While Ohio officials have taken a strong preemptive stand in an effort to defeat that state's "treatment not jail" initiative, a similar effort in Michigan is only now beginning to draw serious attention from unhappy elected officials. Another effort headed by the Campaign for New Drug Policies, the California-based drug reform initiative-winning machine, the Michigan measure would require treatment instead of jail for drug possessors, an end to current mandatory minimum and other drug sentences and their replacement with new sentencing guidelines, permit persons currently serving drug sentences to seek resentencing, and require the state of Michigan to appropriate at least $120 million in treatment funds over the next six years (http://www.drugreform.org/michigan/).
It was that last item that led to Republican Gov. John Engler's first blast against the initiative. On July 25, Engler announced that he had vetoed $845 million in revenue sharing payments to Michigan cities and localities because of fears that three ballot initiatives, including the drug reform initiative, would break the bank. (The drug reform initiative would actually have a much smaller impact than the other two, one that would direct the state to use its share of tobacco settlement funds for health care, and one that would guarantee collective bargaining and arbitration for state employees.)
"If [the initiatives] pass, the costs are lower in the first year or so and then mount," Engler told a Lansing press conference on August 4. "I said in good conscience, 'I ought to leave them [future state appropriators] some money,'" he said.
But Engler's move backfired, leading first to howls of protest from cities and counties who said they would be forced to cut programs and lay off workers and then to a legislative override of his veto on Wednesday -- the first successful override of a gubernatorial veto in Michigan in 25 years.
"John Engler has been a very effective governor and I think he's done some marvelous things for this state," said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, "but I can't believe that he so egregiously miscalculated the impact of these cuts. There was near civil insurrection," Patterson told the Detroit Free Press.
"Engler is a lame duck trying to play 800-pound gorilla," said CNDP's Dave Fratello. "On the other hand, while, unlike Ohio, no one has gone out and organized officials in opposition, Engler's move got out the news in one fell swoop," he told DRCNet. And Michigan officials are organizing quietly, he added. Still, Engler's veto move was "ham-handed," Fratello said, and could hurt opposition organizing. "Gov. Engler is one chairman of the opposition campaign," Fratello explained, and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was a co-chair last time anyone checked. "But Kwame and Engler squared off over the veto, and there could be real consequences for the governor and the anti-initiative campaign as a result," he said.
"Engler tried to paint our initiative and all the others as bankrupting the state," said Maia Justine Storm, a Michigan campaign coordinator. "We already have people's hearts -- people are basically in favor of reform -- but we'll have to fight for their minds, we'll have to educate them about how the initiative will save money, not spend it," she told DRCNet.
The initiative campaign remains confident at this point -- it is polling better than in Ohio, said Fratello -- but worries that the opposition is going to ratchet up its efforts in coming weeks. "Our opponents have a plan to use federal funds from CADCA to organize grassroots opposition," said Fratello. "They think they can use 20% of their budget for lobbying, but we're not so sure that's true for nonprofits who obtain the bulk of their money from the federal government. I suspect this is happening already, and if we ever find out we will come after them."
In the meantime, said Storm, the campaign expects things to heat up in September, when the State Board of Canvassers meets to officially certify the initiative's ballot status. And the campaign is preparing advertising plans if necessary, she said. "We'll do some advertising at the end, if the opposition starts throwing around a lot of money or if the numbers start to slip," Storm said, "but now we are going around talking to groups, one after the other. The more people we can talk to, the better our chances," she said. "Once people understand it, it's like 'yeah, it's just common sense.'"