Just a few weeks ago, dozens of precocious young libertarians from throughout the country were bussed out to beautiful Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan. Advertised as “a ground breaking opportunity for liberty,” starry eyed activists hit the pavement with enthusiasm and vigor to make liberty win. Little did they know they were being used as pawns by a big government politician with questionable values.
“You will be the deciding factor that brings Liberty to a state this summer and lays the ground work for exciting opportunities to come,” Young Americans for Liberty boasted on their “Liberty Summer” page.
It continued, “It’s time. All eyes will be on this. Want Change? Change Something.”
Field representatives were offered $1,500 pay with housing provided as well as stipends for gas and “a month of liberty immersion” to participate in the project. One crucial detail conspicuously absent in the description was who the activists would really be working for: Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley.
Justin Greiss, Director of Mobilization at Young Americans for Liberty, recruits on social media for Calley’s initiative.
YAL activists were given assurances that Calley’s involvement would be secondary, and what was important was a part-time legislature proposal that would reform Michigan’s excessively corrupt government. They were slated to collect petition signatures, but soon realized that it was not as much about getting the signatures as it was giving Calley some good press for an upcoming Governor run.
As soon as they arrived on Mackinac Island, activists got the picture rather quickly. It became abundantly clear that the so-called “Clean Michigan Government” campaign was about Calley first and everything else second. Before they knew it, young libertarians were marching behind Calley in a clearly orchestrated photo op without understanding much of anything about his actual record in public office. They were officially co-opted.
Calley leads the way as liberty activists are ushered behind him for a staged photo op.
Additionally, door-to-door questionnaires were front-loaded with questions to identify registered voters as potential Calley supporters. The signatures were only a distant afterthought. Looking on the “Clean Michigan Government” website, viewers are immediately bombarded by an obtrusive Calley promotional video before any content can even be accessed. From there, Calley’s name and face are plastered all over the site with a small social media engagement area at the bottom where YAL’s efforts are showcased.
Making matters even worse, the campaign is already off to a rocky start. As soon as the campaign began, rumors began swirling that activists were instructed to show a Brian Calley campaign video. This is a possibly a criminal act, as not-for-profit political entities are barred from engaging in direct electioneering. However, it is impossible to know if a crime was committed because the organization is deliberately nebulous about its designation. No listings were readily available in the public record. The treasurer, record keeper, and legal counsel for the project were all contacted for additional information, but would not return phone calls.
Speculation ran rampant after the Board of State Canvassers postponed a hearing to officially validate the campaign last week. There are potential problems with the ballot language that may cause legal concerns. If the language is ultimately changed, weeks of work for liberty campaigners is down the drain immediately, and they will all have to start from scratch.
“The state constitution requires that all sections amended or abrogated by an amendment be listed on the petition,” Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said. “While the petition lists the sections being altered, it does not list any other sections being abrogated. The staff routinely reviews petitions on that issue.”
Another potential roadblock standing in the way of the campaign is Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is expected to be Calley’s fiercest Republican primary opponent in next year’s gubernatorial race. Schuette is not expected to do his opponent any favors for his ballot initiative, and an attorney for the campaign believes that these questions of legality were floated from Schuette’s office. All of the work that the YAL activists have done thus far may very well go up in flames.
Throughout Michigan, the proposal is already looked at as a fiasco of sorts. Michigan progressives have seized on the negative optics of the campaign and painted Young Americans for Liberty as out-of-state carpetbaggers working to astroturf a phony grassroots campaign that is little more than subterfuge to help an reviled career politician gain power. Examining Brian Calley’s record as Lieutenant Governor, it is hard to find fault with their assessment.
Calley has served as LG under Governor Rick Snyder, who achieved international infamy over his handling of the Flint water crisis. That hasn’t been Snyder’s only controversial policy though, as the Snyder administration has drawn the ire of Michigan conservatives for adopting big government policies on virtually everything. Snyder—with Calley by his side—was directly responsible for implementing Common Core, expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, outrageous spending increases, and huge new fuel tax hikes.
In fact, it was Calley’s tie-breaking vote that put the gas tax hike over the top in the Michigan Senate. A similar measure had already been rejected by the voters in overwhelming fashion months earlier. Calley’s vote was seen as a contemptuous rebuke of the democratic process to shove an arbitrary tax hike down the throats of Michiganders.
“Regrettably, the Senate ignored the Proposal 1 election results in which 80% of voters rejected a tax increase and chose the “road most traveled” by increasing the tax burden on our families,” State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) said after Calley’s tie-breaking vote resulted in higher fuel taxes for Michigan families. This move was universally reviled amongst grassroots Republicans and Democrats.
This is the likely reason why Calley had to bus in out-of-state activists, rather than rely on Michigan residents to staff his campaign. Although a part-time legislature is a very popular idea amongst conservatives throughout Michigan, they were able to smell a rat when they saw Calley’s name attached to the measure. Out-of-state activists completely unfamiliar with Michigan politics had to be used because of Calley’s sullied reputation.
Apparently Young Americans for Liberty didn’t take Calley’s past into consideration when making the calculation to funnel activists toward his campaign. His abysmal record didn’t stop YAL President Cliff Maloney Jr. from personally showing up on Mackinac Island to hobnob with Calley as Maloney delivered a personal “rent-a-mob” to do Calley’s bidding.
YAL President Cliff Maloney Jr. is all smiles on Mackinac Island as he delivers his troops to Calley.
This entire arrangement was likely orchestrated through John Yob, an influential long-time political consultant in Michigan. Yob ran the Rand Paul 2016 Presidential campaign in the state of Michigan. Although there was not much of a campaign to be seen, Yob helped orchestrate a straw poll victory for Paul at the biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference back in 2015. This token victory did little to help Paul throughout the state, leaving Yob’s effectiveness in his role to be questioned.
Although his efforts on behalf of Paul may have been underwhelming, Yob’s effectiveness at making beneficial connections for himself is above reproach. He has grown very rich and powerful through the political process over the years. Yob is now consulting for Brian Calley as he prepares for a gubernatorial campaign, and needed a way to re-brand his reviled candidate as a grassroots champion. YAL filled this role as the hired guns doing the bidding of disreputable political figures with activists left feeling stranded and hoodwinked. Making liberty win, a catchphrase used often by YAL brass, isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.
A portion of the flier YAL activists have been distributing throughout Michigan with Calley prominently displayed.
Moving forward, YAL leadership must be more careful in choosing how to deploy their activists. Whether deliberate or intentional, activists were misled into a campaign that was tied to a politician with views completely incongruent to the cause of liberty. Although the part-time legislature may very well be a worthy cause, YAL leadership must consider who is running those projects and toward what ends. Otherwise, they risk further embarrassment and could disenfranchise young liberty activists as well.