Mar-a-Lago mimosas? It’s on menu with Women for Trump
Flushing — Red was the color du jour in a Flushing banquet hall Saturday, as it has been at other events around Michigan.
Cherry dresses, scarlet scarves, red-tinged Mar-a-Lago mimosas and MAGA red chicken salads along with the signature Make America Great Again hats.
But if red was the dominant shade, the theme at the Michigan Women for Trump luncheon was just as distinct.
“We are part of the silent majority of 2016 and because Donald Trump is president we are silent no more,” Amy Carl, co-director of Mid-Michigan Trump Republicans, told the more than 150 women gathered Saturday in support of the Republican president.
The luncheon was one of nearly 70 events Michigan Trump Republicans have held since their founding after Trump’s surprise Michigan victory in 2016. The group, which eventually gave way to Women for Trump, promises there’s more to come in the run-up to the 2020 election.
Think Trumperware parties, Trump Tuesdays, Women for the Wall, Students for Trump and even Truckers for Trump, an enterprising group of drivers who plan to blare their support for the 45th president via big rig billboards while zipping up and down the nation’s highway system to deliver goods.
Though the 2020 election is still a year and a half away, the group is mobilizing among a demographic they feel is under-reported in the Trump narrative: Women.
“We can’t book them fast enough,” Marian Sheridan said of Women for Trump luncheons and Trumperware parties. Sheridan, who also is the Michigan Republican Party’s grassroots vice chair, has toured the state with two other Michigan Trump Republican leaders to assure GOP women they are not alone in their support for the president.
Women have flocked to Norton Shores, Canton, Madison Heights, Frankenmuth, Marshall and Marysville for Women for Trump luncheons and Trumperware parties. The larger luncheons typically draw 50-75 attendees, according to organizers.
This week, members of Michigan Trump Republicans are scheduled to speak at Florida Trump Republican events in Sebring and Winter Haven. They also have fielded inquiries from groups in Ohio.
Some of the emphasis on grassroots female Republican support is in response to Democratic successes in the same arena, especially in light of the “pink wave” that won Democrats many statewide and legislative seats in 2018.
Women for Trump often find themselves battling labels associated with Trump supporters, said Meshawn Maddock, a co-founder of the group and 11th Congressional District Chair. Those stereotypes, she said, run the gamut — crazy, privileged, sycophantic or strictly of the male Caucasian persuasion.
“Look around this room,” Maddock said. “Do we look like old white men?”
‘Sign the wall’
More than 150 women Saturday sipped on the mimosas and snacked on the salad before several wearing MAGA hats modeled Ivanka Trump clothing.
There were plenty of life-size cutouts of Trump, Melania, Ivanka and the Statue of Liberty, but they didn’t hold a candle to the number of MAGA scarves, pins, shirts, bumper stickers and sweaters for sale in the room. Women were encouraged on their way into the banquet hall to “sign the wall,” a sturdy brick-patterned roll of paper that would eventually be sent to the White House.
Peggy Meyer took it all in with wide eyes. The luncheon was the first political event for Meyer of Essexville, who described herself as usually “apolitical.”
“So far I like it,” said Meyer, whose interest in Trump stems from a concern for veterans. Her husband served in the Marines and Air Force. Her son is still active in the Air Force.
“I applaud President Trump for what he’s trying to do for veterans,” Meyer said. “I like some of the things they’re doing, but I’m not a die-hard Republican.”
Her cousin’s blood ran a little redder.
A Marine Corps veteran, Pamela Beaver of Kawkawlin said the fine linens and dainty salads were a little elegant for her McDonald’s tastes. But the Trump message was spot on, she said.
“There are women for Trump, and our husbands don’t force us to vote for him,” Beaver said. “We have our own minds.”
A group of Montrose Republican women said they came out to show their confidence in the president’s ability to keep the country great for future generations.
“I think there’s more support for what Donald Trump is doing than the media and press like to say,” said Janet Driesen of Flint Township.
Fighting Fems for Dems
The outreach to women is sorely needed after a 2018 election in which Michigan Republicans saw flagging support among women in western Wayne County and eastern Oakland County, said Bill Ballenger, a political analyst and former Republican lawmaker.
“They need to do better; that’s the understatement of the year,” Ballenger said. “Particularly, Donald Trump needs to do better.”
Given the party’s realities, the way to reach those women may not be a direct appeal for Trump, Ballenger said. Rather, Republicans should emphasize “how far out in left field the Democratic Party is drifting.”
While the GOP may struggle in more affluent areas of Wayne and Oakland counties, the Flushing location of the event is proof of inroads into suburban, blue-collar areas that have not typically been considered GOP strongholds.
“Trump has done surprisingly well there in 2016,” Ballenger said of rural Genesee County. “The Republicans are getting stronger in these suburban areas of Flint.”
Though the issues discussed Saturday were serious — immigration, abortion, the economy — Maddock said the group also realizes people need a bit of levity in the overly combative political atmosphere. Thus, the tongue-in-cheek Mar-a-Lago mimosas, the Ivanka-apparel style show and the Trumperware parties.
The Trumperware parties are an effort at “making politics fun again” through grassroots coffee meetings at the homes of female Trump supporters, Maddock said.
They were in part inspired by the opposition, a response to the grassroots Fems for Dems movement that helped Michigan Democrats to sweep the seats of governor, attorney general, secretary of state and two congressional seats in a “pink wave” in the 2018 mid-terms.
“We need conservative women to be an answer to the progressive women who right now seem to be leading the entire Democratic Party,” Maddock said.
Lori Goldman started Fems for Dems out of her Bloomfield village home in 2016 ahead of Hillary Clinton’s run for president.
The political action committee continued its phone bank work and door-to-door campaigning after Clinton’s loss, providing a “political home” for people who wanted to volunteer after Trump’s win but were unsure of how to do so, Goldman said.The group now communicates with roughly 3,000 people and has spun off a education 501c3 called Fems for Change.
“The worst thing we can let happen is just being apathetic about who’s running,” Goldman said. “Republicans are not our enemies and we’re not their enemies. Our enemies are the people who don’t care enough to show up on election day.”
Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed two laws, issued 21 executive orders or directives, closed state government three days due to inclement winter weather and proposed a controversial 45-cent gas tax increase.
For the East Lansing Democrat, her first 100 days in office have felt like “drinking from a fire hose, and I think every day of every governor’s life feels like that,” Whitmer told The Detroit News in an exclusive interview.
“There’s been a lot that’s gone on in these first 100 days, but I feel like we’ve set the tone and conversation (for) where we’re headed, and I feel good about it.”
Presiding over the state’s first period of divided government in eight years, Whitmer has used executive authority to advance some pieces of a liberal agenda, including actions to fight climate change and create stronger anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender state workers. She also has tried to sell her proposed 171% hike of the existing 26.3-cents-a-gallon gas tax at 18 public event across the state.
Whitmer has not backed off the gas tax plan despite GOP opposition. She has told residents she is willing to stake her political career on the road funding fight, vowing to fill potholes despite political landmines with an insistence that has defined her early tenure.
“I mean this in a positive way: I think in some ways in terms of background and experience, (Whitmer) is a lot more like John Engler than either Jennifer Granholm or Rick Snyder was,” said Michigan Chamber of Commerce President Rich Studley, comparing her to the former Republican governor known for cutting deals.
“She starts with the advantage in having served in the House and Senate and also is just more knowledgeable about a lot of the details and operations of state government.”
Borrowing from Engler, Whitmer has resumed “quadrant” meetings with both Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake and House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering. They’ve met four times, most recently Tuesday, and Whitmer chatted privately with Shirkey later that same day.
“For whatever disagreements they may have publicly with one another, they communicate on a very regular basis,” said Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann.
“Ideally with divided government, it’s an opportunity to challenge one another, but ultimately solve problems where we can find common ground,” Whitmer said. “It doesn’t have to look like Washington, D.C.”
Gas tax tenacity
The 45-cent gas tax hike is the centerpiece of her agenda. She calls it a “real solution” to fix crumbling infrastructure and a key part of her $60.2 billion budget that also would boost K-12 classroom spending by the largest amount in a generation, according to the administration.
“Frankly, I give her credit for being brave enough to know that this issue was going to be a lightning rod but still putting herself in every community to hear that feedback,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan.
When congressional Republicans were pushing to repeal the federal health care law, “they canceled their town halls,” Scott said. “But Gretchen has scheduled more knowing that it’s a tough issue to talk about.”
Tony Daunt, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, disagreed, calling it “bizarre” for Whitmer to tour the state promoting “a policy that is so unpopular with the public.”
“This seems to be a very uninspiring first 100 days,” said Daunt, a regular Whitmer critic. “There’s really been nothing in terms of creativity in policy making.”
The governor said she was not sure what to expect when she took her budget presentation on the road but has found most audiences receptive and urged them to back local lawmakers willing to take a tough vote.
“When people see the magnitude of the problem that I’m trying to address, it changes how they view the gas tax,” Whitmer said. “The Legislature, for better or worse, is very sensitive to public sentiment, and it’s important for them that the public understand what we’re trying to do.”
While GOP leaders have called her gas tax proposal a non-starter, Whitmer has made clear she won’t accept half measures on road funding. She has tried to put the onus on Republicans to propose a viable alternative to her plan, which would also raise the Earned Income Tax Credit to offset the impact of a gas tax hike on low-wage workers.
“Historically if you do these things early in your administration, you can recover from them,” said Republican strategist Tom Shields, noting then-Gov. Jim Blanchard raised the individual income tax rate in 1983 but won re-election three years later.
“Whitmer is savvy enough to know and experienced enough to know that that’s when you try controversial things,” he said. “If she were to pass this, from her standpoint, she would enjoy all of the orange barrels between now and her re-election campaign. Get it done now so you can enjoy it.”
Former Gov. Rick Snyder got off to a fast start during his first 100 days in office, but he had help from his own party, where the Republican-led Legislature was a friendly ally rather than a looming roadblock.
Snyder had signed 16 bills through the first three months of 2011, including a tougher emergency manager law that voters would later overturn and repeal of a state law that had required retailers to put price tags on most goods.
Whitmer’s early tenure is more comparable to 2003, when Democrat Granholm took office but was hamstrung by Republicans who controlled both the state House and Senate.
Granholm had signed one bill into law by early April, but like Whitmer had flexed her muscle through five executive orders and 11 executive directives.
Whitmer has so far outpaced her, signing two bills into law while issuing eight executive orders and 13 executive directives during her first 100 days in office.
Whitmer said on the trail “she would use every power available to her as governor to move her agenda forward,” and that’s what she’s doing, said Jen Eyer, a partner at Vanguard Public Affairs who worked on Whitmer’s campaign for three months in early 2017.
Whitmer clashed with Republicans and business groups over her initial order to reshape state environmental efforts and eliminate rule and permit review panels created last year. Lawmakers rejected the order, the first such move since 1977.
But Whitmer signed a revised order and is on pace to successfully create the new Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy by the end of the month. She has not given up the fight against the controversial oversight committees. Instead, she has asked Attorney General Dana Nessel, a fellow Democrat, to review their legality.
The directives signed by Whitmer are limited in scope because they apply only to state government and its employees. They include additional non-discrimination protections for state workers, new rules to limit gender pay gap inequities and an order for state departments to align anti-climate change efforts.
While her party lacks power in the Legislature, Whitmer has a powerful ally in Nessel. The two have worked in tandem to undo a major deal Snyder signed with Enbridge to move a controversial oil pipeline into a new tunnel that would be drilled far below the lake bed of the Straits of Mackinac.
In a formal legal opinion that frustrated business groups and is likely to spur court action, Nessel deemed the tunnel authority law Snyder signed unconstitutional. Whitmer quickly issued an executive directive halting state agencies from any work on the project.
Business groups have criticized the move, but upending Snyder’s Line 5 tunnel plan is probably Whitmer’s “biggest tangible accomplishment so far,” Eyer said.
“I think she has come out of the gate demonstrating that she’s not going to be cowed by the fact that the Democrats don’t control either house of the Legislature.”
Whitmer has not yet challenged the 1953 easement that allows Line 5 to run through the Straits, as promised on the campaign trail. She also has not ruled out the possibility of a revised plan for tunnel construction, which unions support as a major job creator.
“I know the Legislature tried to tie my hands at the end of last year,” Whitmer said. “I suspected they made some errors in doing so, and sure enough that’s what the attorney general concluded.”
Whitmer said her administration is doing its “due diligence” and trying to find “a superior way of making sure we’ve got energy needs met in the Upper Peninsula and keep our water safe.”
Whitmer’s early tenure has drawn praise from environmental and public education groups, but she has developed a more complicated relationship with business groups that last fall largely supported her Republican opponent.
The Michigan Chamber and others have blasted Whitmer’s budget proposal to raise small business taxes to pay for repeal of the state’s co-called senior pension tax. But they’ve mostly rallied around the governor’s push for more infrastructure spending and talent development. She’s urged them to work with her on the latter issues even if they fight the former.
“There are issues we are and will be vigorously opposed on, the small business tax being one of those,” said former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is now president of the Small Business Association of Michigan. “But I think … the areas where she’s decided to spend her political capital are areas where the attention or focus is needed the most.”
How miscalculation, market trends doomed Palace of Auburn Hills
A quick look at the Palace of Auburn Hills as the Detroit Pistons prepared to move out after 29 years in the venue:
The closing of the Palace of Auburn Hills marked just the latest example of a major suburban anchor dying well before its time.
Along with Northland Center, Summit Place Mall, the Pontiac Silverdome, the old Kmart headquarters in Troy — all these and the Palace were hailed as cutting-edge developments when they opened. Yet all face either demolition or drastic overhauls. And the massive Bloomfield Park mixed-use project proved to be stillborn, facing demolition after stalling out during construction.
That a project as prominent as the Palace of Auburn Hills could face demolition after a mere 29 years of use says something not only about changing market trends but about the massive miscalculation that enabled the past half-century of suburban sprawl.
Back in 1965, Detroit Edison hired the noted Athens-based consulting firm Doxiadis Associates to map out the future of metro Detroit. In a stunningly misguided bit of forecasting, the Doxiadis report projected that metro Detroit’s population would more than double by 2000. Instead, the population fell several million people shy of that.
Yet the Doxiadis forecast was hailed at the time as visionary, and it cleared the way for massive suburban expansion. Suburban growth was already a popular idea with road builders, auto executives, suburban politicians eager to snare a new tax base, and a white middle class eager to flee Detroit.Edward Hustoles, a now-retired urban planner who was active in metro Detroit at the time, said planners believed suburban expansion was needed to relieve the inevitable population pressures.
“We as planners got fooled, too,” Hustoles told me recently. “There was going to be a string of people from Detroit to Port Huron and Lansing and there were going to be about 10 million people. We were going to have a megalopolis. We were going to move out in all directions.
Not only were the population forecasts flat-out wrong, but nobody foresaw that the millennial generation now making key decisions about where to live and work would turn its back on their parents’ ideas of suburban bliss.
Peter Allen has taught real estate development at the University of Michigan for 35 years. He starts each term asking students to say where they want to live and work when they graduate.
“The top cities have always been New York, Chicago, and occasionally Los Angeles, until five years ago,” Allen said. “Five years ago the first brave soul said, ‘I want to go to Detroit.’ Now about a third of the class says, ‘I want to go to Detroit,’ mostly at the expense of Chicago. And none of these kids want to move to the suburbs.”
Instead of enclosed malls and stadiums plopped in a sea of asphalt parking, today’s decision makers want walkable urbanism. It’s a concept that also goes by the term “20-minute neighborhoods.” It describes how today’s millennials, as well as empty-nesters, want to live, work, and play within the same walkable urban district — and not have to rely on the private automobile to get anywhere.
It’s the reason why walkable Detroit neighborhoods like Midtown, Corktown, and West Village are growing in popularity, as well as more walkable suburban downtown districts like Ferndale, Royal Oak, and Birmingham.
Suburban anchors aren’t the only ones to fall lately. Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena closed this month, fated to fall as the Red Wings move to the Little Caesars Arena. It’s telling that the Joe – isolated, reachable mainly by car, a building that ignored the waterfront it sat on and the city nearby – was closed in favor of a new arena district chock full of the walkable restaurants, shops, and residences that millennials like.
Technology plays its part in changing tastes. The rise of on-demand services like Uber and Lyft are enabling millennials to forego car ownership in the sort of walkable districts they now favor.
“They want to cluster among their tribe in dense locations,” Allen said. “They want gritty, character, old authentic buildings they can bring back to life.”
So far only fragmentary ideas are in place for the Palace site (concerts are still booked at the Palace for the next several months). Real estate insiders say a new high-tech research park will probably rise in its place, catering to tech firms that call the I-75 corridor home. The Bloomfield Park site is in line for a mixed-use retail, residential, and hotel project, and the Summit Place Mall may get a youth-oriented sports site. But the fate of the Silverdome, Joe Louis Arena and the Kmart headquarters remains speculative at best.
The dying malls, stadiums, and office parks of suburbia have faced another problem besides changing tastes. Many such suburban projects were built relatively cheaply, with the result that most suburban office buildings or even high-end projects like the Palace have required major overhauls within a generation of opening. Once those projects lose favor in the marketplace, it’s just not worth trying to convert them to new uses.
But the older, sturdier buildings in a city like Detroit adapt well to new uses. The early 1900s-era office buildings lining Woodward Avenue downtown have been successfully converted to residential use and storefront retail. Classics like the Fisher Building and the onetime General Motors headquarters in New Center, both designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, are nearing 100 years of age and still going strong.
Now the Palace, Northland Center and the Silverdome all face demolition. The Palace site probably will see a new high-tech research park takes its place even as the Detroit Pistons follow their fans back downtown, playing their home games, starting in 2017, in the new Little Caesars Arena.
In the end, the malls and stadiums that seemed to anchor the suburbs fell victim to new market trends and their own lack of adaptability. As UM’s Allen said, “If you’re way out in the boondocks, in the hinterlands, with a great big single-purpose asset that’s accessible only by the car, I think it’s going to have to be re-purposed and probably bulldozed.”
Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.
The western Michigan county is outpacing both Oakland and Macomb in population growth — and that hasn’t changed in last two years …
When it comes to population growth in Michigan, the west is the best, according to estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Kent County, home of Grand Rapids, was Michigan’s fastest-growing county between 2015 and 2016, adding 6,078 people, a 1% gain.
Washtenaw County was the next highest, adding 3,862, also a 1% gain. Oakland County came in third, adding 3,696.
Macomb County grew by 3,223.
Wayne County continued a population decline, albeit at a slower rate. Wayne lost 7,696 people between 2015 and 2016 and has lost 65,849 people — about the population of Taylor — since 2010, according to the estimates.
“Kent grew the fastest. I think Kent is a real magnet,” said demographer Kurt Metzger, who shared his analysis with the Free Press. “The economy is just really strong on the west side of the state.”
The annual ArtPrize competition, which displays art across Grand Rapids, drew about 400,000 visitors over 16 days last fall, and Grand Rapids’ designation as Beer City because of all the craft brew made there also has boosted its tourism industry.
The figures come from estimates done annually by the U.S. Census Bureau. The data released today goes down only to the county level. Population estimates for cities, villages and townships are expected to be released later in the year.
Overall, 48 Michigan counties had population declines; 35 counties grew, Metzger said.
“We’re still not attracting and retaining people in their child-bearing years,” he said.
Wayne County’s one-year decline was similar to the 7,857 who left the year before. It was the most of any county in America except for Cook County, Ill., the home of Chicago.
Wayne County spokesman Jim Martinez said population growth often lags behind economic development and strong policy.
“We think the strides we’re making in Wayne County in both those areas will continue to positively impact our population numbers as more and more people come to recognize the growing opportunities and quality of life here,” Martinez said.
Gains in Oakland and Macomb come from more people moving in, Metzger said.
“Births aren’t changing and deaths aren’t changing enough to make much of a difference, so it all comes down to migration,” Metzger said. “Fewer people are leaving compared to people coming in. That was the main contributor to their population gain.”
Oakland County spokesman Bill Mullan credited County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s economic development initiatives like Emerging Sectors and Main Street Oakland County for adding jobs, which attracts residents.
“If you look at our knowledge-based economy, we create about 30% of the new jobs in Michigan annually,” Mullan said. “There’s great quality of life here. People want to live here.”
Oakland’s gain in 2016 was more than double the 1,583 people who entered the county in 2015, according to Census figures.
Contact John Wisely: 313-222-6825 or firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re about to find out.
Based on what we’ve seen in the past 10 months, it appears former Gov. Rick Snyder was able to achieve something ex-state Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer never could — destroy the perpetual conservative Republican majority concocted by another Michigan governor, John Engler, two decades ago, replacing it with a fluid centrist bench that is unpredictable in deciding on any number of lawsuits.
That’s because two Snyder-appointed Republican justices — Beth Clement and David Viviano — deserted their three GOP colleagues last summer to vote with Democrat-nominated Justices Bridget McCormack and Richard Bernstein to place the Voters Not Politicians (VNP) proposal on the 2018 ballot (voters approved it). The Viviano-Clement axis also sided with Bernstein and McCormack on two other cases involving hot-button issues.
Since then, Clement parlayed her “independence” into election for a full eight-year term, and her then-colleague Kurtis Wilder, an African-American Republican, was bumped off last Nov. 6 by Democrat Megan Cavanagh, daughter of a former justice, Mike Cavanagh.
Now, this year’s Supremes say they will hear arguments three months from now on whether to issue an advisory opinion on whether the Legislature has the power to enact and later amend public acts in the same session. At stake will be two new laws on hiking the minimum wage and earned sick leave. The issue encapsulates a classic confrontation between Democrats and organized labor, on the one hand, and Republicans and the business community, on the other. The latter believes the Legislature had a perfect constitutional right to do what it did; the former does not.
In the spotlight once again will be justices Clement and Viviano, who sided with Democrats McCormack and Bernstein on the three key decisions last year. If either of the two — Viviano, originally appointed by Snyder but now “woke” following re-election to an eight-year term, or Clement, who had no judicial experience before Snyder promoted her to the high bench after she had served as his legal counsel — breaks ranks once again and sides with McCormack, Bernstein, and Cavanagh, what the Legislature did last year will be toast.
The Michigan Supreme Court has set July 17 for oral arguments on whether the Court should issue an advisory opinion on the Legislature’s action in the lame duck session following last fall’s general election was constitutional
The Court did not commit to issuing an opinion. The Court’s action means that Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, will not act on a pending request for an Attorney General opinion on whether the Legislature can adopt a citizen initiative and later in that same legislative session amend or repeal that same initiated law.
Last year, the Board of State Canvassers certified that two citizen initiatives had submitted enough valid signatures from registered voters (8% of the total vote cast for Governor in 2014). Both initiatives were submitted to the Legislature, one raising the minimum wage; the other providing for paid sick time.
Had the legislature, during the 40 session days each initiative was before it, ignored or defeated the initiatives, the two proposals would have been placed on the November 6, 2018, statewide ballot for voter approval. If the proposed legislation had been approved by the electorate, future legislatures would have needed a ¾ vote in each legislative chamber (83 votes in the 110-member house; 29 votes in 38-member senate) to amend or repeal a voter-enacted initiative.
Polls last fall showed both proposals had a better-than-even chance of being approved by the voters. GOP legislators knew that, if that came to pass, they would never be able to reach the 3/4 majority standard to amend the two initiatives, either in 2018 or in future years, yet they found flaws in both initiatives.
But the Constitution gave lawmakers another option — simply enact both initiatives into law, bypassing a vote of the people.
So majority Republicans in both chambers adopted both initiatives before the election (over the objections of most Democrats), making them law (but not with immediate effect). An initiated law does not require the Governor’s signature. Then, in the Legislature’s lame duck session held after the Nov. 6 election, Republican majorities in the 99th Legislature had what they believed to be an incentive sanctioned by the Constitution to accomplish what is called “adopt and amend.” That’s what they did. On pretty much party-line votes, the Legislature amended both statutes approved just three months earlier. Governor Snyder then signed them into law.
Last fall, minority Democrats in the Legislature clearly preferred the petitioners’ original language in both initiatives, and, realizing what the GOP’s strategy was, were torn on how to vote on enacting the proposals into law. Some did, but most did not. Then Dems watched helplessly in December as majority Republicans completed their power play. To be sure, Democrats’ opposition to “adopt and amend” had less to do with the Legislature’s constitutional prerogatives than with labor policy and union opposition to what they believed was GOP emasculation of the initiatives’ original intent.
Ordinarily, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionally of a public act would, since 2013, begin at the Michigan Court of Claims with a trial judge drawn randomly from a pool of four members of the Michigan Court of Appeals selected for the Court of Claims by the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. An appeal of the Court of Claims action could be taken to a three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals. An appeal of a Court of Appeals decision could be taken by leave to the Michigan Supreme Court. This can be a lengthy process taking several years.
But here’s another wrinkle to this unique story — the 1963 Michigan Constitution, in Article 3, Section 8, provides that “either house of the Legislature or the Governor may request the opinion of the Supreme Court on important questions of law upon solemn occasions as to the constitutionality of legislation after it has been enacted into law but before its effective date.”
This provision was not found in the 1908 Constitution. It came from a proposal issued by Con-Con delegate Robert Danhof, who was chairman of the Committee on the Judicial Branch at the 1961-62 conclave (Danhof later became chief judge of the state Court of Appeals). The concept of a Supreme Court Advisory Opinion was taken from the Massachusetts Constitution at the suggestion of then-Michigan Supreme Court Justice Eugene Black.
In case anyone is curious, the U. S. Supreme Court does not issue Advisory Opinions. It requires actual cases in controversy.
The last time the Michigan Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion was on PA 38 of 2011, a law which eliminated the Michigan Business Tax and replaced it with a fixed rate corporate income tax and limited pension exemptions based on age categories (this was upheld by a conservative Republican majority court). Another historic example of an Advisory Opinion by the Michigan Supreme Court was in 1976 when it declared the 1975 Political Reform Act was unconstitutional for violating the single subject-single object requirement found in Article 4, Section 24 (that decision came from a closely-divided, moderate court).
Oral argument in this year’s Advisory Opinion request will be heard approximately one year following the Supreme Court’s oral argument in Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution v Johnson, which challenged the eligibility of the VNP proposal to be placed on the 2018 general election ballot. That is when, in a 4-3 decision issued on July 31, 2018, Viviano and Clement split ranks with their three Republican colleagues to vote with McCormack and Bernstein to place the VNP proposal on the statewide ballot.
Then, late last year, Stephen Markman stepped aside after a single term as chief justice, paving the way for Justices McCormack and Viviano to be elected Chief Justice and Chief Justice Pro Tempore for 2019-2020, with the support of Clement and Viviano himself.
The big question now is: Will Justices Clement and Viviano rejoin the two remaining conservative justices, Markman and Brian Zahra, to form a majority advisory opinion on these “traditional” business-related issues? For that matter, could McCormack, Bernstein and Cavanagh join them in achieving a unanimous opinion?
At issue is whether the Legislature followed all the provisions on initiatives in Article 2, Section 9. It’s worth noting that the Michigan Court of Appeals, in Reynolds v Martin back in 2000, has already ruled that the Legislature does indeed possess the inherent power to legislate on any subject at any time regardless of a pending referendum. In the present instance, the question to be answered is in the context of an initiative, but the primary issue is whether the Constitution grants the Legislature the inherent power to legislate at any time, except on subjects expressly prohibited to it like the death penalty or a graduated income tax. The Michigan Constitution contains no provisions limiting the Legislature pre-sine die, meaning before lawmakers adjourn for the remainder of the session.
If the three Democrat-nominated justices keep either or both Viviano and Clement in their new majority to deny an advisory opinion or they rewrite Article 2, Section 9, in a way that limits the Legislature’s inherent power to legislate, then the Michigan political scene and Michigan jurisprudence will, in fact, have undergone an epic transformation.
“It just doesn’t work, and I’m not going to sign it,” Whitmer said on a MIRS news service podcast published Monday. “So it’ll be a long summer. People need to prepare to work here and stay here until the job is done.”
The East Lansing Democrat has spent weeks traveling the state and pitching her proposal to raise diesel and gas taxes by 45 cents per gallon, which would give Michigan the highest fuel tax in the country and generate about $2.5 billion a year, with $1.9 billion in extra funding going toward crumbling roads.
Republican lawmakers have called Whitmer’s plan a non-starter, but the governor has urged them to present an alternative road funding plan, which they are expected to do.
But Whitmer, in the podcast interview, vowed that state government is “not going to shut down, because we’re going to stay here all summer to get this done,” suggesting lawmakers should delay their traditional legislative summer break.
“I am serious about it,” she said. “The people of our state elected me because I believe they want me to fix the damn roads. They want honestly in budgeting, and they want real solutions, not half-measures and shell games. And that’s exactly what I put on the table.”
While the schedule is tentative and subject to change, the Michigan Senate is not expected to meet during a five-week summer break period in July and August. The tentative House schedule includes two session days for July and August.
Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder had repeatedly signed finished budgets by June, ahead of the summer break, but that prospect appears increasingly unlikely during the first era of divided government in eight years.
Speaker: No ‘artificial’ deadline
House Speaker Lee Chatfield has made clear he is not committed to a summer budget deal, saying he “will not compromise the product based on an artificially set date.”
“We are currently spending a record amount on roads and are serious about further investing the right amount to fix the problem,” Chatfield, R-Levering, said Monday in a statement to The Detroit News.
“But if that doesn’t qualify as a fix, I could put her gas tax hike on the board and watch it fail.”
None of the state’s 148 legislators has introduced a bill for a 45-cent gas tax increase.
The House is developing a plan that would devote every dollar paid at the pump to roads, Chatfield said in a recent op-ed, reiterating his desire to exempt fuel purchases from the state sales tax, which is used to fund K-12 schools and local governments.
The pending alternative also would use “existing funds in the budget” and discard a new funding distribution formula proposed by Whitmer, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey “would also like to see additional money for roads,” said spokeswoman Amber McCann, and “the Senate is also discussing road funding options.”
The Clarklake Republican has indicated he’d like to separate the road funding debate from negotiations over the larger state government budget, an approach Whitmer has warned against.
“If they have an alternative that gets us to $2.5 billion in additional funding, I’m all ears,” Whitmer said. “But until then, let’s get serious about my budget.”
The governor maintains the proposed gas tax revenue is a central part of her proposed $60.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2020 — up from a 2019 budget of $56.8 billion. Her plan would also free up General Fund dollars to fund university operations, which would allow the state to spend more School Aid Fund revenue on K-12 classrooms.
Throwing down gauntlet
In other moves, Whitmer wants to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to offset the fuel tax impact on the working poor and argues better roads will help motorists avoid expensive vehicle repair bills.
The governor campaigned on a pledge to “fix the damn roads” and is wise to “lay down the gauntlet on this issue,” said Jen Eyer, a Democratic strategist and vice president at Vanguard Public Affairs in Lansing.
The gas tax proposal is “not a popular thing, but it actually raises the amount of revenue to fix the problem, and I think she’s really boxed (lawmakers) into a corner on this,” Eyer said.
But Whitmer could face competing calls to complete an early budget, said longtime Lansing insider Bill Ballenger, who noted that school districts have come to rely on summer funding certainty to craft their own yearly spending plans.
“She’s going to create undue pressure on herself that I don’t think is going to be a plus for her,” said Ballenger, a former lawmaker who served as a Republican.
“I honestly think the Legislature has the most leverage,” he said. “I have never seen a legislator lose an election for refusing to vote for a tax increase.”
Sen. Wayne Schmidt, a Traverse City Republican who chairs a transportation appropriations subcommittee, said Whitmer’s declaration she won’t sign a budget without a long-term road funding deal will not change his approach as he seeks consensus during negotiations.
“We just continue to work on it,” Schmidt said. “There could be additional dollars in there — I don’t know if they’re going to come from her thought about a 45-cent gas tax increase or if we move dollars from somewhere else. I don’t want to put any ultimatums on it.”
Does 2015 road law count?
Some Republicans argue that any road spending targets — such as the governor’s call for $2.5 billion in new money — should include revenue from the 2015 funding law that increased fuel taxes and registration fees.
That plan will generate an additional $1.2 billion annually by 2021 once a $600 million General Fund redirection is complete. But officials anticipate the need is much larger and that road quality will continue to deteriorate.
“Everybody said that was a good first bite at the apple,” Schmidt said of the 2015 law. While Shirkey has said he’s open to new revenue, Senate Republicans also “want to make sure the current program is being properly spent, see what kind of results we’re getting and go from there,” he said.
Whitmer has not said whether she would sign a budget that included fewer road funding dollars than she initially proposed. But when asked about that possibility on Tuesday, the governor’s office pointed to a recently published flow chart suggesting lawmakers should “try again” if they propose an alternative that raises less than $2.5 billion.
“The governor has made it clear she’s not signing a budget that doesn’t include a real plan to fix the roads, and she’s made it very clear what a real plan to fix the roads must look like,” said spokeswoman Tiffany Brown.