The Michigan Supreme Court says a sweeping rewrite of the Detroit city charter will be decided by city voters in August, upholding the placement of the ballot question to adopt a new city charter.
According to the court, the Detroit Charter Revision Commission can submit its proposals without Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s approval. Whitmer rejected the charter earlier this year, saying it could lead to another financial crisis in the state’s largest city, among other legal challenges.
The ruling states “the electorate of a city is entitled to the final word as to whether a revised charter is to be adopted.” Concurring with the court’s judgment, Justice Elizabeth Welch writes that granting that kind of veto power to the governor would effectively disenfranchise the political voice of a large swathe of Michigan’s electorate.
“I believe that the Court’s refusal to interpret silence in the statute as granting the Governor a one-of-a-kind, unfettered veto power that cannot be overridden under any circumstance if she returns a proposed revised charter without her approval is consistent with our constitutional obligations, precedent from the Court, and core principles of democratic governance,” Welch writes in her concurring opinion.
The sweeping charter revision would fundamentally change the city’s governmental structure. Opponents to the measure, including Mayor Mike Duggan and various business groups in Detroit, say the new charter would be too expensive to implement, while supporters say those assessments are inaccurate.
Opponents Launch Anti-Proposal P Media Blitz
The ruling comes as activists raise concerns about the influx of advertisements against Proposal P. Opponents are funding billboards, television commercials and online ads. Still, those funding the campaign are using a nonprofit that is not required to disclose its contributions or expenditures. Taylor Harrell with Detroit Action, a nonprofit centered on voter education, says it’s dark money.
“The attempt to remove this document from the ballot is indeed an act of voter suppression,” says Harrell. “We must continue to stand up and fight back.”
According to Harrell, opponents to Proposal P are using a loophole to skirt around election law. Many anti-charter advertisements use broad phrasing without using words like “vote” or “defeat.” Those words would fall under independent expenditure rules from the Federal Election Commission.
According to the Wayne County Clerk’s office, Blue Cross-Blue Shield and DTE Energy have collectively donated $75,000 toward an anti-Proposal P ballot committee. A separate nonprofit called “Detroiters to Protect Our Future” is responsible for buying most of the ads and is not required to disclose its contributions or expenditures.
City Councilmember Raquel Castaneda-Lopez describes the rise of anti-Proposal P ads as a “threat to democracy.” Castaneda-Lopez says she thinks the opposition cash comes from the same forces that back Mayor Mike Duggan.
“In the past, we know that’s folks from Quicken Loans. We know it’s a whole host of developers in the city. We know that it’s a whole host of corporations in the city. And then honestly, a lot of money from outside of the city,” says Castaneda-Lopez.
The outgoing councilmember from District 6 supports Proposal P, saying the charter would protect Detroiters’ “basic human rights” by embracing new measures on social equity and racial justice.