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Politics & Government

Pot, LGBT local ballot questions offer a peek into what may lie ahead

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Puta

Election 2013 is now in the history books. So, it’s time to do what all politicos like to do: look at the results and figure out what they mean as Michigan approaches Election 2014. Now, of course, one has to be careful about taking the results of low-turnout mid-term local elections and using them to predict what they mean for the future. But, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s begin the analysis…. starting with drugs.


Marijuana to be specific.


Ferndale, Jackson, and Lansing all voted on Tuesday to allow people over 21 to possess, use, and share an ounce or less of pot on private property without facing local criminal charges. It’s not a huge surprise that this was passed in liberal, progressive Ferndale. Lansing leans left so it’s also not a huge bombshell but one could make the argument that because it’s the seat of Michigan government, that is sends a message, makes a statement of sorts, about marijuana decriminalization. Most telling, however, is that a conservative city like Jackson approved the measure. It’s also interesting to note that these were commanding victories; voters in all  three cities approved the new laws by over 60 percent.


So, it begs the question: what’s next? Do advocates look to other towns - possibly Traverse City, Saginaw, Hazel Park, Mt. Clements - to push the question? Or, is it time to go statewide?

We could see a ballot question, not next year, but in 2016 if the Legislature doesn’t approve something before then. “We hope we don’t have to go statewide, we hope the legislature would step up and do the right thing… but, it’s still not a guarantee,” Tim Beck, one of the leaders of Michigan’s decriminalization movement, told Michigan Public TV’s “Off the Record” today. Beck says they’re looking to move statewide support from the low 50 percent range - where it is right now - to the high 50s or 60 percent before going to the ballot.


Marijuana decriminalization is one of those strange bedfellow issues that brings together some libertarian Republicans and liberal Democrats. Another of those is issues is gay rights. There was an LGBT rights question on the ballot on Tuesday in Royal Oak. It passed, making that city the 30th Michigan community to have an LGBT anti-discrimination policy on the books. There’s also a credible effort underway in the Legislature to add LGBT protections to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.


We have to be careful about reading too much into the Royal Oak results, though. A loss for LGBT advocates would certainly have been a low to medium level setback. But the win doesn’t add a lot of momentum – the way that, say,  turnover on the Holland City Council or  the election of an openly gay candidate in a conservative community would have sent a signal about how quickly the GOP base is evolving on the question of gay rights.


It also doesn’t offer any comfort to opponents of LGBT rights either. After all, they lost. They failed to create an example of political consequences for moving too fast on the issue. The key for LGBT advocates will be to convince a critical mass of Republicans in Lansing that it’s politically safe for them to support expanding Michigan’s civil rights law.


Are they there yet? “At this point in time, there are a number of other things I have as priorities.” That’s Governor Snyder’s pat response to questions on the topic. Snyder says he’s waiting on the Legislature to act. Immigration is a priority; LGBT rights... not so much. He won’t say no. He won’t say yes.


Now, compare that to what Detroit Mayor-elect Mike Duggan said in his victory speech on election night: “It will not matter if you are gay or straight. It will not matter…” The contrast is striking. Mike Duggan’s LGBT acceptance is upfront. Detroit has LGBT protections in its civil rights ordinance, but embracing that is certainly not part of the city’s recent political history.

So, the question remains: come next year, when he runs for reelection, will One Tough Nerd’s indecision on LGBT rights be an issue in the 2014 Gubernatorial campaign?

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