So the idea that widespread use of “immediate effect” is new is just not true. But that gets to the next part of Maddow’s scoop— House Republicans apparently ignoring requests for a roll call vote to determine if they had mustered the constitutionally required two-thirds majority. It seems clear that they were ignoring Democrats’ objections. But that raises another question: it’s rare that one party controls so large a bloc, so how was immediate effect used so often in the past? And in light of the GOP’s aggressively conservative agenda, why didn’t Democrats object before now?
I called Rick Pluta, managing editor and state Capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network. Pluta, who has covered the Statehouse for 25 years, added some important additional context, which the Maddow Show could have used last week.
“In the culture of the Michigan legislature—though this is more true in the Senate—there’s very much a sense that once you lost on the substance of the question, you won’t be dilatory to the majority,” Pluta said.
In other words, legislative minorities would routinely accede to “immediate effect” motions. What has changed, he added, “is a group of House Democrats has become so frustrated [with this common practice], they are going against the culture.”
Thanks to Michigan’s term limits, Pluta probably has deeper historical knowledge than anyone, including lawmakers. But two of the Democrats who are plaintiffs in the suit told me basically the same thing about practices in the legislature. The casual use of “immediate effect” is “standard,” said Rep. Richard Hammel, and “longstanding practice,” according to Rep. Steven Lindberg (who added that Maddow “essentially has her facts right, though the way she presents them is a little dramatic.”) Both men said they had not approached or been approached by the Maddow Show, though Democrats here have started citing her coverage in their fundraising emails.
(On the Republican side, meanwhile, Adler said he spoke with representatives of the Maddow Show a week before the original segment aired, and he shared with them the GOP appeal to the Democrats’ lawsuit and “everything I shared with our capital press corps here.” He spoke with them again before Maddow’s Monday follow-up.)
So what is new, in the end, is that one party, having lost out for the moment on every path to power in state government, is trying to use this constitutional provision to slow the majority’s agenda—and the majority is trying to proceed with business as usual, which means ignoring that provision.
And, actually, that’s a pretty important story about the breakdown of legislative norms, and about what happens when lawmakers try to enforce rules in the absence of those norms.
As much as Maddow overplayed her “scoop,” though, most of the media here in Michigan have underplayed it. The story hasn’t been ignored by any means—in addition to the Detroit News article mentioned above, here’s a Free Press article about the legal battle from April 5, before the first Maddow segment aired, and here’s a News piece about developments in the legal battle—but neither has it been covered in real depth, even after other national media started paying attention. Even the Lansing State Journal, located in the capital, has been using wire copy (in one case under a headline referring to a “House spat,” code for “only politics geeks could possibly care about this”).
Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum, trying to make sense of the story last Saturday, wrote that, “what we really need is for some longtime Michigan reporter to weigh in.” As far as I can tell, that still hasn’t really happened. There have been plenty of blog posts (here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example) and commentary pieces, but no authoritative reported account I’ve seen that could sort this story out for someone who came to it after seeing Maddow’s show.
It’s understandable that traditional statehouse reporters might be unwilling to take on story assignments that amount to following up on a national broadcaster who has a clear political point of view—especially when they’re keenly aware of the shortcomings in her show’s reporting. Pluta, for one, sees Maddow as operating in wholly different realm than he does: “Is it her job to tell the entire story?” he said to me. “I don’t know. Or is she supposed to lead the view to a particular point of view?”