January was a cruel month for Michigan Democrats. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was busted for covering up a sex-scandal that cost the city millions (with the blessing of the inept Detroit City Council). Gov. Jennifer Granholm delivered another uninspiring and implausible State of the State address, this time about how wind turbines might lift the state out of economic crisis. And maybe the unkindest cut of all, Democratic primary voters went to the polls a month early to vote in a sham election without delegates, only to find out that if the state had kept its Feb. 9 spot, it would have been a pivotal player in cutting through the post-Super Tuesday confusion.

Sure, it might make a lot of people’s blood boil when they consider that nearly $10 to 12 million in taxpayer money paid for an election in which the only conceivable purpose was to finance the creation of new voter lists for the state party. But there’s another side to the Michigan primary debacle – a side that’s at least a little brighter.

It’s hard to remember now, but there were two reasons Michigan Democrats wanted to kill the February primary. The first was to manipulate the system to favor specific candidates – different Democratic factions agitated for different contenders, adding to the confusion. The second, both more honorable and more important, was to steal some of Iowa’s thunder.

It’s possible to win the nomination without winning over Iowans who traditionally vote in the nation’s first nominating contest. But it’s not easy, and lots of people think that’s the way it should be. Iowa, with about a third of the population of Michigan, has been hailed as a state so small that big-money politics can’t sway the voters like old-fashioned baby-kissing and door-knocking. Just think of this year’s outcome when the multi-million dollar Mitt Romney machine was trampled by Mike Huckabee, who was so strapped for cash he had a three-person policy staff and his national field director was his 25-year-old daughter. But just because the state is small doesn’t mean it should be allowed to handpick the nation’s frontrunners.

No study I’ve seen has showed that Iowans are more interested, more enthusiastic or more educated than primary voters in other states, though some suggest the opposite. Plus, the priorities of rural corn-farming communities don’t always match up with those of the rest of America. Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain were once opposed to corn-farming subsidies, but changed their minds as the Iowa contests approached.

That’s not just unsettling because the subsidies help to produce corn-based ethanol, an environmentally unfriendly substitute for the sugar-based ethanol that comes from Brazil. It’s not even that the subsidies are driving up the price of food worldwide, because a spike in the price of any one crop will cause more farmers to plant it instead of something else, driving up the price of all crops. It’s that Iowa alone gets an average of more than $1 billion worth of the dubious subsidies each year – just think of what $1 billion could do for Michigan companies like the Big Three, or hell, Faygo Cola.

In a November survey of New York University students, researchers found that roughly 20 percent of them would give up the right to vote in a presidential election in exchange for an iPod Touch. Two-thirds would do it for a year’s paid tuition. If it’s that easy to put a price tag on a vote, then the prospect of upending Iowa’s monopoly on early primary pandering in exchange for one season of disenfranchisement should seem like a bargain. The importance politicians place on Iowa has resulted in thousands and thousands of dollars in federal aid and subsidies coming into the state for each of the 347,000 people who caucused. An iPod Touch costs about $300.

The question is, will Michigan’s gamble work? Was this really Iowa’s last hurrah? Or will the maneuver simply deprive millions of people of their right to have a say about the 2008 nominees? We probably won’t know until 2012. Even then, if there is reform, it won’t be just Michigan taking credit for it. The best possible outcome for state Democrats would be a do-over caucus after the Texas and Ohio primaries, which would mean Michigan would get to vote even after having taken its stand – the electoral equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. Unfortunately the Michigan party officials insist it isn’t feasible.

Still, it’s nice to know that while state politics seem to hit new lows every month, at least our state made an effort to put an end to the undemocratic system that exists now. And hey, maybe next time our delegates will be seated.

Anne VanderMey was the Daily’s fall/winter magazine editor in 2007. She can be reached at vandermy@umich.edu.

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