Lt. Gov. Brian Calley handed over the leadership of his part-time Legislature ballot drive to conservative grassroots activists Friday, as he prepared for an expected 2018 campaign for governor.
Calley told The Associated Press that the Clean Michigan committee is halfway toward collecting the 315,000 valid signatures needed to make the ballot, which includes an extra cushion of petitions to allow for duplicates and flaws. The initiative is "on track," he said, and the goal is to submit petitions in mid- to late-January — more than six months after the petition wording was tweaked in July.
Calley said he will continue to advocate for the constitutional amendment but will focus his time on a "broader agenda to continue Michigan's comeback in 2018 and beyond." He stopped short of declaring his GOP gubernatorial candidacy, but an announcement is expected before year's end and he has been holding town halls across the state.
If the campaign has indeed gathered half its targeted number of signatures in roughly four months, it would have just two months to get the rest — in colder weather.
State Board of Education member Tom McMillin, who pushed for a part-time Legislature when he was a lawmaker, will lead the ballot committee. Others involved include Norm Kammeraad, who led a similar but unsuccessful effort in 2014, and former Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema.
The ballot group launched by Calley before the summer has had money to pay circulators and not rely entirely on volunteers. As of Oct. 20, it had raised $887,000 plus $301,000 of in-kind media and advertising support from a Calley-connected independent political action committee. Much of the ballot committee's financial support comes from a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" nonprofit, the Fund for Michigan Jobs, which is not required to disclose its donors.
McMillin credited Calley for assembling "thousands" of grassroots people to help, and Calley said he expects more to join as they see that progress has been made.
"You end up getting momentum as people realize you're going to hit it," said McMillin, who gathered with Calley and Kammeraad at a downtown Lansing building for an official handoff of duties. "Resources are coming in. ... We can get there."
The proposal would make the Legislature a part-time body. It would require lawmakers to adjourn their regular session by April 15 of each year, slashing their pay from about $72,000 to an amount equaling half of the average teacher's salary — roughly $32,000 based on the most recent data available.
The initiative has come under criticism from both sides of the political spectrum because Michigan limits how long legislators can serve. Critics say the plan would weaken the Legislature and result in more corporate and lobbyist influence, while other opponents say it would empower bureaucrats in the executive branch.
A Michigan Chamber of Commerce-affiliated ballot committee that opposes the proposal is running a Facebook ad that calls Calley — who has been in Lansing as a lawmaker and then the lieutenant governor for nearly 11 years — a "snake oil salesman" who is trying to "exploit an unsuspecting public by selling false cures."
Calley countered that vigorous opposition from "special interests" who risk losing power is no surprise, but "it doesn't change the fact the people of this state support it and it's the right thing to do." A part-time Legislature, he said, would be more "citizen-centric" and give more residents a chance to serve as legislators.
Michigan is among 10 states with a full-time legislature, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sixteen states have a part-time legislature, and 24 are "hybrids" — with lawmakers who typically say they spend more than two-thirds of a full-time job being lawmakers.