Rating Democrats’ and Republican Performance in the Legislature; Does Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Need the GOP Anymore for Anything?; Who will win the Coming Battle over Tax Cuts and Who Deserves Credit for them?
Question 1): Using an A to F scale, what grade do Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative Democrats deserve for their performance so far now that they control everything in the state capital for the first time in 40 years? What have they been doing well? Could they do anything better?
Answer 1): They deserve an A- for their swift execution of their party’s long-sought goals such as reinstating prevailing wage, scuttling right-to-work, embellishing abortion rights, expanding LGBTQ protections, boosting the EITC and voiding the so-called ‘pension tax,’ protecting third graders who can’t read; and gun reform, to name a few. But not all of those achievements, including the statutory language they’ve used to enact them, are universally popular. Time will tell whether all of these new laws, or at least some of them, will come back to bite them. And they should realize that, now that their goals have been enacted into law, their salience as “wedge issues” that they can exploit favorably in a political campaign will diminish (abortion may be an exception, because Republicans keep harping on it to their detriment). As for content, and what Democrats have left to do, it’s hard to give what they’ve chosen to concentrate on more than a C. What about issues voters really care about, like inflation, education reform, and, yes, THE ROADS? That’s what Gov. Gretchen WHITMER championed in her first term. If Democrats want to maintain their vaunted ‘trifecta,’ that’s what deserves attention. Their approach to economic development through ad hoc corporate giveaways from state government is controversial, even within their own party. Chasing dwindling, low-paying manufacturing jobs is not a formula for long-term success. Will they realize they should focus their economic development dollars on attracting and retaining the talent needed for jobs of the future? That will come through more investment in colleges, universities, and local governments. Let’s see if that plays out in their shaping of a FY 2023-24 budget in the coming months.
Question 2): Using the same A to F scale, what grade should Republicans get for their performance so far as the minority party in the Legislature? What have they been doing well? Could they do anything better?
Answer 2): Republicans in the Legislature deserve relatively high marks, considering their hapless position — let’s say B+. It’s hard to blame GOP lawmakers alone for the greater challenges their party is facing. They haven’t splintered, but it appears that the divide within the party statewide is only continuing to grow, which has a ripple effect on the priorities it champions in the Legislature. If Republicans want to make any headway this year in signaling to voters that they can actually function as a unified party, they need to find a way to move past the cultural issues that motivate their base and work on the kitchen table issues that will win back moderate voters to their side. Despite having a bad hand to play, the GOP legislative leaders — Matt Hall in the House and Aric Nesbitt in the Senate — and most of the two freshmen-filled GOP caucuses have performed admirably with no help from anyone else in the Michigan Republican Party, which is a near-shambles. The grade for the party structure of the Michigan GOP is probably somewhere below ‘F’ so far. Chairperson Kristina Karamo makes it nearly impossible for any Republican legislative leader to get any press, if they had a good issue to put forward. But Karamo is just a symptom of the fact that Michigan has a Donald TRUMP problem like no other state, except maybe Arizona.
Question 3): How much, or little, will Gov. Gretchen Whitmer need to work with legislative Republicans during this year’s budget process?
Answer 3): Whitmer of all people should realize that fashioning a budget always provides opportunities for gaining support from individual legislators from the ‘other side’ (in this case, Republicans) who have an interest in particular initiatives. However, Whitmer has spent virtually her entire time as governor working out her rage against past Republican-controlled Legislatures in which she spent 14 years and got virtually nothing done (only three public acts in all that time). Accordingly, her modus operandi so far in 2023 has not been to seek bipartisan consensus but to get majority Democratic lawmakers to bend to her will. But she’s got to know that holding a Democratic ‘trifecta’ doesn’t mean every party proposal is a guaranteed win. The margin Democrats hold is razor thin, and next year’s budget is no different than any other policy proposal. Whitmer should work continually with Republicans throughout this session, especially on issues where all Dems may not align. Her economic package early this year included the failed ‘inflation relief checks’ proposal which needed Republican support to pass. That issue alone should have been enough to tip off Democrats that they should lean in to bipartisan solutions where possible going into budget season.
Question 4): Michigan’s tax rate has just been reduced from 4.25% to 4.05% because of a bill that the GOP enacted eight years ago. They thought it was a permanent cut, but Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel has opined that it is for only one year. Her opinion could be challenged and overturned in court. Could the Republicans turn this disagreement into a winning issue for them politically next year?
Answer 4): It should become a winning issue for Republicans unless they mangle the messaging, which they’re surely capable of doing. If voters continue to be plagued by inflation, the GOP should argue that the 2015 law was meant to trigger a permanent, not a small one-year tax reduction, and then challenge AG Dana NESSEL‘s opinion in court. Any argument over permanent tax cuts could win over some voters come election season, but it’s more of a technical issue for policy wonks than campaign material. Time will tell how much a 0.2% tax reduction will mean to voters, but the image of Democrats presiding over what could be portrayed as a tax hike in an election year could indeed hurt them at the ballot box. This might be a chance for Republicans to make the most out of one of their party’s main policy platforms. It’s not a ‘stand-alone’ issue, but as part of a list of tax grievances against Democrats, and any litigation over the Attorney General’s interpretation that gets into the Legislature’s actual intent, could be helpful to the GOP.
Michigan GOP in “near shambles”? Heh!
Consider these facts:
(A) the long time Lansing HQ of the state party is no longer being used by the current chairperson – the advertised headquarters is a post office box in Grand Rapids;
(B) the state party organization exists virtually – with phones, fax lines and e-mail addresses – and the current hierarchy leaders are trying to figure out what office space to acquire in selected areas to administer their affairs;
(C) Dan Hartman is new legal counsel to the Michigan GOP – he had earlier represented Mark Forton in his victorious court case where Forton was judicially recognized as the rightful Macomb GOP chair;
(D) at the first Kristina Karamo-chaired MIGOP State Committee meeting in Clare a few days ago, the event was marred where one committeeperson landed an overhand right to the head of the Kalamazoo Republican Party chairperson – an apparent dispute between the Deperno and Karamo factions;
(E) monetary donations to MIGOP have slowed to a trickle.
Despite such adversity, the grassroots is revelling in the charismatic Kristina Karamo-Malinda Pego leadership – showing up at the monthly county party meetings whooping and hollering with their MAGA hats on – who could ask for more?
Tim Sullivan says
Nice article, Bill. Hard to argue with the first two assessments, they seem spot on.
As for number 3, it is my understanding that a pair of Democratic state reps are looking at running for mayor or some local office within their districts. For a period of time, they may lose their House majority, so I would anticipate a more aggressive effort by Whitmer to get their stuff done then adjourn sine die until their replacements are elected. And pray she does not have to call the legislature back until AFTER those elections.
As for number four, it is my understanding that an AG’s opinion is good only as long as a court of competent jurisdiction does not overturn it. So the question is whether the GOP will try their luck in the courts (I assume the Court of Claims) or wait to fight it out in the 2024 election. If fought out in court, it would eventually get to the Supremes. But with Bernstein out of state on a mental health leave of absence of unknown length – which says something about the state of Michigan’s mental health system and our psych hospitals, and Clement in a position to recuse herself, it would put Justice Bolden in a very unique situation heading into a 2024 election to see if she will remain on the bench. Such a campaign might force the GOP donor class to at least pretend to bury the hatchet with Karamo. Maybe.
Robin K. says
Bury the hatchet with Kristina Karamo – the donor class?
A great idea – but doubtful. Both sides need to realize that they need each other to have an effective state party.
Kristina has popularity that Ron Weiser wished he had among the grassroots.
Kristina, on the other hand, will have to realize that she needs to mend fences for the GOP’s own good. All Republican activists need to see that Ron Weiser and Dick DeVos have performed a lot of hard work for Republicans the past three decades – and are both deserving of accolades.
Paul Warrick says
What we need in Michigan and across the country is less talk about tax cuts, less donor class money in politics, a ton less demagoguery targeting our most vulnerable populations, and more policy experts in elected office. Right now the Republican Party needs a major overhaul. They have lost their way.
A graduated income tax would probably do a lot of good in this state as well. Just saying.
Ed Haynor says
Very well said.
Jack Lessenberry says
well, exactly. Which would require a constitutional amendment
Robin K. says
You are absolutely right about the need for a constitutional amendment.
The U.S. Congress had attempted several times to enact a graduated income tax but each time it was struck down as unconstitutional in the federal courts.
It was not until the Sixteenth Amendment was adopted in 1913 could the U.S. government levy a graduated income tax.legally.
The State of Michigan Constitution needs to have a similar constitutional amendment to allow such a state income tax.
John C Stewart says
So YOU-Bill Ballenger-say “the Michigan GOP need to win back MODERATE VOTERS.” I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH YOU. Hope to see you Thursday night in the Lansing Center MPLP. I am still looking for INTELLECTUAL HONESTY in The Michigan Republican Party.
John C Stewart says
Does anybody think the Democrats won’t continue to “WEAPONIZE” Reproductive Rights ? Does anybody think the Democrats won’t continue to “WEAPONIZE” “Safe Storage” and ” Universal Background checks” to protect Michigan’s children ?