As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of Michigan’s right-to-work law, we should acknowledge Oklahoma’s former governor, Frank Keating. He played an unheralded but important role in that victory, and he still inspires state-level leaders.
Without Gov. Keating’s strategic advice, our efforts on behalf of Michigan residents – who are no longer forced to pay a union as a condition of employment – might have failed due to premature timing. By 2007, we were eager for concrete action to make Michigan a right-to-work state. We first formally called for the policy in 1992. We studied, published, and debated its merits continually thereafter. A Detroit Free Press poll in 2006 – in the middle of Michigan’s “lost decade” of a poor economy — surprisingly showed 56% of likely voters favored a right-to-work law, including 42% of union households. A private, internal poll we commissioned in 2007 indicated more than 40% of union members themselves gave a thumbs- up to right-to-work. We thought, if we don’t move on right-to-work now, when will we?
The Michigan right-to-work team sought counsel from former Gov. Keating, who had led the last successful attempt to enact right-to-work. He had not merely signed the policy into law; he oversaw its inclusion in the Sooner State’s constitution by a ballot campaign and an amendment of the people.
Frank Keating advised us and our friends that he believed a successful effort needed a supportive governor. “It matters who leads,” he said. Jennifer Granholm, then our governor, opposed right-to- work. It wasn’t until the election of Rick Snyder in 2010 that the political window to pass right-to-work opened wider. We took his counsel to be patient, and we succeeded when Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state five years after our conversation.
In the following years, we have maintained a strong affinity for Oklahoma and former Gov. Keating, who helped pave the way for Michigan and the states that followed. The latest was Tennessee, which enshrined right-to-work protections in its own constitution through a ballot measure.
Gov. Keating’s leadership and friendship with the Mackinac Center continues to this day.
We are honored to announce his new role as president of the Council of Advisors for the Mackinac Center’s Workers for Opportunity initiative. With WFO, Gov. Keating will bring together policymakers from around the nation, as they protect American workplaces and the paychecks of American workers from unions’ coercive influence.
“The principles and policy agendas advanced by Workers for Opportunity are mission-critical for all proponents of individual liberty and free enterprise. I’m proud to stand in support of this important work and help bring others to the table,” said Gov. Keating.
To find out more about Gov. Keating and the Workers for Opportunity initiative’s Council of Advisors, visit www.workersforopportunity.org.