, in the nation’s capital city, I see something bigger, something national in character.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has always tried to present himself as a breed apart from Kochbot governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, even as he grabbed for power with an “emergency manager” law that allowed him to appoint operatives to run failing cities and break labor agreements with public employees in those towns. But other anti-union measures, such as those forced through in Wisconsin, were deemed to be off the table by Snyder, as was the onerous proposition that workers in closed union shops should be allowed to opt out of paying dues. (Proponents call this sort of thing “right to work”; unions call it “right to work for less”.)

But last week, as David Koch presumably sat stewing in the pot of wholesale defeats, Snyder had a sudden change of heart, promising to sign a bill that was rammed through both houses of a lame-duck legislature last week, a bill that would do just that, conveniently drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and organization funded by Koch and his brother, Charles.

Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group founded by the Kochs, led the charge, as state police maced union protesters and locked them out of the state capitol building.

It was so ugly that even the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press, which once cheer-led for Snyder, basically called him, in not so many words, a duplicitous, overstepping liar.

From this morning’s Detroit Free Press editorial page:

In short, we trusted Snyder’s judgment.

That trust has now been betrayed — for us, and for the hundreds of thousand of independents who voted for Snyder with the conviction that they were electing someone more independent, and more visionary, than partisan apparatchiks like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Rick Scott.

As the AFL-CIO’s Kenneth Quinnell notes, Snyder has some plausible deniability against accusations of obeisance to the Kochs, not having received direct campaign contributions from the brothers. But, writes Quinnell, Snyder was aided in his 2010 election effort by the Republican Governors Association, the recipient of $1 million in Koch largess that year, and the Michigan Republican Party, which received more than $5 million from the RGA.

Snyder is up for re-election in 2014, which means his campaign begins, like, now. Apparently, he sees the need for a little help from the Kochs — or at least the need not to have their phalanx of think tanks and ground-army groups arrayed against him.