With those three words, Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer captured the essence of last week’s embarrassing silencing of State Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum.
Because as Former State Representative Maxine Berman later emphasized, if they have no voice, then neither do any of us.
The banning of two female legislators from speaking on the floor of the State House was unprecedented. But it was not an isolated incident. It is a pattern of behavior from Republican lawmakers that involves altering the rules of democracy to benefit their interests and deter opposition.
A few weeks ago, Representative Gail Haines ended a legislative hearing early, after a Right to Life spokesperson testified in support of legislation to restrict women’s access to healthcare, but before about 90 doctors, representatives from Planned Parenthood, and others who opposed the bill were able to submit their testimony. Just down the hall, Representative Pete Lund did the same at a hearing about controversial new voting restrictions, cutting it short before dozens of people could testify against the bills.
And these partisan maneuvers to limit democracy extend beyond Lansing. Last week, just before “Vagina-gate” erupted, the legislature enacted a package of new laws that will make it more difficult for citizens to vote this fall.
The new rules will, among other things, make it harder to register to vote in Michigan. Churches, schools, and community groups will be subjected to training and paperwork requirements that will make it more difficult and expensive to register voters.
A similar law in Florida led the League of Women Voters to end their decades-old efforts to register voters there. Since then, Florida’s voter registrations have sharply declined.
The effects of these regulations will fall hardest on young, low-income, and minority voters, who register through voter registration organizations at much higher rates than other citizens. Many of these voters are Democrats, and many are women.
So Senator Whitmer was absolutely right when she asked: “What’s next? Taking away women’s right to vote?”
Because instead of modernizing our elections process, allowing automated and electronic voter registration for all Michigan citizens, Republicans in Lansing are enacting expensive and misguided new laws that will make it more difficult to vote.
Trying to silence people’s voices in order to enact legislation or win elections is hardly democratic. And that is something every voter who cares about protecting the integrity of our democracy must remember this fall. Because our vote is our voice.
Jocelyn Benson is an Associate Professor of Law at Wayne State University Law School. In 2010 she served as the Michigan Democratic Party’s Candidate for Secretary of State.