DETROIT — As a man stood up and began to ask a question to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder at a town hall forum here Thursday night, it was immediately clear the two would not agree.
The audience member, referring to Proposal 2, which aims to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution, started by calling collective bargaining essential, and ended with angry criticism of Snyder’s decision to end benefits for the spouses of same-sex employees.
When the man finished his question, Snyder stepped back and said he did not take issue with collective bargaining, but disapproved of the proposal, which he said would wipe more than 170 laws from Michigan’s books.
The exchange highlighted two prominent themes of the town hall, hosted by Snyder and Steven Clark, a news anchor at WXYZ-TV. At times intense, and often interrupted by rounds of clapping and booing, the event spoke to even the most minuscule details of the six ballot proposals.
Snyder, who responded to audience members in the small auditorium in front of a standing banner that read “Say Yes to One, No to the Rest,” blamed most of the night’s confusion on a campaign of misinformation by proposal supporters and detractors.
He most vehemently defended Proposal 1, the public vote on the emergency manager law, and attacked Proposal 2.
“I doubt if I asked how many people knew what parts of the Michigan Constitution could be wiped out by this provision, that there are many people in this room,” he said. “I doubt there are many people that can walk through the 170 laws and really understand all the consequences of what could happen if they get wiped out.”
Snyder has previously said he opposes Proposal 3, which would place renewable energy requirements in the state constitution, because he finds lawmaking to be a better alternative to a constitutional amendment.
He also opposes Proposal 6, which would establish need for a popular vote to begin construction of the proposed bridge between Detroit and Canada, on grounds that the crossing would clearly benefit Michigan. He added that Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun has poisoned public opinion on the bridge.
When asked how he can be so assured that Michigan taxpayers would not bear any tax burden for the proposed bridge, he deferred to Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general of Canada in Detroit.
Norton told the audience that he would have preferred the state gather the funds to split the funding for the bridge, as did Maine and New York.
However, after Snyder’s attempt to allocate the funds died in the state Legislature, the Canadian government decided the project was important enough for it to foot the entire bill, Norton said.
“We aren’t in the habit, I should say, as a country, of offering free infrastructure to developed countries, but in this particular case it’s so important that we … had no choice,” Norton joked.
Support for the six ballot initiatives has fluctuated over the last several months. Proposal 1, the referendum on the emergency financial manager law, has earned support from 35 percent of Michigan residents and disapproval from 43 percent, according to a poll released Thursday by WXYZ-TV and the Detroit Free Press.
Meanwhile, Proposal 4, which would establish a limited collective bargaining agreement for in-home health care workers — and which was only lightly discussed Thursday night — is too close to call, according to a poll from the two news organizations. The poll reported that 44 percent of likely voters oppose the proposal, while 42 percent approve of it and 11 percent are still undecided.
The closeness of the vote on some of the six ballot proposals, and what Snyder said was a wealth of misinformation, have pulled Snyder across the state in a campaign to boost his “Say Yes to One, No to the Rest” stance.
On Thursday, Snyder stopped in Livonia, Sterling Heights and Lake Orion and held an online web chat with The Oakland Press before arriving here. The stops were part of a bus tour named for his perspective on the six proposals.
At the governor’s final stop in Detroit, Stephen Clark, the WXYZ-TV anchor, praised Snyder for his transparency, telling members of the audience that he did not know another governor who was as open with the citizens of their state.
University alum Jacob Cohen, a part-time University Law student, came with what he called “instincts” about his voting decision. He said he left with more resolution about how he would vote, pointing to Snyder’s clarity on his positions.
Cohen said he came to view the referendum on the emergency financial manager law as the lesser of two evils between an emergency financial manager installed by Snyder — an elected official — and a federal bankruptcy judge. He said he also sided with Snyder’s caution in deciding whether initiatives have a place in the state constitution.
“It was great to hear really substantive answers from someone when all you see on TV are taglines and things that don’t make much sense,” Cohen said in an interview after the event. “You have to talk about these issues in long-form to understand the actual issue underlying the proposal. You don’t get that from TV ads.”
Still, some attendees of the town hall said they were unmoved by Snyder’s arguments and unimpressed by his willingness to answer audience questions.
Sarah Grieb — a fellow at Challenge Detroit, a group that has worked to educate voters on the proposals and emphasizes the facilitation of democracy — said she was unimpressed with Snyder’s answers.
“He was telling people how to vote,” Grieb said in an interview after the event. “I don’t think that people got more informed by coming here tonight.”
Jacqueline Smith, a Western Michigan University alum and another fellow at Challenge Detroit, added that she hoped attendees would seek an alternate perspective on the ballots, whether or not they were persuaded by Snyder.
“I just think it’s important that people do their own research, because it’s easy to just look at the ads and not really inform yourself.”