We have about four months of scheduled legislative session, uninterrupted by hunting breaks or holiday breaks, until the Michigan legislature turns its full attention to the August 2016 primary election season and the political fate of Michigan’s House of Representatives. Generally, this is the period when our elected representatives position their favorite (read: most popular with base constituents) policy initiatives for maximum public visibility. For our law-reform work at the ACLU of Michigan, this often means that our most significant issues will be punted like the proverbial political football.
But this year might be different. Owing to a series of continuing crises—road funding, Donald Trump, crumbling Detroit schools, and certainly the Flint water crisis—we may see a triaged legislative agenda that is solely designed to stem the bleeding.
From our perspective, though, cover-your-ass politics can also open opportunities. We saw it in Indiana when the governor signed a discriminatory religious freedom restoration act bill (RFRA) and the business community immediately went public to reign in errant politicians. Within a matter of weeks, Indiana lawmakers had significantly expanded LGBT rights.
In Michigan, where it’s safe to say that no single elected official can (or should) escape responsibility for ignoring a crumbling infrastructure in Flint and rebuffing the necessity for robust government transparency, politicians are on edge. Party leaders want friends, not enemies. It is a time for us to strategize ways in which we can find and use leverage.
For instance, according to 2012 exit polls, women determine the outcome of a presidential election, voting in greater numbers than men. Women tend to cast votes based on family concerns and the welfare of their children, and younger voters and female voters put environmental issues higher on their list of priorities. So when we see bills limiting access to reproductive healthcare or when we want to advance policy that earns women equal pay, we should be ready to bring our female voices to the Capitol and remind legislative hopefuls about who determines their fate.
The courts and society as a whole have advanced dramatically in support of LGBT equality. Most of us in the lobby world will tell you that, except for a very few holdouts, even the staunchest of conservative lawmakers are secretly supportive of expanding LGBT protections under law. This is a perfect time to double-down on our outreach to legislators to remind them that this is an issue for which they have the cover because a full 68% of Michiganders support LGBT rights.
Nothing is guaranteed of course, especially with confidence in government at an all-time low. But persistence and smart strategy are the keys to building momentum for the world we want to see, and we can’t give up.