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Michigan’s GOP Governor Brands ‘Choose Life’ Plate Too Politically Divisive

Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, puts a "Choose Life" license plate on her car Aug. 29, 2003, in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Mike Wintroath)

Michigan Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R) and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) first battled in 2012 over right-to-work legislation, which was the then-freshman senator’s first legislative initiative.

Colbeck won that fight.

Snyder went from first opposing right-to-work legislation to saying it was worth considering, to finally signing the bill on what the governor described as “a major day in Michigan’s history.”

Now Colbeck and Snyder are locked in a new fight. In what could be their final showdown, the Republicans will do battle over legislation that would have made Michigan the 30th state where residents could brandish the phrase “Choose Life” on their car and truck license plates.

Florida was the first state to allow residents to purchase Choose Life license plates. A county commissioner, Randy Harris, proposed the idea in 1996. During the four years, it took to persuade state officials to approve the new license plates, Choose Life America, Inc., was formed and legislatures in several more states were faced with the proposal.

As with any of the themed, fund-raising registration license plates in Michigan, part of the money raised by the purchase of the plates would go to the group sponsoring Choose Life plates.

In Michigan’s case, the money would have gone to Choose Life Michigan, which is controlled by Right to Life Michigan. The funds would have gone to crisis pregnancy centers, homes for pregnant women and organizations that promote alternatives to abortion.

Choose Life America Inc. stated on its website that it raised more than $20 million for “the causes of life and adoption” in the states where the plates are available.

This time Snyder’s knees didn’t buckle. He quickly vetoed the legislation.

Colbeck called the veto “utterly disgraceful.” He has asked Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R) for an override vote. Meekhof’s office said no decision had yet been made.

Snyder said he killed the legislation because “Choose Life” would have been more than a fund-raising slogan. He stated “Choose Life” was a slogan that was not only political, but it was also too divisive.

In his letter to the legislature explaining the veto, Snyder wrote that raising money to help pregnant women is a “noble cause.” But he also argued that Senate Bill 163 was not about noble causes or licenses plates.

Snyder pointed to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stated when a state issues a specialty license plate “the state itself is speaking.” The statement “Choose Life,” Snyder said, had the “potential to bitterly divide millions of Michiganders.”

“It’s (Choose Life) about the State of Michigan making a political statement,” Snyder wrote. “And that statement arouses strong emotional reaction that divides the residents of this state.”

Rep. Ian Conyers (D) of Detroit said he agreed. Senate Bill 163, Conyers argued, would have taken the state to an area where no government belongs.

“I think that it’s a politically loaded statement, clearly both religiously and I don’t think the government ought to be meddling in those affairs,” Conyers said.

Right to Life of Michigan president Barbara Listing was disappointed.

“We hoped (Snyder) would recognize this wonderful opportunity to provide care to pregnant women in need and help suicide prevention efforts,” Listing said in a statement. “The support for the Choose Life plate is still there and it will happen in Michigan, it’s just a matter of time. We look forward to taking the issue up with our next governor.”

Well, Colbeck would like to be that next governor. Colbeck has already filed his papers to enter the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary. Snyder can’t run again because of Michigan’s term limits law.

“Michigan deserves principled solutions that prioritize the best interests of ALL of our citizens, not an influential few,” Colbeck wrote in an email to his supporters May 31 announcing his candidacy.

Gov. Snyder can’t run for re-election because of Michigan’s term-limit law. So, this fight over “Choose Life” will probably be the last between Snyder and Colbeck.

“Every year, 26,000 babies in a mother’s womb are killed. Many of the decisions to kill these babies in the womb are based upon women despairing over having insufficient support or resources to raise their child. SB 163 would have helped provide those resources,” Sen. Colbeck said in a statement as he began working on counting the votes needed to override Snyder’s veto.

Whether or not “Choose Life” was a political statement, Colbeck said no tax dollars would have gone into the pot to help Michigan Right to Life programs.

And even if it drew a line in the sand, politically, Colbeck didn’t see how it could have “bitterly divided Michigan,” as Snyder claimed.

“A simple ‘Choose Life’ message is not divisive,” Colbeck added, “unless one somehow asserts ‘Choose Death’ is a worthy cause.”