The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

Media Continues to Cover MEA's 'August Window'

Union still threatening those who stopped paying dues

The Lansing State Journal and WZZM TV-13 in Grand Rapids are both reporting on efforts by Michigan Education Association members to opt out of the union and the roadblocks they are facing. MEA members can visit for more information.

Small Tent or Big Tent?

Why political parties are missing the larger picture

An analogy used to describe the extent to which a political party is exclusive or inclusive is whether or not it is a “big tent” or a “small tent.” This analogy is most commonly employed in reference to the Republican Party. In essence, the terms “big tent” and “small tent” are used to describe the width and depth of a party’s political appeal.

When the Republican Party is said to be a “small tent,” the intimation is that the political positions it holds represent too narrow a segment of the voting public. Frequently this accusation is accompanied by a list of issues upon which the party supposedly needs to change its policy position.

How often these suggested changes are the result of analysis is questionable. Sometimes polling is cited to support making the policy changes. The idea of standing up for principle is almost never cited and those recommending the changes virtually always oppose the positions they recommend be changed.

No doubt, the Republican Party too easily slips into presenting itself too narrowly. To varying degrees it does so most of the time — and suffers for doing so at the ballot box. However, despite claims to the contrary, the GOP does not fall into the “small tent” trap when it refuses to adopt positions held by its opponents. It does so again and again when it represents business and management at the expense of freedom and liberty.

Arguably the same observation could be applied to the Democratic Party; when it subordinates freedom and liberty to unionism.

As both major political parties fail to fully embrace freedom and liberty, the power struggle between them devolves to contests of short-term populism, misinformation campaigns and rhetorical prowess. Under these circumstances the open path to the “big tent,” which the advancement of freedom and liberty offers, becomes a nearly abandoned road.

If its quest is to become a “big tent” party, the GOP must stand with freedom and liberty, even when adopting such positions collides with the immediate interests of business and management. To do otherwise means losing all claims of representing anything more than a limited, though powerful, strata of society. And is there any doubt that this narrower vision of the Republican Party is the image it maintains with large portions of the voting public today?

Think of how often Republican candidates and officials sound as though they believed every voter owned a businesses. Time and again, Republicans mistakenly use issues that are primarily attractive to the business community as if the issues had more general appeal.

Of course, creating conditions under which businesses and the economy can thrive is vital. But in and of itself the message falls far short of what it could be and opens the door to all of the traditional disagreements between labor and management.

Couple that better economy and jobs message with a dedication to real reforms that bring about more freedom and liberty and its potential positive impact increases exponentially. This is not a combination that will appeal only to conservatives. If, and only if, freedom and liberty are placed on the first rank — above all other considerations — does the message call to the full spectrum of voters.

Contrary to what many believe, liberals in general do not love government. They simply distrust and fear other entities and conditions in the world and see government as their primary protector against those elements. Conservatives distrust and fear the same entities and conditions but believe giving more power government will likely make matters worse.

Liberty and freedom are concepts that transcend these differing perspectives.

Based on recent polling, neither major political party in this nation can, with a straight face, claim to have a “big tent” appeal. For years polling has shown that voters tend to want smaller government and to see government more as a problem than as a solution. Make no mistake about it; both of these sentiments are joined at the hip with the fear of freedom and liberty diminishing.

Theoretically this should be an advantage for Republicans. But in recent years it has been an advantage Republicans love to speak to but very rarely deliver on.

The more the game of politics comes down to Republicans representing business and the Democrats representing labor, the more the debate becomes pedantic. It’s too often “our” special interests versus “their” special interests. Each side strives to turn out its base and key elections are decided by voters in the middle who see little virtue on either side. Meanwhile, in a political sense, the eternal and potential “big tent” producing issues — freedom and liberty — remain available and up for grabs.

(Editor’s note: Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential and a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not necessarily represent viewpoints of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy or Michigan Capitol Confidential.)



Michigan Education Digest

Who should control DPS?

The new edition of Michigan Education Digest is now available online. Topics include charter public school operations, inaccurate student counts and control of Detroit Public Schools.

Teacher Explains Why He Left the MEA

No longer a pawn in union's "big money political game"

Rob Wiersema, a long-time teacher at Hopkins High School in Allegan County, explains in today’s Detroit News why he opted out of the Michigan Education Association. You can find out more about Rob and other teachers who have left the MEA here.

He also wrote about his decision to leave the union in the Lansing State Journal.

Teachers looking for more information about how to resign from the MEA can visit

Detroit News Editorial on MEA's 'August Window'

Teachers can resign now, save $1,000 annually

Today’s editorial in The Detroit News alerts members of the Michigan Education Association that they only have until the end of August to opt out of the union if they choose to do so. More information can be found at

Audrey Spalding, director of education policy, writes about the issue in The Tecumseh Herald.

August 15, 2014, MichiganVotes Weekly Vote Report

Wolf hunts, terminal patients and Medicaid.

The Senate held one session this week with several votes on substantive measures. The House remains out until Aug. 27.

Initiated Legislation 2, Preempt referendum banning wolf hunt: Passed 23 to 10 in the Senate

To preempt the effect of a referendum placed on the November ballot by interests opposed to wolf hunting. Specifically, this measure would make “referendum-proof” a 2013 law giving the legislature and Natural Resources Commission exclusive authority to decide which species may be hunted in Michigan. It would do so by making a small change to that law and adding a modest appropriation, which under a 2001 Supreme Court ruling makes the law not subject to referendum. This measure (Initiated Legislation 2) was sponsored by groups in favor of a wolf hunt. If the House also passes it, the initiative banning wolf hunts that has already been approved for the November 2014 ballot will not go into effect, even if a majority of voters approve it.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 991, Let terminal patients try non-FDA approved treatments: Passed 31 to 2 in the Senate

To establish that a person diagnosed with a terminal illness has a “right to try” experimental drugs or therapies not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, subject to various conditions specified in the bill. The bill would prohibit state officials from interfering, and ban licensing boards from sanctioning health care providers who participate, subject to specified conditions. Drug makers who comply with the specified conditions would be immune from liability if the patient is harmed. The bill responds to criticism that FDA “safe and effective” standards are not appropriate in these cases.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 616, Revise Medicaid funding sources: Passed 26 to 7 in the Senate

To shift Medicaid fund sources to reflect the transition from a 1 percent "health insurance claims tax" to the imposition of the 6 percent "use tax" on Medicaid managed care health care providers (hospitals). These levies are designed to “game” the federal Medicaid program in ways that result in higher federal payments to Michigan’s medical welfare establishment (including those same hospitals).

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

SOURCE:, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit

'Competitiveness' Outlook Ranks Michigan 12th Best

State has a way to go to overcome past policies

Michigan's economic outlook rank

They 7th edition of “Rich States, Poor States” was released recently and it ranks Michigan 12th best among the 50 states for its “economic outlook” based on 15 public policy variables, such as tax, business and labor policies. The higher position may signal better economic times ahead for Michigan.

This is the highest rank achieved by the Great Lake State since the index’s creation. Since 2009, Michigan has steadily moved from near the bottom (34th) to where it is now.

The index is created from 15 variables that the authors believe contribute to a states’ economic well-being: marginal personal tax rates; marginal corporate tax rates; personal income tax progressivity; property tax burden; sales tax burden; remaining tax burden; estate tax levy (if any); recent tax changes; debt service as a share of tax revenue; public employees per 10,000 of state population; the state’s liability system; state minimum wages; average worker’s compensation costs; whether or not a state has a right-to-work law and whether or not a state maintains expenditure limits like the Headlee Amendment.

The good news is that these variables — measured through 2012 — rank Michigan relatively high for future economic performance. The bad news is that the authors still rank Michigan low (dead last, actually) for actual performance based on three major metrics: state gross domestic product, domestic migration and non-farm payroll employment over the previous 10 years.

These measures will keep Michigan ranked very low in the index’s ranking due to the state’s performance during the 2000-2009 time frame. As Mackinac Center analysts have pointed out repeatedly, Michigan was the only state in the union to have negative state GDP and a net loss of population during the past full decade. During that time period, Michigan was adopting several harmful policies: large tax hikes, a failure to truly balance its budget, paying more and more for public employees and grappling with forced unionization.

The good news is that our outlook is encouraging. In addition, “Rich States, Poor States” is not the only index that ranks performance in vital policy variables. The Tax Foundation’s Business Tax Climate Index has also noted Michigan’s policy improvements in recent years and that, too, bodes well for the state’s future.

There have been some recent set-backs, but Michigan has been steadily improving its economic policies. Lawmakers should keep it up.

Spalding Writes on Worker Freedom at Townhall

Union members need to be aware of opt-out 'windows'

Audrey Spalding, director of education policy, writes at Townhall today about the roadblocks unions put in front of members who try to exercise their worker freedom rights, including arbitrary “windows” during which the unions say is the only time members can resign.

The commentary highlights, which the Center created to inform Michigan Education Association members about their rights, and the Center’s participation in National Employee Freedom Week, which runs through Aug. 16.

Spalding also discussed the issue on "The Tony Conley Show" on WILS AM-1320 in Lansing.

Michigan Education Digest

Year-round school, Flint overspending, online charter

This week’s version of Michigan Education Digest is now online. Topics include a year-round school pilot program in Ypsilanti, Flint’s overspending crisis and enrollment declines in northern Michigan school districts.

Texas Looks to Decrease Occupational Licensing

Michigan should follow suit, remove more barriers to work

Greg Abbott (via Gage Skidmore)

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor of that state, has rolled out a plan that would repeal a number of occupational licensing rules. These standards restrict individuals from engaging in certain commerce without permission from the state (and often include paying extra money, taking tests, and meeting other requirements).

The plan notes, “Regulation by licensure results in less competition, fewer choices, higher costs, and the potential to thwart innovation. These effects are not always visible to the consumer, but they are nonetheless built-in costs without justification in most instances.”

The National Center for Policy Analysis notes, “Of all the proposals designed to help poor and lower-income people, this one deserves major kudos. It does not involve expansion of a massive government program, and it reduces the cost to those who wish to profit from their knowledge and skills. It will also boost economic growth and tax revenue, since studies indicate that such licensing reduces job growth by 20 percent.”

Abbott’s plan would specifically get rid of or significantly reform licensing for interior designers, salvage vehicle dealers, dog trainers, coaches, auctioneers, barbers, cosmetologists and towing boat operators.

According to “License to Work,” a national study on the burdens of occupational licensing from the Institute for Justice, Texas has the 17th most burdensome laws. Michigan is ranked 21st and is particularly burdensome towards moderate-income occupations. Michigan also licenses painters, barbers, lower-level contractors like those putting up gutters and laying tile, and other areas rarely licensed in other states like floor sanders, alarm installers, glaziers and other alteration contractors.

The main opposition to Abbott’s proposal comes from the groups representing industries which are being deregulated. The stated claim, of course, is that the repeal of licensing and regulatory rules would harm health and safety. This is the standard assertion, but there is little or no evidence that removing most licensing standards will cause harm — and the entrenched interests who make that claim rarely even try to show that it does.

The reality is that these organizations are looking to use government to protect their members from competition in the marketplace. But that is not a proper role of government.