Battle of the bridge: Michigan voters deep-six Prop 6

By John Gallagher
Detroit Free Press Business Writer

Voters have soundly rejected Proposal 6, the proposed constitutional amendment that businessman Manuel (Matty) Moroun pushed to delay or block the planned New International Trade Crossing bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

With 94% of the state’s precincts reporting, Proposal 6 failed 60%- 40%. A survey of select precincts around the state reported a similar margin of defeat, as did an Election Day poll of 800 actual voters by EPIC-MRA.

With 4796 of 5099 precincts reporting as of Wednesday morning, the count is 2,570,148 votes against the proposal 6 and 1,743,120 in favor.

See full results of all six Michigan ballot proposals.

The defeat marks a stinging rebuke to the 85-year-old Moroun, and makes it more likely that the NITC project backed by Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian officials will now proceed unimpeded. Moroun’s committee spent more than $33 million on its Proposal 6 campaign, smashing the state record for the most spent by one side on a statewide ballot initiative.

Gov. Rick Snyder declined to gloat about the crushing defeat of the anti-bridge campaign, telling reporters in Lansing that it was simply a message from voters that “special interests shouldn’t control what’s in the constitution.”

Snyder said he didn’t take it personally when he was the target of attacks in Proposal 6 campaign ads.

“No blame. No credit. I don’t get into the personal,” Snyder said. “Let’s get going building the bridge.”

Mickey Blashfield, director of Moroun’s the People Should Decide committee, which pushed Proposal 6, said, “It is clear the voters resisted amending the constitution, but it would be a mistake to assume taxpayers support a flawed government bridge that puts taxpayers at risk.”

He added, “We have full confidence that the citizens, Legislature and financial community will continue to hold any bridge to its promises of ‘not one dime of taxpayer money.’ ”

The NITC, estimated to cost $2.1 billion, would span the Detroit River about 2 miles downstream from Moroun’s Ambassador Bridge. The NITC is expected to draw significant traffic and toll revenue away from Moroun’s bridge, a prospect that has prompted Moroun to oppose the publicly owned bridge through Proposal 6 as well as lawsuits.

Proposal 6 would have amended the Michigan Constitution to require a statewide and a local vote before state government could spend any money to build a new international bridge or tunnel to Canada.

Moroun bankrolled the People Should Decide ad campaign to push for its passage. The Moroun committee flooded Michigan’s airwaves with TV ads for Prop 6 and filled voters’ mailboxes with flyers and called their homes in a telephone campaign. The Morouns’ efforts were widely criticized as misleading, drawing several “flagrant fouls” from the nonprofit watchdog group Michigan Truth Squad.

Despite spending more than $33 million on the effort, Moroun’s Prop 6 push failed to convince voters in almost all demographic groups. The EPIC-MRA poll of actual voters showed that Proposal 6 was losing among Democrats, Republicans and independents, among men and women, and in metro Detroit and outstate, although black voters approved of Proposal 6 by a 51%-49% margin.

Backers of the NITC project hailed the defeat of Proposal 6. Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said Tuesday night that the defeat of Proposal 6 was “fantastic news.”

“This will be a real test to see if the Morouns really do think that the people should decide,” he said. “The people have clearly decided now. Are they going to let the new bridge proceed? Or are they going to throw up frivolous lawsuits to delay?”

Roy Norton, Canadian consul general and tireless advocate for the NITC project, was a guest of Snyder’s at a Republican gathering in Lansing and told reporters that the Proposal 6 vote was “a resounding victory for the governor and all those who believe in the future.”