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Managing Michigan Politics: Greg McNeilly, the DeVos Family and the November Elections

October 14, 2018

Last week, the West Michigan Policy Forum posted a link on their Facebook page that directs people to an opinion piece in the Detroit News, written by Michigan Freedom Network Director and DeVos Family operative, Greg McNeilly.

McNeilly was the campaign manager for the failed gubernatorial campaign of Dick DeVos in 2006. McNeilly is also a board member of GLEP and is the Chief Operating Officer of the DeVos run Windquest Group. McNeilly was quoted in an MLive article from last year, boasting how political donations are the most protected form of speech:

“Political speech is the most protected form of speech, and we need more people participating at higher levels. We should applaud anyone who is leading on that dimension and try to encourage greater participation in our great American experiment.”

What McNeilly is really says is that those with the most wealth really really determine the outcome of elections, or as the first Chief Justice of the US, John Jay once said, “Those who own the country, ought to govern it.”

Like John Jay, McNeilly understands that those with real power in the US are the owners, members of the private sector, not the politicians. One only need to look at who the largest political donor in Michigan has been for the past 20 years, the family that McNeilly works for, the DeVos Family. 

McNeilly’s Opinion piece in the Detroit News

The article written by McNeilly for the Detroit News is entitled, Don’t Hijack Michigan’s Constitution. Wanting to appear as if he supports the state’s constitution, McNeilly’s opinion piece is really just a way for him to demonstrate his obedience to the DeVos Family and tell everyone to vote No on all three Ballot Proposals in November.

McNeilly’s analysis of the three ballot proposals are weak and he provides no evidence to back up his claims. A good way to begin looking at anything that will be on the ballot this November, is to look at who is financially backing the ballot proposals. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) has good data on this. 

For instance, McNeilly says that, “Proposal 2 provides for more run-away government spending.”  However, McNeilly fails to let people know that some of the largest contributors to the no vote on Proposal 2 are the Michigan Chamber of Commerce PAC and member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, John Kennedy. According to MCFN, Enbridge Energy (Line 5 through Michigan) has been the largest contributor to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce PAC for 2017-2018. Enbridge Energy embodies John Jay’s philosophy that those who own the country ought to govern it.

Managing Michigan

In McNeilly’s Detroit News opinion piece, he begins by stating:

Forty days from now all of Michigan’s votes will be cast. Michigan will elect new management. Really new management. None of Michigan’s top executives (governor, secretary of state and attorney general) will have done their job before. Two-thirds or more of the Legislature will also be new on the job. 

If one was to look at this statement, one might be tempted to think about McNeilly’s comments through a partisan lens. This is understandable, especially since the DeVos Family is deeply committed to the Republican Party and the other two groups that McNeilly is directly involved with, the Michigan Freedom Network and the Great Lakes Education Project have both made clear who they are endorsing in the November Election.

However, while I find McNeilly’s reference to politicians as managers of the state disgusting and reprehensible, it is not a completely inaccurate statement. Representative Democracy is tremendously limited and it provides an easy opportunity for those with tremendous wealth to dictate who runs government, at any level.

In Marina Sitrin and David Azzellini demonstrate in their important book, They Can’t Represent Us!: Reinventing Democracy From Greece To Occupy, liberal democracy is actually a barrier to full public participation in the ongoing developments in society. Too often, people of good will accept the notion that representative democracy is the best that we can do and if we just get enough people to vote for “our candidates” then things will be just fine.

Such sentiment is naive and will prevent us from ever envisioning and creating the kind of society that is built upon the values of collective liberation and revolutionary love.

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