Why Michigan Republicans Had To Race To the Bottom

Despite some (in my mind unjustified) hopes that President Obama’s appearance in Michigan today might produce a delay in the Republican race to enact “right-to-work” legislation during a lame-duck session, all indications are that Gov. Rick Snyder will sign the law as soon as it arrives at his desk tomorrow or even today.

In looking at the reasons for this quite-literal “race to the bottom,” a lot of analysts have emphasized the rejection by Michigan voters on November 6 of a union-backed ballot initiative to put collective bargaining rights into the state constitution. And others (including sometimes PA contributor Rich Yeselson in his excellent summary of the background and implications of this development for TAP) have stressed the symbolism of this traditional union stronghold, the birthplace of the UAW, enacting such blatantly anti-labor legislation.

But there is a more practical reason for the haste, as I have suspected: Michigan Republicans were rightfully afraid they wouldn’t have the votes in the House had they taken this up as normal legislation in the next session of the legislature.

The AFC-CIO runs through the math on its Facebook page: six House Republicans who voted for this legislation will be replaced by Democrats in January. Subtracting one lame-duck Democrat who’ll be replaced by a Republicans, there’d likely be a five-vote swing if they had waited until the new session, converting a 58-52 win to a 57-53 loss.

At Slate Dave Weigel discusses the right-to-work blitz as part of a “long tail” of consequences from the 2010 Republican election, but he’s mainly talking about the control of redistricting that made it possible (and probably will in the future) for Republicans to hold down Democratic gains in 2012. In this case, however, that wasn’t enough to guarantee the success of the anti-union coup in 2013, so they had to move right now.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.