Question 1): If there was any doubt that Michigan Democrats would move quickly and boldly to enact an agenda that many of them didn’t talk much about in last year’s general election campaign but could have been expected to support if their candidates won (most of whom did), it has been dispelled.
Republicans’ worst fears about what Democrats would do if they took charge in Lansing are being realized.
In brief, Democrats are pressing ahead with a torrent of ‘progressive’ measures, the boldest assertion yet of their new political power since taking full control of state government this year for the first time in four decades — and there is much more on the way.
Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appeared with CNN journalist Chris WALLACE in Ann Arbor and told the University of Michigan audience that she had met with both the Senate and House Democratic caucuses after the election and urged them, “Don’t use the term ‘mandate.'” No, don’t use it; just act as though you have it, and do it. That’s what’s happening.
Here’s a short list of what Democrats are ramming through the Legislature to be approved by Whitmer:
— A repeal of the state’s 10-year-old Right to Work law and the restoration of the prevailing wage law on public construction projects shot out of a House committee and passed the House last week on straight, 56-53 party-line votes. Democratic legislators pushed out the bills to “restore the balance in negotiations” between owners and workers and give “unions their rights back” after Republican majorities instituted these “worker freedom” reforms during the Gov. Rick SNYDER years. On their face, HB 4004 and HB 4005 would scrap the ability for workers to refuse to join a union or pay fees to cover the costs of union negotiators in both the public and private workplace. HB 4007 brings back a requirement that construction workers on state government projects be paid the standard wage for similar projects in the same geographical area.
— With a 64-45 bipartisan vote (eight Republicans), the House also passed SB 4 , legislation to make Michigan the 24th state to give civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community, regardless of objections on religious grounds. All the House Democrats were joined in support of the measure by Republican Reps. Timothy BESON (R-Bay City), Matthew BIERLEIN (R-Vassar), Graham FILLER (R-St. Johns), Mike MUELLER (R-Linden) Kathy SCHMALTZ (R-Jackson), Bill G. SCHUETTE (R-Midland), Mark TISDEL (R-Rochester Hills) and Pauline WENDZEL (R-Coloma) in support. SB 4 previously passed the Senate and will be sent to Whitmer shortly.
— Spurred by the late February murders of three MSU students, the core of Democrats’ firearm safety bills — consisting of ‘safe storage’ mandates, an ‘extreme risk protection order act’ (red flag) for temporary gun removals, and ‘universal background check’ measures — was moved out of a Senate committee last Thursday. Six bills in total were adopted by the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety committee. The Senate committee action took place the day after the House approved HB 4138 , HB 4142 and HB 4143 through consecutive party-line votes, requiring all new firearm purchasers –- both for pistols and long guns –- to be registered and run through a background check. (See “Expanded Background Checks On Guns Passes House,” 3/8/2023).
— State laws impacted by Michigan’s now unenforceable 1931 abortion ban would be erased from the books under bills the Senate approved last week following consecutive party-line votes and multiple amendment efforts by Republicans to link the repeal with regulations. The 1931 abortion ban made it a felony to administer miscarriage-inducing drugs or perform an abortion procedure. The law was put on the shelf by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, but brought back to life after the Dobbs decision of 2022. WHITMER and Planned Parenthood were able to block the ’31 law from going into effect through legal maneuvers for several months. Then Proposal 3 was passed by Michigan voters last November and the 1931 abortion ban became virtually comatose once again. But the Michigan Democrats want to make sure it can never come back to life.
—- Democrats can even boast they’ve provided $1 billion annually in tax relief to seniors and the low-and middle income citizenry — more Michiganders will be able to write off their retirement income from state taxation, and the working poor will have a larger state break (called the Earned Income Tax Credit) under legislation WHITMER signed into law last week.
— Corporate welfare for Big Business? The Democrats got that done, too, and Whitmer will have a hand in deciding who gets it. HB 4001, already signed into law, drops between $460 million and $500 million into a fund to attract large-dollar development projects each year for the next three years. A housing development fund and a placemaking fund also will receive $50 million each over the next three years under this new law. Whitmer and the Democrats failed to get $180 ‘relief’ checks out to all Michigan tax filers only because Senate Republicans refused to give the bill Immediate Effect. Whitmer dismissed the GOP tactic as a “procedural mechanism” rather than the constitutional mandate that it is. MIRS newsletter asked Senate Majority Leader Aric NESBITT (R-Lawton) why Republicans didn’t support the rebate checks. “Because we wanted a permanent tax cut for all working families in the state of Michigan (lowering the state’s income levy by .2%) while she wanted a one-time rebate with a marriage penalty,” he answered.
— Third grade students who aren’t able to read at grade level will no longer be required by the state to repeat the grade under legislation that also cleared the House last week, 57-51. Rep. Timothy BESON (R-Bay City) joined the chamber’s 56 Democrats in voting yes on the bill., which repeals a five-year old statute enacted by then-majority Republicans. The bill will now head back to the Senate to be enrolled and sent to the Governor, who will sign it.
— Amazingly, a controversial — and probably unconstitutional — electoral reform idea long championed by Democrats looks like it has a new lease on life. The House Elections Committee held its first hearings last week on legislation that would give the green light to join what is called the “National Popular Vote compact.” Rep. Carrie A. RHEINGANS (D-Ann Arbor)‘s HB 4156 would put Michigan in the compact, which would mandate that Michigan must cast its Electoral College votes for the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote, regardless of whether he or she wins Michigan. House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Kalamazoo) blasted the measure, but it won’t matter if all the legislative Democrats want it, and so far they’ve been voting in lockstep, with few exceptions.
What is noteworthy in the Democrats’ success is how remarkably well they have stayed united, including virtually all of the many freshmen. Gone are the days when so-called ‘moderate’ Democrats might have resisted much of their leaders’ agenda. Supporters of Proposal 3 in 2018, which created a new independent redistricting commission, professed that it would create more ‘marginal’ and ‘swing’ legislative districts that would lead to more ‘consensus’ among state lawmakers who would henceforth ‘meet in the middle.’ On paper, it appeared that is what the commission created with its new maps, but in practice it hasn’t happened. Democrats are acting just as they did in 1933, 1945-46. 1993-94, 1965-66 and 2009-10. Moreover, the control Governor Whitmer exercises over the two Democratic caucuses is nearly total. Her new ‘legislative liaison’ is former Senator Curtis Hertel, Jr., who exercises far more power over the Senate today than he ever did as a minority member for eight years. What Hertel tells the Senate Democrats to do in the name of the governor, they do.
Should it be a surprise that state Democratic lawmakers are moving this fast on so much hot-button legislation, some of it controversial and even unpopular, according to surveys? Will they pay the price at the polls next year?
Answer 1): What Democrats are doing was predictable for two reasons — 1) It’s a truism in politics that, if a political party assumes control of ANY government (especially since it’s been 40 years since Michigan Democrats had it), they move fast to enact their main goals at the beginning of a legislative session. Why? Because lawmakers prefer to avoid casting these votes later and closer to the next general election a year and a half from now, especially if some of them prove to be unpopular with the broad electorate; and 2) If the issue of ‘Immediate Effect’ again becomes a problem (as it already has with HB 4001 two weeks ago), Democrats want to get as much done as possible so that they can adjourn ‘sine die’ and start the clock running toward when the new laws will take effect, including next year’s Democratic presidential primary. Whether there will be a backlash against what Democrats are doing remains to be seen. There was a state backlash in 1966 under circumstances similar to today, and in 2009-10 at both the national and state levels because of the actions taken by President Barack Obama and a heavily Democratic Congress in 2009. Democrats are also aware that Michigan Republicans are currently foundering, and there are really only the two Senate and House minority leaders — Senator Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and Rep. Matt Hall (R-Kalamazoo) — to articulate opposition to what the Democrats are doing. The rest of the Michigan GOP is rudderless, and Democrats want to take advantage of that while they can.
Question 2): Can Republicans offer anything much that shows what they stand for and what they have accomplished in the recent past? In other words, a rationale as to why voters should reward them next year instead of the Democrats?
Answer 2): Hall and Nesbitt have been touting the forthcoming rollback in the state income tax from 4.25% to 4.05% that the Michigan GOP put in place back in 2015 and that so far they have ‘protected’ from attempts by Whitmer to keep it from happening. In fact, the Republicans still can’t be sure that it WILL happen because the governor continues to try to undermine it. Going back to an earlier day, Gov. John Engler sums up a lot of what Republican dominance of government meant, and what it could still mean going forward, in his nearly three-hour interview that has just been posted on the Michigan Political History Society website. Here’s the link:
James J. Blanchard Living Library Of Michigan Political History | Governor John M. Enger (jjblivinglibrary.com)
The GOP needs to emphasize tax reform. It was that issue that endeared Michigan voters to John Engler in 1994 and 1998 when they gave him a landslide victory and a mandate to govern.
The Democrats say: “Let them be fixated on overturning the 2020 election – we are achieving a mandate from Michigan voters on pro-choice abortion issues, civil rights law expansion to cover the LGBT community and gun control.”
The Democrats have promoted minority members to leadership positions within government – including the first American Indian in the Michigan Court of Appeals – and have also promoted them in elections.
Even though Shadia Martini, Padma Kuppa and Aisha Farooqi lost their respective races in the Michigan Legislature election in 2022, the fact that Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan Democratic Party gave them massive support in close races endeared those minority communities they represented to Dems in general.
Kristina Karamo is making inroads by reaching out to minority communities – along with Rola Makki, her newly-elected vice-chair. Delegates at the last election saw diversity as a long-neglected commodity in the state GOP leadership. Karamo is also pushing political issues with GOP legislators at a level not previously observed in a GOP chair.
GOP donors are taking a wait-and-see attitude on Kristina Karamo before they start committing significant funding into MIGOP coffers. But the MAGA-loving precinct delegate base in Michigan is reveling in the election and investiture of a fellow true believer – Ms. Karamo.
The GOP needs to find an organizing principle all can rally around – and tax reform has historically been that issue.
Eri Petersen says
Considering how much damage the Michigan Damocrats have caused already, I shudder to think what they will do during the rest of their terms.
Hoping Michigan Republican will wake up and get busy and take back the Michigan legislature so that we can reverse all of the Damocrat Damage.
Tom Shields says
Bill, great job on your interview of John Engler. There are few people who could fill in historical details for the Governor. Can’t wait for part 2.
John C Stewart says
Since John Engler’s win more than 25 years ago (1998),the Michigan Republicans have only won 2 Statewide elections for Governor and US Senate- that was Snyder-Calley in 2010 & 2014. NOT going to happen again unless the Repubs. nominate a moderately-conservative candidate. I served as State Rep. (2000-2006) and John Engler’s last 2 years were 2000-2002. INTELLECTUAL HONESTY !
The SCOTUS has already ruled (years ago) that these laws are unconstitutional and Marbury v Madison, 1803 still stands as the final word. Whitler can sign all the laws she wants, but the Second Amendment is the final word. “The right of the People to KEEP AND BEAR ARMS, SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.” The Second Amendment was written because of the threats to Liberty that politicians like these domestic enemies in Lansing present. God Bless America!
dan murphy says
Is the Governor’s” legislative Liaison” ,former Sen. Curtis Hertel ,the Chief Puppeteer and enforcer of the ideological and Progressive based Agendas which the Guv. seeks to enshrine into Michigan law ? Are there any Legislators with backbone to bring independent Reasoning back into the Legislative process and to seek what is in the long term interests of Michigan and for all of the Citizens ?
Another thing. The Democrats seem to not know the difference between “governing” and “ruling.” The Constitution limits government, not the other way around.