Question 1): MIRS newsletter reports that Gov. Gretchen WHITMER has signed more veto letters in her first four years in office than any Michigan governor in at least a century, and that’s before she takes action on any of the 55 bills passed by the Legislature during its recently-concluded ‘lame duck’ session.
Whitmer has signed 143 veto letters (including line item vetoes) as of last week, She indicated last Wednesday that more vetoes may be on the way because any bills that had not been “negotiated” between her and the Legislature probably won’t get her approval.
For purposes of comparison, Whitmer’s track record of 143 vetoes during her first four years in office constitute 20 more than former Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM‘s 123 after her first term (2003-07), also with a Republican-controlled Legislature. A spreadsheet laying out 110 years of public acts and vetoes can be found here.
Former Gov. Jim BLANCHARD signed only 85 veto letters in twice the time in office (eight years) as Whitmer and Granholm. He had a Republican Senate for most of his tenure and a Democrat-held House for all of it.
Former Gov. John ENGLER signed 159 veto letters in his first eight years in office. He had both a House and Senate controlled by Republicans in only two of those years (1995-96). Former Republican Gov. Bill MILLIKEN vetoed 166 bills in his last eight years (1975-83) when he had a House and Senate both controlled by Democrats.
Whitmer has more vetoes than Granholm despite having less than half the number of bills sent her way and not having the multiple department-specific appropriations bills that Granholm had. Whitmer’s average of 12.6% of bills vetoed is more than double that of Granholm’s 6% veto average in her first term. For this 2021-22 legislative cycle, Whitmer has already rejected 14.86% of the 477 bills she’s disposed of at this point.
On the flip side, Whitmer has signed roughly half the public acts as Granholm (989 to 1,940) (See “2021-22 Term Will Pass Fewest PAs In Full-Time Legislature Era,” 12/13/22).
In the last 110 years, the other Democratic governors with Republican legislatures were G. Mennen “Soapy” WILLIAMS and Woodbridge Ferris (1913-1916). Williams vetoed 3.97% of the bills he was presented. Ferris vetoed 2% of the bills he was presented.
So, is any of this significant? If so, does it portend that, now that Whitmer has gotten what she has always wanted — a House and Senate both controlled by her own party — things will be different from now on?
Answer 1): For a true apples-to-apples comparison, Republicans would have to control both chambers beginning in 2023 to see if Whitmer would operate in the bi-partisan ‘reach across the aisle’ fashion she said she would when she first took office four years ago. However, that won’t be possible, because Democrats will control the House and Senate by narrow 56-54 and 20-18 majorities, respectively.
Whitmer’s supporters claim that the rancorous relationship between the governor and Legislature during 2019-22 was Republican lawmakers’ fault, not Whitmer’s. MIRS quotes attorney Mark BURTON of the Honigman law firm, who worked in the Whitmer administration, as saying that when Whitmer came into office she demonstrated a desire to work in a bipartisan way, but Republicans quickly made it clear they weren’t interested. Burton notes that the Legislature attempted to stop the Governor’s reorganization of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, and things didn’t get any better after that. “Republicans set out from Day One to essentially copy the plan of (U.S. Senator) Mitch McCONNELL during the Obama administration. They didn’t have any interest in engaging,” Burton said.
However, it should also be noted that Whitmer’s adversarial approach with the Republican-led Legislature was a carryover from her prior role as Senate Minority Leader (2011-15). Whitmer was a bomb thrower, never a ‘let’s make a deal’ lawmaker. She got only three bills passed in 14 years in the Legislature. Instead, she delighted in excoriating the Republican majorities in both House and Senate whenever possible. To veteran observers of the Capitol scene, it appeared that, once she became governor, Whitmer was on a ‘revenge tour.’ She seemed to be saying, “Now you’re going to get some of your own medicine.” Whitmer went out of her way to cause problems on the front end of the law-making process, often by refusing to allow her department and agency personnel to deal with lawmakers on details of bills. Legislators of both parties couldn’t be sure where the governor stood on anything. A Democratic governor’s clash with a Republican-majority legislature isn’t a new dynamic — the difference in the past four years is that the tension manifested its way all through the process, culminating in vetoes. That meant that, as the 2022 election crept closer, legislative Republicans moved bills to Whitmer’s desk knowing full well that they had not been negotiated. The GOP lawmakers’ intent was to force a Whitmer veto, much of it on politically popular legislation, that a Republican gubernatorial candidate could use against her.
Question 2): According to research by the Rutgers University Center of American Women and Politics (CAWP), the 59 women who will be sworn in as House members and senators in 2023 will be the highest number for Michigan since the founding of the state. MIRS newsletter has reported that the Rutgers study reveals that the previous high was 54 in 2020, which made up 36.8% of the chambers. This coming year, 59 female legislators of the 148 elected and serving is 39.86%. That’s not 50.8%, which is the percentage of females in Michigan overall, but it’s still more than most states.
In West Virginia, 13.4% of the state legislators are women. That’s the lowest percentage in the country. Nevada’s 58.7% is the highest.
In 2014, Michigan had 31 women legislators. In 2010 it was 30; in 2006, it was 29; and 2002 saw 35, according to CAWP’s research.
Furthermore, the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Appropriations Committee chair and the House Appropriations Committee chair in Michigan will all be women. The chairs of the two spending panels are each coming from the Lansing area (See “Lansing Well Represented In Future Legislative Leadership,” 11/18/22). Rep. Sarah ANTHONY (D-Lansing) and Rep. Angela WITWER (D-Delta Twp.) are not the first women to host an appropriations committee. Rep. Laura COX (R-Livonia) did it in the House and Shirley JOHNSON (R-Royal Oak) was the first in the Senate. The two, however, did not serve at the same time and were not from the same geographical area
How significant is this development? Will it result in a shift of policy on issues that polls have shown women care more about than men? Will more money be doled out in the cities, villages and townships around the state capitol because the two principals on the appropriations panels are both women representing that geographical area?
Answer 2): The surge in female representation is historic, yes, but it’s also just actuarial — demographically, it was inevitable, no matter how long it took. In fact, it’s surprising that, a century after women were given the right to vote, it’s taken this long for females to reach the numbers in the Legislature they are only now achieving. Since 1920, there was little-to-no growth for about the first 50 years in the numbers of women reaching public office, but over the past 50 years there has been a steady increase, even if it’s been a case of two steps forward, one step back.
What’s even more dramatic is that, suddenly, women are finally achieving positions of real power in male-dominated legislatures. Whether this is just a freakish, one-off occurrence — especially for two women from the same geographical area — is the question.
For those who think Lansing will reap the benefits from having two of its “own” calling the budget shots, that’s unlikely. Back in the day, former Democratic Rep. Dominic JACOBETTI (D-Negaunee) was deft at funneling state tax dollars to his home base in the Marquette area of the Upper Peninsula, but he had historic seniority (20 years as House Appropriations Committee chairman) and it took him a long time to bring home all that bacon. Modern-day committee chairs? Not so much. Neither Johnson nor Cox achieved anything like the legendary status of Jacobetti or longtime Senate approps chairman Harry Gast (R-St. Joseph). Neither did any of the male chairs who got the spending panels’ top job for maybe two years during the term-limits era.
Question 3): Which of the announced candidates for chairmanship of the Michigan Republican Party would be the one most likely to successfully rescue the party?
Answer 3): There isn’t one — they’re all flawed for various reasons. The GOP had better hope someone new comes forward in the next two months with the ability to ‘rescue’ the party by uniting its disputatious factions, and that seems unlikely.