Question 1): The weakest ‘lame duck’ session of the Legislature in at least two decades ended last Wednesday after a mere two active days. The session was aborted largely because of the collapse of a deal that would have green lighted $200 million for an Upper Peninsula economic development project in exchange for a niche business tax cut.
The lame duck ended with the possibility of numerous bills previously passed being vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer because the Legislature left without acting on her top priority — moving up the 2024 presidential primary from the second Tuesday in March to coincide with the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) new Michigan primary date of Feb. 27.
Legislative Democrats know that they will seize the majorities in both chambers beginning in January. If they stay united, they can get whatever they want, cheered on by Whitmer, who will pretty much call the tune on a variety of issues. The only bargaining chip the minority Republicans are likely to have is Immediate Effect on legislation, which may prove to be important on moving the prez primary up on the 2024 calendar. Without IE, a bill changing the date to Feb. 27 will be inoperative if it doesn’t become law until April 1, 2024.
So, what should Whitmer aim for? A retired long-time state employee has some ideas:
Answer 1): If Whitmer wants to mess with the GOP’s collective heads, she should do the following, in this order:
1. Name a replacement for Janet McClelland, the current chair of the four-member Civil Service Commission (CSC). NOW. Her term ends at year’s end. She’s one of two nominal independents on the CSC. The two partisan members are Nick Ciaramitaro (Democrat) and former state House Speaker Jase Bolger (Republican). The governor’s appointee to an eight-year term succeeding McClelland is not subject to advice and consent from the Senate, and, even it was, the Democrats will control the Senate after Jan. 1 and would not block Whitmer’s choice. Since not more than two members can be from the same political party, that opens the way for Whitmer to appoint a Democrat. So, who should she name? Perhaps someone from the Michigan Education Association (MEA) or the Michigan Federation of Teachers (MFT). It might make things a bit harried for union contracts until the end of 2024 by which time Republican Bolger will have exited the panel, but it will set a tone. What better way to let the Mackinac Center and tax cut types know that the rules (both civil service and how government will be run) are being changed.
2. First bill up in the new year should be repealing the retiree tax, which Whitmer called for in her 2018 campaign but which never got done. There should be strong bipartisan support in the Legislature for this, even though the removal of most of the tax credit on retirees’ pensions was a Republican idea championed by former Gov. Rick Snyder. If Whitmer and legislative Democrats make this move, it will generate lots of good PR for all of them and will have consequences down the road (more on this later).
3. Resurrect an idea from none other than state Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mt.). Put the Corrections Officers back into a defined benefit pension plan with actual retiree health insurance. The time to announce this would be when Whitmer gives her inaugural address, and she could mention that it was LaFave’s idea and that good ideas know no party. This will infuriate the establishment/business wing of the GOP and the no-tax zealots in it. They loathe public employee defined benefit pensions and retiree health insurance, but, by giving it a GOP shout out, it might make for an uncomfortable Republican or three in the legislature. Given the Democratic control of both chambers, it should pass.
4. Announce a plan to rebuild our mental health system. The Detroit News’s Karen Bouffard wrote a series of articles on mental health in Michigan back in November 2019. This could be used as a template for the changes needed. The state needs hundreds of beds for adults and children but no plan to do anything about it. Whitmer can be vague about it, but she has to let us know this will cost money.
5. Repeal Right to Work. This can be the most fun for the Democrats. The business establishment will, of course, defecate cinder blocks and cornerstones over it. The Detroit News will have fits of apoplexy. But the most fun can be had at the expense of the “populist” GOP wing. A truly populist wing should have NO trouble with repealing right to work, but an establishment/business wing would. Whitmer should point this out in her 2023 inaugural address. Make the Republicans’ “populist” wing decide if they are populist or have surrendered to the establishment.
6. And now the “more” promised a few paragraphs ago. A lot of the above will cost money, and not just a one-time dose of money but continued and ongoing spending. This will preclude the tax cuts championed by the establishment GOP. If the Republicans continue to push tax cuts, who will they be hurting? Corrections officers? The mentally ill? Someone else?
7. And, to rub it in a little more to the GOP establishment, many of the previous Supreme Court rulings done by the GOP majority on the Court during the past two decades overturned lots of precedents that the Democrats and trial lawyers liked. Now it’s payback time. Actual or de facto Chief Justice Richard Bernstein will have so much fun leading the Court in this direction. And while the establishment wing of the GOP whines about that, they need to remember that the foundation for the new Democratic majority on the court was laid down by Rick Snyder. He inherited a 5 – 2 GOP majority on the high bench that John Engler had built, but Snyder and the Michigan GOP leadership pissed it all away. This will also exacerbate the GOP disarray until they figure out if they really want to be a populist party or a business party. These are the two ‘halves’ of the present-day Michigan Republican Party — on one side is the “establishment,” “business” or “traditional” conservative Republicans, and on the other is the “populist” or “alt-Right” or “grass roots” or, let’s say it, Trumpists. The side most angered and frustrated right now is the “establishment” wing of the party. They are upset that the “populist” wing dominated them in 2022 and blame its adherents for the calamitous Nov. 8 result.
But the establishment wing doth protest too much — they long ago forgot how to do their homework. The establishment did not work hard enough to elect delegates or get petitions signed (remember “Quality Control?”) and watched their preferred (albeit questionable) gubernatorial candidates crash and burn. So the establishment zipped up their wallets after the primary and stayed home, spending next to nothing for the executive offices. Instead, they concentrated their spending on the Legislature, forgetting about something called “coattails.” That’s usually a recipe for disaster. So, guess what they got? Disaster.