Question 1): Michigan’s Democrat-controlled Legislature voted last week to repeal the state’s Right to Work (RtW) law, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed it Friday. Michigan enacted RtW in 2012, when the GOP held a majority in both chambers and Republican Rick Snyder was governor. Over the past decade, RtW gave workers the choice of toiling in a unionized workplace without having to pay union dues. Michigan is now the first state in the nation in nearly 60 years to repeal a Right-to-Work statute.
Some business leaders are discussing whether to mount a petition drive to place a constitutional amendment question on the 2024 ballot that would reinstate RtW by enshrining it in the state Constitution. “The Michigan legislature is telling 150,000 hard-working Michiganders that they should be fired for their choice to leave their workplace union,” said Annie Patnaude, state director for the business-friendly Americans for Prosperity/Michigan.
Would Michigan voters support a ballot proposal that would return to workers the right to refuse to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment? For that matter, how daunting would be the task of collecting petition signatures, and how much would it cost to sell it to the electorate next year?
Answer 1): In somewhat of a surprise, a poll released last week showed that 56% of voters would support a ballot measure to reinstate RtW in Michigan, compared with 27% of voters who stated they would oppose – a better than 2-1 majority. The poll was conducted March 13 -17 on behalf of Americans for Prosperity by the Lansing-based firm Marketing Resource Group (MRG).
The survey also showed across-the-board support for the proposal from every geographical area of the state, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, and even 47% of union workers surveyed stated they would support a ballot measure to reinstate a RtW law, while 40% indicated their opposition.
Here is the wording of the question by MRG: “The Michigan legislature is considering repealing the state’s Right-to-Work law. Would you support or oppose a ballot proposal that would reinstitute a Right-to-Work law, which would allow employees the right to work in a unionized workplace without being required to join or pay union dues as a condition of employment?”
The survey of 600 likely Michigan voters was conducted through live interviews March 13-17, with a +1 Dem sample. The sample was randomly drawn from a list of all registered voters with a history of voting, and stratified by city and township to reflect voter turnout. Quotas for gender and cell phone interviews were met within each geographic area, and extra efforts were made to reach African-Americans. 75% of the interviews were conducted with cell phone only or cell phone dominant households. The survey’s margin of error was ±4 percent, with a 95 % degree of confidence.
According to Article 12, Section 2, of Michigan’s Constitution, to get a question amending the state’s basic charter on the statewide general election ballot requires a number of signatures equal to 10% of the total vote cast for governor in the the most recent election (2022). That translates to 446,198 John Hancocks. Realistically, the petitioners would probably have to aim at collecting more than 600,00 signatures to be sure they have a sufficient quantity to overcome flawed or fraudulent petitions and signatures that might be thrown out by the Secretary of State. The deadline for filing the petitions is July 8, 2024, which will be 120 days before the Nov. 5, 2024, general election. Millions of dollars would have to be spent to sell it to the voting public, regardless of its current apparent popularity in the MRG poll. Millions will also be spent to defeat it. Much of that is money that could be spent elsewhere on Democratic and Republican candidates up and down the ballot.
MRG also announced survey findings last week on another issue that doesn’t appear very popular with Michigan voters, either, although nobody is talking about amending the Constitution to stop it. By a better than 2-to-1 margin, Michigan voters oppose the state’s decision to pay $1.6 billion in taxpayer subsidies to Ford Motor Company to build an electric car battery plant in Marshall. The poll showed 61% of voters opposed the subsidy, with only 30% of voters in support. 8% of voters were undecided. The poll was conducted by MRG simultaneously with the March 13-17 survey on RtW.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to spend $1.6 billion of state tax dollars works out to $640,000 for each of the 2,500 jobs that are expected to be created. Ford reported the average job would pay between $40,000 and $45,000 per year.
“Michigan voters overwhelmingly believe there are better ways to spend $1.6 billion in taxpayer dollars,” said MRG owner Jenell Leonard. “There appear to be limits on what the taxpayers are willing to pay, and $640,000 per job is too much.”
MRG (www.mrgmi.com) is a public relations firm representing corporate, association, nonprofit, and private clients with interests in Michigan. MRG offers expertise in public affairs, communications, political campaign management, and public opinion survey research. For more than 30 years, MRG has conducted a bi-annual omnibus Michigan Poll®, tracking the pulse of Michigan voters on key statewide public policy and political issues. MRG is the only Michigan public opinion survey research firm that maintains nearly 40 years of trend analyses of voter attitudes related to state and national leaders, political parties, and the political and economic climate in Michigan. MRG can be followed on Twitter @mrgmichigan and on Facebook.
Question 2): Will the deep divisions within the Michigan Republican Party cost the GOP in 2024? With the party’s leadership now in the hands of rabid amateurs who haven’t proven they can win general elections, can Republican donors and other, more traditional conservatives and moderates figure out a way to ‘end-run’ the MAGA top brass and win primaries for candidates who have a chance to beat Democrats next year?
Answer 2): Yes, but to do so can’t be a last-minute endeavor. They cannot wait until 2024; to have a chance, they must start now. Furthermore, the GOP’s so-called ‘donor class’ is unlikely to be monolithic; it’s more likely to be united only on behalf of something like a ballot proposal to reinstitute Right to Work in Michigan. Otherwise, individuals and well-organized groups and committees will have to cherry-pick races, banding together to raise money in support of their chosen (less-Trumpy) candidates. Those candidates might then be extremely well-funded. However, the real challenge will be whether that will be enough to overcome both MAGA base voters in a primary as well as at the party convention nominating process for statewide candidates. All that said, top GOP party officials have rarely had much to do with who wins races for the state Legislature or local elections, anyway. That’s unlikely to change with less competent people in charge of the party nowadays. Legislative and Congressional elections have always and will always depend on individual candidates and their ability to raise money, their willingness to put in the hard work, how they connect to voters, and a strategy to put it all together.
Question 3): Has anything changed over the past month in the nascent race for Michigan’s 7th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives? That’s the fiefdom being vacated by U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin because she’s running to succeed U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, who is retiring at the end of next year. The 7th is a sprawling enclave encompassing four whole counties (Clinton, Ingham, Livingston, and Shiawassee) and parts of three others (Eaton, Genesee, and Oakland). It’s as near to a 50-50% D/R district as can be found, and some $9 million were spent by and on Slotkin and her Republican opponent, former state Senator Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte), last year in what was the most expensive Congressional race in the entire country. Incumbent Slotkin, who outspent Barrett, won by about 5 points. Now, who are the likely candidates to succeed Slotkin? Will there be important primaries for either major party?
Answer 3): Barrett is certainly running again, although he hasn’t formally announced. The Democratic field is thinning out rapidly. Lansing Mayor Andy Schor, who had formed an exploratory committee, has now said he’s not going through with it. He’s out. There is scattered speculation about state Reps. Julie Brixie (D-E. Lansing), and Angela Witwer (D-Delta Twp) and state Senator Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), but for various reasons it’s hard to see any of them jumping into a race that looks likely to feature one or both of two candidates — Ingham Co. Clerk Barb Byrum and former state Senator Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D-E. Lansing), who is now Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s legislative liaison with many of his former colleagues. Both would have to give up their current jobs if either chooses to run. Hertel has just started his new gig, and Byrum would have to give up running for re-election to her current post in 2024. If she ran for Congress and lost next year, in either the primary or the general, she would be out of office. Byrum’s mother, Dianne Byrum, is a former state Senator and House Minority Leader and most recently chair of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees. Byrum mother and daughter combined have been continually in public office for more than three decades, mostly at the same time. Stay tuned.