Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lessons from the DeVos Family

Richard DeVos Sr.
The right-to-work reforms in Michigan did not happen in one day.

Through the planning and investment of key supporters, the DeVos family in particular, Michigan enacted right-to-work in the heart of the Labor Movement.

While Mother Jones lamented the free market reform in its hit piece against the DeVos family, now labeled "The New Koch Brothers", there are a number of lessons which conservatives can implement for future victories.

The MJ column relates the frenzy of a union-friendly moderate Michigan Republican, who faced a large bevvy or well-monied activists, all of who were pushing for R-T-W. The moderate could only warn his union peer that "the worst was coming":

"Mike, you're f--ked," Richardville said. "They've got all the money they need, they're going up on the air, and they're going to push this freedom-to-work thing.

The fact that anyone would curse "freedom-to-work" is a sad testimony to union desperation in this country. The account continued:

The pressure came largely from one man present at that fundraiser: Richard "Dick" DeVos Jr. The 58-year-old scion of the Amway Corporation, DeVos had arm-twisted Richardville repeatedly to support right-to-work. After six years of biding their time, DeVos and his allies believed the 2012 lame duck was the time to strike. They had formulated a single, all-encompassing strategy: They had a fusillade of TV, radio, and internet ads in the works. They'd crafted 15 pages of talking points to circulate to Republican lawmakers. They had even reserved the lawn around the state capitol for a month to keep protesters at bay.

While Mother Jones jibes at conservatives of any stripe, and condemns money in politics, a general review of the effect of campaign spending will show that financing, advertising, and political pressure can only go so far. Still, money, coordination, and connections among wealthy financiers and lawmakers make the difference, and they were working hard in Michigan following the 2012 elections.

The eminence grise of Michigan's RTW was the son of Richard DeVos, founder of Amway. MJ's description of the billionaire patriarch.

Richard DeVos Jr., "Dick"
He is a lifelong Christian conservative and crusader for free markets and small government, values he passed down to his four children.

What's not to like? I had to remind myself as I read about the DeVos family, and Dick Jr, that they were the subject of conspiracy theory and progressive criticism, but I loved everything that I was reading!

The column looked deeper into the implications of this reform:

Passing right-to-work in Michigan was more than a policy victory. It was a major score for Republicans who have long sought to weaken the Democratic Party by attacking its sources of funding and organizing muscle. . .

Exactly. One should add "unfair funding muscle" since unions force people to join and pay dues, which support candidates and causes without the consent of the members.

 By attacking their opponents' revenue stream, they could help put Michigan into play for the GOP heading into the 2016 presidential race—as it was more than three decades earlier, when the state's Reagan Democrats were key to winning the White House.

Not just Michigan, but Wisconsin and Ohio could fall into GOP hands in 2016, since Republican governors have advanced cost-cutting, time-saving, money-saving policies. Strengthening their brand and their values, Republicans have a record of reform which Democrats cannot attack without hurting themselves.

File:MI Right-to-Work Protest - 11 December 2012 - crowd3.jpeg
Union protests in Lansing, MI

More broadly, the Michigan fight has given hope—and a road map—to conservatives across the country working to cripple organized labor and defund the left.

In one sentence, unions and the left are united. No wonder unions are falling into disfavor across the country.

Regarding the DeVos' family efforts to educate America about . . .America, liberty, and capitalism (all the things Mother Jones hates):

From the start, DeVos and Van Andel infused Amway—short for "American Way"—with their Christian beliefs and free-market principles. The Institute for Free Enterprise, a think tank run out of Amway's headquarters, organized workshops nationwide to help teachers incorporate free-market economics into their lesson plans.

We need this movement back in public schools. Young people need to be educated about the benefits of free markets, free enterprise, and limited government. Sadly, kids are imbibing unadulterated liberalism, with a dash of socialism and promoted elements of communistic thinking, heavy on equality, light on liberty.

Before anyone suggests that the DeVos family is manipulating people into supporting RTW or anything else,Early in 2008, they dined in Washington, DC, with former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who in 2001 became the first governor in nearly a decade to sign a right-to-work bill into law. He knew just how fierce the fight could be. Keating advised DeVos and Weiser to hold off on right-to-work until they'd elected a Republican governor and, ideally, taken full control of the Legislature. consider this admission from the liberal rag:

The following year, he [Dick DeVos] and a close ally, Ron Weiser, whose prolific fundraising had earned him the US ambassadorship to Slovakia under George W. Bush, hired Republican pollster Bill McInturff to gauge Michiganders' views on a range of issues. According to Weiser, McInturff came back with a surprising result—his polls showed nearly 70 percent support for right-to-work. DeVos and Weiser shared their findings with donors and operatives statewide, quietly brainstorming about how to capitalize on those numbers.

How about that? Michiganders wanted RTW!

The measure would prove difficult to implement, even in a deeply red state:

Early in 2008, they dined in Washington, DC, with former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who in 2001 became the first governor in nearly a decade to sign a right-to-work bill into law. He knew just how fierce the fight could be. Keating advised DeVos and Weiser to hold off on right-to-work until they'd elected a Republican governor and, ideally, taken full control of the Legislature.

There is a slow method to creating change for the better. Policy reforms cannot roll out right away. Even though twenty-four states have RTW on their books, four more states are waiting for their large Republican legislative majorities take advantage of their increased influence. Union power is strong, and takes time to undermine and replace with renewed commitments to liberty.

Sensing the political ground shifting underneath, Michigan unions launched initiative Proposition 2, which would enshrine labor collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. The measure failed, in part because of a consistent ad campaign from the DeVos family educating voters about the labor union power grab:

They began the anti-Prop. 2 effort in September. Polls showed that 60 percent of voters supported the measure, but DeVos and Weiser tapped their national donor networks. . . The DeVos-backed campaign ran hundreds of ads in the two months before the vote, claiming the measure would give unions far too much power, cost the state more than $1.6 billion, and imperil student safety by making it impossible to fire negligent teachers.

Proposition 2 failed, and the DeVos family moved to shore up support in the state legislature for RTW:

All the while, though, DeVos and his team were furiously whipping the vote. In the weeks before the start of the lame-duck session, DeVos personally called dozens of state lawmakers, pledging his support if the unions threatened recalls or primary challenges.

Governor Rick Snyder.jpg
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

If conservative activists can assure lawmakers that they will be supported in the face of a union or liberal backlash, they will be on board for major reforms. Governor Rick Synder had repeated that RTW was not on his agenda, but he signed the legislation as soon as it was ready. Why hasn't the DeVos family moved into Wisconsin? No one is paying attention to these wealthy free market benefactors. More importantly, lawmakers in the Dairy State want RTW, especially now that their numbers are greater following the 2014 election. The only elected official still quietly resisting is Governor Scott Walker. The RTW movement has fertile ground in Wisconsin, and the investors behind the scenes should work there.

File:Right to work campaign badge, c.1976.jpg
Right-To-Work is worth fighting for

In Michigan, DeVos and Co. worked hard to vet public support, too:

In early December, the Michigan Freedom Fund unleashed its freedom-to-work ad campaign. The group also enlisted GOP pollster and communications guru Frank Luntz to help craft a message "bible" that was distributed to every Republican state lawmaker for use during the right-to-work push; it included prepackaged answers to potential questions from constituents and reporters.

This political organization is crucial to any movement. Conservatives have a strong example based a winning ground game in a liberal Midwestern bastion:

 By pulling off the unthinkable, DeVos and his allies have emboldened conservatives around the country to go on the offensive. Following the passage of right-to-work, DeVos has opened his playbook to lawmakers, activists, and donors nationwide who are interested in following Michigan's lead. . . ."If we can do it in Michigan, you can do it anywhere."

Conservatives in California and other blue states can learn a number of lessons from the DeVos family. Education in public schools about conservatives is necessary. The Left has taken over in too many facets of education. Activists need to convince individual lawmakers and secure their worriers about reelection. Clear and consistent messaging on any given issue will sway larger numbers of voters, even if it means borrowing the language of the Left to accomplish it, i.e. "workplace fairness and equity" for "right-to-work". This messaging/education campaign took years, and gained momentum as Republicans took control of the legislature as well as the governor's seat. There is something to local elections turning the tide on statewide and even national policy.


  1. What was missing in DeVos and Weiser's first attempt was a significant grass roots element. The grass roots organization Michigan Conservative Union held a Michigan Conservative Political Action Conference 3/26/11 involving nearly 300 tea party and other activist leaders. That launched the Right To Work Task Force and Michigan Freedom To Work . The coalition grew to more than 200 groups with more than 70,000 members and 20,000 businesses. Frankly, we were asked to hold back, but refused to. We knew there was a perfect storm of high unemployment, losing 800,000 jobs and 54,000 residents in Michigan. In 2010 unions lost 83,000 members in Michigan. The tenacity of the grass roots drove the process, and with DeVos, Weiser and others providing air cover and some arm twisting, we took it over the top. The movement continues.