Mich. Gov. Snyder likely to meet protests at Traverse City Cherry Festival parade
When Governor Rick Snyder comes to Traverse City this weekend to march in the Cherry Festival parade he is likely to encounter some angry locals.
Though he trounced his Democratic opponent in that county by about 24,000 to 5,000 in the 2010 election his popularity has plummeted as he’s pushed to tax pensions, cut school funding and give unelected officials almost total power over local communities.
The Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act, also known as Public Act 4 or the Emergency Manager law, signed by the governor on March 16, gives Snyder appointees the power to break contracts, fire elected officials, and even dissolve whole towns.
Traverse City is a focal point of opposition to the law and locals have formed a group, Reject Emergency Managers, that together with Michigan Forward, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the Highland Park NAACP is running a petition campaign for a referendum to repeal the law.
In April a busload of people from the Traverse City area traveled to Benton Harbor — the first city to have its elected officials deposed by an Emergency Manager — to protest as Snyder marched as grand marshal in the Blossomtime parade.
Local residents have also traveled to Detroit to demonstrate in support of Catherine Ferguson Academy, the high school for pregnant teens and young moms that was threatened with closure by the Emergency Manager in charge of Detroit Public Schools.
Now, as thousands of tourists from around the state crowd into this small town for the 85th annual National Cherry Festival this week, locals have set up camp at the downtown visitors center with petitions to repeal the Emergency Manager law.
The group has a little red wagon with petitions for all 83 Michigan counties, said Betsy Coffia, an organizer with Reject Emergency Managers, and 12-15 volunteer petitioners have been circulating amid the Cherry Festival crowd, gathering signatures from the people attending the concerts, fireworks, carnival rides, and pie eating contests.
People are surprisingly well-informed about the Emergency Manager law, she said, and estimated that as of the 4th of July the group had gathered signatures from registered voters in more than 40 counties.
“The thing that continually stands out and amazes and gratifies me is how many people get it and are eager to sign,” Coffia said. “One out of every two people who signs has already heard about it.”
The controversial law got a blitz of media coverage late last month when citizens from around the Michigan filed a lawsuit charging that the statute violates the state constitution.
The governor’s office responded to that suit by saying that the law is “desperately needed to provide better early warning indicators and additional tools to AVOID emergency managers in the first place and to help MI communities regain solid financial footing and preserve core services for their citizens.”
“He hopes to never need to appoint an EM if possible,” said Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel. “Beyond that, the state has a constitutional obligation to protect the safety, health and welfare of its citizens.”
Some argue that by providing the power to break police contracts (as happened in Pontiac) and downsize fire departments (as is underway in Benton Harbor) the Emergency Manager law undermines the safety, health and welfare of citizens and compromises core services, especially since the law gives no limits for how much public safety services can be cut.
Snyder’s office did not respond to these and other concerns.
According to sources at the National Cherry Festival and to Wurfel, Snyder will be participating in the DTE Energy Cherry Royale Parade scheduled to begin 11:15am.
The parade will feature royalty, marching bands, prince and princess floats, and clowns, and will be broadcast on AM 580 – WTCM Radio.
Other invited politicians include Michigan’s Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, and northern Michigan Reps. Dave Camp, Bill Huizenga and Dan Benishek, all Republicans.
On Saturday morning Snyder will also be the keynote speaker at a fundraising breakfast for the Grand Traverse County Republican Party at the Park Place hotel.
People already organizing to rally on street around the event with signs and banners.
“BREAKFAST WITH RICK!” says an e-mail forwarded through local activist networks. “ BRING SIGNS!
BRING SMILES! BRING ALL YOUR FRIENDS!!”
During the Blossomtime parade through St. Joseph and Benton Harbor the streets were largely empty and demonstrators were able to march alongside Snyder, shouting their discontent as nervous looking security staff trotted alongside.
Traverse City will be much more densely populated and activists say that this could make it more difficult to confront the governor without running the risk of disturbing spectators.
Aside from the logistical challenges of articulating displeasure with Snyder’s policies during a crowded parade scene, some worry that harsh treatment of the governor in Traverse City might endanger fledgling alliances between disaffected Republicans and progressives here.