Concern Among MESSA's Critics

The immediate concern coming from school districts and other MESSA critics is that any proposed action with even the slightest chance of hurting MESSA's operations would be struck down by the MEA political machine. Any legislative measures calling for tighter regulations of MESSA, compelling MESSA to operate more efficiently, opening up MESSA's market to competitive bidding, etc., would encounter certain opposition from the MEA. The MEA's motives are clear, given that MESSA provides the MEA with significant resources and membership strength.

Through past lobbying activities, the MEA has proven that it has the means to wage a war against any anti-MESSA/pro-school district efforts. In 1991, for example, Senator John Pridnia of Hubbard Lake and Representative Beverly Bodem of Alpena introduced bills in the Michigan legislature which would have mandated competitive bidding of health insurance in school districts. According to the Michigan Association of School Boards, the MEA rallied its members, and legislators each received hundreds of letters of opposition to these bills.119 Any similar legislation will most certainly encounter the same response. MESSA's critics are worried that with the MEA's vested interest in MESSA, it will be more adamant than usual about protecting its insurance subsidiary.

To complicate matters, many legislators are not willing to take a stand against the MEA because of imminent political repercussions from the union. Consider that very few public officials even bother to enforce laws which make it illegal for public school teachers to strike in the state of Michigan. In 1992 alone, the Michigan Education Association Political Action Committee contributed funds to 78 state representatives, 18 state senators, and one justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.120 (See Appendix 1). This excludes contributions by numerous other political action committees that were funded through donations from the MEA PAC. Many school districts have expressed their objections about MESSA to their representatives in Lansing, but few lawmakers have made any demonstrable response. Officials at all levels of the state government are aware that MESSA is a cause for concern, yet there has still not been a concerted effort in the past to address publicly the problems of MESSA.

Some legislators, such as Representative David Jaye of Shelby Township, have introduced legislation in recent months that would mandate competitive bidding of insurance in all public school districts. (The MEA successfully fought off this bill.) Other public officials, such as Governor John Engler and Senator Jack Welborn of Kalamazoo, have openly acknowledged their reservations about MESSA.121 Still others have consistently evaded the issue, such as Attorney General Frank Kelley.122 Consequently, many school districts are wondering if they have been betrayed by lawmakers who fail to protect the interests of public education.

Along similar lines, many school districts are wondering if the Michigan Insurance Bureau is capable of conducting an objective investigation of MESSA. These concerns stem from Governor James Blanchard's appointment of Herman Coleman to the office of Insurance Commissioner in 1985. Herman Coleman served as Executive Director and Secretary of the Michigan Education Association from 1973 until 1980. While working for the MEA, he was a recognized expert on striking. He co-authored the Michigan "secret master blueprint" for strike action in 1973, which led to more than 50 illegal teacher strikes in that year alone.123 In the early 1980s, he was sent to Mississippi to run the statewide teachers' strike for monopoly bargaining. During his affiliation with the MEA, Mr. Coleman was treasurer of the MEA Political Action Committee.124 Evidence also suggests that he was either an employee or a paid consultant of the MEA and/or the NEA at some point after 1980.125 And throughout his tenure with the MEA, Mr. Coleman served as Chief Executive Officer of MESSA.

Numerous questions have arisen as to whether Commissioner Coleman's appointment constituted special treatment for MESSA. In his capacity as Insurance Commissioner, Herman Coleman oversaw all requests for investigations of alleged insurance fraud, including a petition filed in 1985 by 15 school districts which requested that the Insurance Bureau investigate possible violations of the Insurance Code by MESSA. The seeming conflict of interest between an Insurance Commissioner with ties to MESSA and an Insurance Bureau which oversees MESSA soon became apparent.

In a letter dated October 4, 1985, two days after his appointment, the attorneys for the 15 school districts asked Commissioner Coleman to disqualify himself from the proceedings. The letter stated:

We, therefore, believe that your prior employment and/or relationship with [MESSA and the MEA] will engender sufficient personal bias and partiality such that a fair and impartial proceeding in this case will be unavailable to [our clients], and that your disqualification is, therefore, warranted.126

In his reply, Commissioner Coleman denied the request for self-disqualification, while offering a commitment to fairness and impartiality.127 finally did deny the school districts' request for a contested case hearing-three years after the initial request was made. According to the attorneys for various Michigan school districts, it was not uncommon to experience such "inordinate delays" when asking Commissioner Coleman to investigate MESSA.128re is no reason to suspect that the current Insurance Commissioner, David Dykhouse, will have any bias either for or against MESSA; nevertheless, the memory of Herman Coleman lingers on and many school districts are still concerned about objective treatment of MESSA.