The Rachel Maddow Show | December 08, 2011
>>> we've been reporting this year on the story of little benton harbor, michigan . benton harbor is very small, very poor, and rather broken as a city. benton harbor was the first town in michigan to feel the tender caress of the state's revamped emergency manager law. michigan passed a more limited emergency manager law under a democratic governor in the 1980s , but in march of this year the new republican majority there created sort of an enhanced version. like enhanced interrogation . republican governor rick snyder's new version of the law gives an emergency overseer complete control of any town that's been taken over. an emergency overseer like the one in benton harbor can strip all power from local elected officials . he can remove them from office. he can abolish their offices altogether. he can cancel contracts. he can even move to dissolve the whole town, just take it off the map. on one man's decision. benton harbor was taken over by the state under the old law. in april under the enhanced version their emergency manager issued an order that said the outcome of boent harbor's local elections was in effect being overthrown, overruled. what the people of that town voted for, null and void . the emergency manager decreed that the elected town commission no longer had any power. based on his own ruling, he alone would be the government of benton harbor .
>> the fact of the matter is, the city manager is now gone. i am the city manager. i replaced the finance director . so i'm the finance director and the city manager. i am the mayor and the commission, and i don't need them. you're running the city. you are the mayor. you are the commission.
>> now benton harbor 's part of the story may almost be over. that emergency manager says his time there is nearly done. but michigan 's republican majority is just getting started. on friday the state began a review of the finances of the city of detroit . as a possible precurse-off to installing an emergency manager there too. to putting detroit under what its critics call financial martial law . in flint, michigan last week the new emergency manager there canceled all city council meetings and decided to stop paying the elected mayor and city council . he made that decision unilaterally. he's basically overthrown the government there and overruled the results of the last election. he has installed himself instead. the city of pontiac , michigan got its emergency manager in september. he tells a local radio station that he is ready for that untrammelled authority.
>> i don't know, frank, what you would do in a place like pontiac , flint, detroit , and so on, cities of that nature, if you didn't have a public act 4.
>> well, it's being portrayed as an act that takes the election, the right to a ballot away from the people, that it takes power it takes power away from elected officials and hands it over to a tyrant, if you will, a dictator. how is that wrong? where do people get it wrong?
>> well, i don't know. i guess i'm the tyrant in pontiac , then, if that's the way it is.
>> i guess i'm the tyrant. pontiac 's emergency manager is at least from pontiac . so at least he's the tyrant of his own hometown. he will now have unilateral authority to destroy the town if he wants to. to dissolve it along with the ee elections of its own commission. you have the big city of detroit now under review as well as the tiny town of inkster, michigan . chris savage has been following the emergency manager law on his site. he posted a chart of the places that either have an emergency manager already or could get one soon. chris looked at the census data and the towns on that list and realized that when you put them together, you can tell that just over half -- just over half of the after cab americans in the state of michigan are on the verge of having no meaningful local democracy. chris writes, solving the problems does not start from the baseline that the locally elected officials are not a useful part of the process to be shoved aside. everything that happens should begin at the baseline, that democracy is not just important, it's essential. i still believe the story of michigan 's emergency manager law, of what is being done to democracy in the name of fixing detroit and flint and pontiac and benton harbor . i still believe this could be the most important and most undercovered story of the year. i know my colleague, ed schultz , feels the same way. it's because they are making it harder to vote in this country. republican lawmakers in michigan have to claim that your local vote could become mute. congressman john of michigan wrote to the justice department last week and asked them to review and monitor the republicans emergency overthrow the towns march through michigan . writing while the law itself may be mutual, it's being applied in a discriminatory fashion. the congress department has told him it is reviewing the law. it looks like they might get the citizens they need this month. republican governor rick schneider is considering a contingency plan, asking the legislator to pass the sort of emergency manager law 3.0 so he can keep taking over towns any way even if his last law was recalled. for now, the question in michigan is, who gets to have a local democracy? who is being allowed to be worthy to elect their own officials? should your vote matter even if the state doesn't like the decisions? should your vote count? this chart should rattle anyone who thinks about that. the emergency manager law, the one that he was willing to risk protests over. a new poll shows that reports over rick schneider has fallen half by last year. it's fallen by half within its own republican party . you can't say that what is sinking is the emergency manager law and pass this law so they can take democracy away for more than half the african-americans in the state of michigan .