The original song has long since ended, but the melody lingers on.
Translating that into Michigan politics, the poem’s rhyme scheme in 1994 ran “Shared Power/Majority/Shared Power,” but in 2023 it reads either “Majority/Shared Power/Majority” or maybe just “Solid Majority,” period.
Here’s what we’re talking about:
Two Democratic state Representatives — Lori Stone of Warren and Kevin Coleman of Westland — both
finished second in their Aug. 8 mayoral primaries, so both now advance to the November 7 general
election in their respective cities.
The Westland mayoral contest is a special election to fill out the remaining two years
of the term of longtime Mayor Bill Wild, who resigned last January. If Coleman leapfrogs ahead of interim Mayor Mike
Londeau, Coleman can be sworn in as soon as the election results are certified by the Wayne County
Board of Canvassers, probably around Nov. 15. Coleman would then resign from the Michigan House of Representatives and be
sworn-in as the new mayor of Westland.
If Lori Stone overtakes George Dimas, the first-place finisher on Aug. 8, her four-year term as mayor would begin under the terms of the Warren city charter on the Monday (November 13) following the election. She would resign from the House immediately. If Coleman also resigns, the state House — now split 56D/54R — would suddenly become 54D/54R until special elections called by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to fill the vacancies.
Expect Whitmer to set those special election dates as quickly as election law permits. The election bureau
estimates it could take up to 120 days to call and hold primaries and a general election in a special election
for the state Legislature. Of course, if both Coleman and Stone lose, none of this will be necessary.
UNDER CURRENT HOUSE RULES, THERE IS NO ‘SHARED POWER’ REDUX FOR THE GOP EVEN IF THERE IS A TIE
In that interim period before the specials, would the House Speakership suddenly be split between current Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) and the Republican Leader, state Rep. Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp), making them effectively Co-Speakers?
No. In such an interim period, current House Rule 77 permits a shared power agreement between Tate and Hall ONLY if the House is evenly split 55-55. Under current House rules, a 54-54 House would allow Joe Tate to remain as the sole Speaker and all the committee chairs to be Democrats. Republicans would have to secure 56 votes through party switches or recalls to call for a new Speaker election. Under these current rules, even a 55-55 partisan split does not REQUIRE ‘shared power’ akin to Michigan’s experiment in ‘shared power’ three decades ago.
What WAS ‘shared power,’ anyway? In the same November 1992 election that elected Bill Clinton President over George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot, Michigan state House elections resulted in a 55-55 partisan split. That led to a ‘shared power’ agreement in operation between January 1, 1993, and December 31, 1994, between Republican House Leader Paul Hillegonds and Democratic House Leader Curtis Hertel, Sr. The state Senate was majority Republican.
In the House, Republican Leader Hillegonds and Democratic Leader Hertel, Sr., served as Co-Speakers. Each month the Speakership
switched. In a month when Republican Hillegonds was Speaker, Democrats served as chairs of the evenly split committees between Rs and Ds. Any month Democrat Hertel served as Speaker, Republicans served as chairs of the evenly split committees between Rs and Ds.
That arrangement could have fallen apart after less than one year, when two Democratic state Representatives — David Hollister and Charlie Harrison — chose to give up their House seats in anticipation of term limits scheduled to go into effect in 1998. Instead, in November, 1993, they got themselves elected as mayors of Lansing and Pontiac, respectively. They both resigned on January 1, 1994, from the Michigan House to
be sworn-in as mayors.
Shortly thereafter, on February 16, 1994, another Democratic state Representative, Stephen Shepich of Iron River in the Upper Peninsula, also resigned. Shepich had been implicated in the House Fiscal Agency scandal and entered into a guilty plea agreement requiring his resignation from the House. Here was a third vacancy.
Two of those three vacancies were in solidly Democratic districts. The 110th district was also viewed as a Democratic stronghold. However, the district in 1991-1992 had been unexpectedly represented by Republican Stephen Dresch, an academic dean at Michigan Tech who held a Ph.D. in economics from Yale. His election was viewed by many Democrats as a fluke. Dresch gave up his seat after only one term to run unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination to Congress against former U.S. Rep. Phil Ruppe, who was attempting a political comeback 14 years after not seeking reelection in his old district. Ruppe went on to lose that November to Democrat Bart Stupak.
Shepich, who had worked at the House Fiscal Agency in Lansing as a protege of longtime House Appropriations Committee chairman Dominic Jacobetti (D-Negaunee), won the Dresch open seat in 1992, bringing the 110th district back into the Democratic fold, giving the Democratic caucus one of its 55 members.
Governor John Engler called special general elections in all three districts for April 26, 1994. Republicans during that nearly four-month period had either a two- or three-seat advantage, but continued to follow the shared power arrangement of switching Speakers and committee chairs each month because they did not have 56 votes to end the shared power agreement.
Following those three special elections, the party balance was restored to 55-55, but the 110th district was a cliffhanger. Dresch tried to reclaim his old House seat in the April 26 special election but lost to Democrat Paul Tesanovich by only 39 votes. Dresch, amazingly, did not request a recount. Had Dresch won, Republicans would have had their 56th seat to end “shared power.”
But Republicans had had a nearly four-month ‘window’ — from January to late April — during which time they held either a 55-53 or 55-52 edge and could have taken advantage of it to steamroll the (temporarily) minority Democrats. Did they?
No. Instead, Republicans exercised partisan restraint from January to mid-March, 1994, for several reasons.
First, the GOP leadership believed Democrats would eventually win those three special elections (which they did, barely in the 110th). Second, Hillegonds and Hertel were lauded in the media in Michigan and nationally for their demonstrated statesmanship and civility in making shared power work. Finally, Governor Engler wanted voters to first pass Proposal A on the March 15, 1994, statewide ballot before any legislative gamesmanship. Proposal A was a measure to restructure K-12 school finance away from property taxes to an increase in the state sales tax. Engler did not want a partisan war going on in the Legislature before voters cast their ballots on Proposal A. His strategy worked. Proposal A wound-up passing overwhelmingly, ensuring Engler’s gubernatorial re-election the following November over Democrat Howard Wolpe.
That nearly four-month ‘Trifecta’ of GOP control would end on April 26, 1994, when the special House election votes were tallied. Who among Republicans knew when their monopoly of executive and legislative power would ever pass their way again?
So with just three weeks left of Trifecta Power (between mid-March and late April), Republicans struck.
The first target was teacher unions, with amendments to the Public Employees Relations Act (PERA). This legislation put teeth in the law banning teacher strikes.
Second were amendments to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act (MCFA) extending the ban on corporate contributions to labor unions, banning unions from making political contributions from mandatory union dues, and requiring unions to form PACs to collect voluntary individual contributions. PACs were prohibited from using “reverse check-off” to collect political contributions. Those MCFA amendments also required annual affirmative consent for PAC payroll deductions.
Finally, there were amendments to the Charitable Gaming Act making all political committees registered under Michigan’s campaign finance law ineligible to receive “bingo” and millionaire party gaming licenses.
Flash forward to 2023 — with Trifecta Power since January 1, Governor Whitmer and legislative Democrats have moved aggressively on many fronts. On labor legislation, they repealed the state’s Right-to-Work law in the private sector and scaled back prohibited subjects of collective bargaining in the public sector. They also moved ‘progressively’ on abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, election law, and gun safety.
However, if Stone and Coleman both leave the House in mid-November, the partisan breakdown would slip to 54-54 after the traditional hunting/Thanksgiving recess. Such a dynamic is giving new life to rumors, particularly on the House side, of an early sine die adjournment by the Legislature.
If Stone and Coleman both win on Nov. 7, Democrats would no longer be able to pass whatever they want until after the special elections in the 13th and 25th state House Districts sometime next year.
And an early adjournment also would allow several pieces of legislation that didn’t receive the needed Republican support for Immediate Effect (IE) in the Senate to take effect earlier next year than would be the case otherwise. Michigan’s Constitution says a new law cannot take effect until 90 days after the legislative session which passed that law adjourns sine die. Adjourning in the fall rather than the usual Dec. 31 would start the 90-day clock for those new laws to go into effect earlier. Some legislation House Democrats may be eying includes:
* The Feb. 27, 2024, presidential primary. Without sine die or a new Senate vote for IE, it can’t happen.
* Proposal 2 (approved by voters in 2022) implementation language. Forget about the presidential primary election — the new rules on drop boxes, security cameras, and absentee ballots can’t take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.
* Labor reforms such as restoration of prevailing wage. Big Labor, in particular, wants those laws in effect by February, which is when many city governments start nailing down their construction projects for the coming fiscal year.
* Tax cuts. Whether it’s the expanded retirement exemptions or the larger Earned Income Tax Credit, they don’t go into effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, which ordinarily would be Dec. 31. Wouldn’t it be nice if the citizenry got those tax breaks earlier?
So don’t be surprised if the Michigan Legislature adjourns sine die perhaps sometime after Halloween. After sine die, Governor Whitmer is empowered under the Michigan Constitution to call the Legislature back into special session in November or December with the agenda for such a session being set by the governor. But since the Democratic majority in the Legislature and Whitmer are in sync on almost everything, it would be easy for them to team up on an agreed-upon boiler plate agenda that could be enacted in a special session just as easily as if the Legislature hadn’t adjourned sine die in the first place.
If it is still a 56-54 or even a 55-54 state House, the special session agenda will be more aggressive. However, if it is a 54-54 House, a special session may not even be called, or, if one is, the agenda will consist of noncontroversial clean up bills.