Top Michigan Democrat urged Obama to cut state funding in order to kill right-to-work bill

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
Font Size:

A top Michigan Democratic lawmaker urged President Obama to withhold federal funds for major state infrastructure projects in order to force Republican Governor Rick Snyder to veto the state’s controversial right-to-work bill.

Obama is travelling to Michigan Monday to deliver a speech on the budget at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Michigan. The White House announced Obama’s visit last Thursday, the same day it released a statement opposing the Michigan right-to-work bill, which has passed both houses of the state legislature and which Snyder is expected to sign into law Tuesday.

The bill would free workers from requirements to pay dues to unions they do not belong to. The bill, which critics call a union-busting measure, would make Michigan the twenty-fourth “right-to-work” state.

Insiders believe Obama will address the right-to-work issue in his speech Monday, presumably as a ceremonial gesture for the auto unions that provided funding for his re-election campaign.

But President Obama has been encouraged to play some last-minute hardball politics with Snyder, according to a revelation made last week.

Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer told a local radio station that she and other Michigan Democrats have personally appealed to the White House to help squash the right-to-work bill, and have offered their own ideas on how President Obama could do it.

“We’re hoping when President Obama comes to Michigan next week this is going to be on his radar screen, that he’s going to say, ‘If Michigan doesn’t care about their middle class, why should we be bending over backwards to make sure that this governor is able to deliver on his promises?,” Whitmer told the radio station WWJ last Thursday.

WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick later clarified Whitmer’s remarks.

Whitmer wants Obama to withhold federal funds for necessary infrastructure projects in exchange for Snyder’s veto of the right-to-work bill, according to Skubick.

These infrastructure projects include The Detroit-Windsor International Bridge, which would connect Detroit to Windsor, Ontario Canada for commerce, and the Woodward Avenue transit system in Detroit.

Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed the agreement for the Detroit-Windsor International Bridge on June 15, after eight years of planning. The Federal Highway Administration has already approved the agreement.

The Woodward Avenue transit system, which proponents say would revitalize transportation in inner-city Detroit, has been in development for six years and enjoys strong local support.

Snyder has made the completion of both projects a focal point of his administration.

“If this works out the way the Democrats would hope, here’s the scenario: Governor, if you sign the legislation, kiss that money goodbye. And if you nix it and veto it, well, guess what? We’ll open up the wallets and get you the money,” Skubick told CBS Detroit. “Some people might call that blackmail. In politics we call it taking advantage of a situation.”

Detroit-based WJR host Frank Beckmann condemned Whitmer’s remarks, calling her plan “outrageous.”

“This should immediately disqualify her for any consideration to run for governor,” Beckmann said on the air. “Taking the interests of the entire state of Michigan, the entire region of Detroit, holding them hostage because you object to legislation that has passed in 23 other states and has caused great economic growth?”

Whitmer has led a passionate charge against the right-to-work bill, a crusade that insiders say is her first major move as a presumptive 2014 gubernatorial candidate. Whitmer changed the headline on her website, gretchenwhitmer.com, Friday to announce, “2014 is our year.”

“2014 will be OUR year, when we tell Governor Snyder that his damaging political agenda is NOT Michigan’s agenda!” Whitmer’s website now reads.

Whitmer also wrote a column for the Daily Kos Saturday, calling Snyder and Republican legislators “cowards,” detailing how she “crashed (Snyder’s) event” and was “escorted out” of the state Capitol building Thursday, and urging Daily Kos readers to join her in a protest Tuesday to “reclaim our Capitol.”

Despite the proposed power play and Whitmer’s call for protest, Snyder does not appear to be backing down. The two tweets from his official Twitter account Sunday linked to videos supporting the right-to-work bill.

Follow Patrick on Twitter