Question 1): In somewhat of a surprise, a $1 billion mid-year supplemental spending bill designed to replenish Michigan government’s Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) fund and kick start other large-dollar economic development projects passed both the House and the Senate with bi-partisan support last week. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign it into law, perhaps as early as this week.
MIRS newsletter reported that the deal was negotiated with the Senate by House Speaker Jason WENTWORTH (R-Farwell) “over the head” of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas ALBERT (R-Lowell). As a result, Albert, who had been appointed chairman of the spending panel by Wentworth, resigned that position out of principle (a rare occurrence). About a month ago, Albert had issued a statement in opposition to the mid-year spending plan.
The deal ensures that there is $500 million in the SOAR fund to start Fiscal Year 2023 beginning just over the week-end, Oct. 1. This includes the roughly $200 million left over for this year and $290 million in new money, MIRS said.
It also includes $350 million for site preparation for specific projects on which the legislative leadership wants to see movement. The remaining portions of the supplemental pays for scholarships and makes other funding adjustments related to federal COVID Relief Fund money.
The law creating the SOAR Fund requires any leftover money at the end of the fiscal year (next Sept. 30) to lapse into the General Fund. With the state working on making a few time-sensitive projects happen, the concern was that an empty SOAR fund could chase away investment and handcuff the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).
Are there political implications in play as the result of the Legislature’s action?
Answer 1): There are big time political implications.
The legislation split the Republican caucuses in Michigan, with half of the GOP’s House members opposing it and thus siding with Albert, meaning that it passed with overwhelming Democratic support. In the Senate, six of the 22 Republican senators opposed it, but it passed easily with support from all but two Democrats.
Moreover, Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon also announced that she, too, opposed the spending package. If and when Whitmer signs it, it represents a big divide between her and Dixon on an important issue. It exposes the fault lines between Democrats and Republicans — and between conservative/moderate Republicans and VERY conservative Republicans. The former are willing to cut deals with big spenders, while the latter are not.
Beyond that, it put state Senator Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) on the hot seat again — would he recant his vote opposing another “corporate welfare” bill earlier this year that will bring a large manufacturing facility to his home Eaton County? His opponent in the race for the U.S. House in the key 7th Congressional District, Democrat Elissa Slotkin, has lambasted Barrett for that vote. The answer is that Barrett doubled down. He opposed last week’s deal as well. Albert’s resignation means that Wentworth has replaced him as Appropriations chair with term-limited state Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-South Haven), who predictably voted for the deal. That may give a boost to her husband, Kevin Whiteford, who is running to succeed her in the new, marginal 38th House district, a battleground that could determine which party controls the House beginning next year.
Whitmer will almost certainly benefit from this development. Not only can she claim victory on economic development, but she can also contend that this proves she can “work across the aisle” with Republicans and that she is governing in true bipartisan fashion, which will appeal to independent voters. Once again, Dixon is stranded in right field, even if her stand may prove to be the correct one.
Looking at the breakdown of where legislators stood, SB 844 , introduced by Senator Jim STAMAS (R-Midland), received “No” votes in the Senate from BARRETT as well as Stephanie CHANG (D-Detroit), Jeff IRWIN (D-Ann Arbor), Ruth JOHNSON (R-Holly), Ed MCBROOM (R-Waucedah Twp.), Aric NESBITT (R-Lawton), Jim RUNESTAD (R-White Lake), and Lana THEIS (R-Brighton). All the rest of the Senate’s 38 members who voted supported the deal.
In the House, the “No” votes came from not only ALBERT (R-Lowell), but also Reps. Julie ALEXANDER (R-Hanover), Sue ALLOR (R-Wolverine), Andrew BEELER (R-Fort Gratiot), Timothy BESON (R-Kawkawlin), Ryan BERMAN (R-Commerce Twp.), Ann BOLLIN (R-Brighton Township), Steve CARRA (R-Three Rivers), Mary CAVANAGH (D-Redford), John N. DAMOOSE (R-Harbor Springs), Gary EISEN (R-St. Clair Township), Diana FARRINGTON (R-Utica), Andrew FINK (R-Hillsdale), Annette GLENN (R-Midland), Phil GREEN (R-Millington), Michele HOITENGA (R-Manton), Pamela HORNBERGER (R-Chesterfield Twp.), Gary HOWELL (R-North Branch), Steven JOHNSON (R-Wayland Twp.), Matt MADDOCK (R-Milford), Terence MEKOSKI (R-Harrison Twp.), Pat OUTMAN (R-Six Lakes), Brad PAQUETTE (R-Niles), Laurie POHUTSKY (D-Livonia), Yousef RABHI (D-Ann Arbor), John REILLY (R-Oakland), Daire RENDON (R-Lake City) and Bradley Slagh (R-Zeeland). Virtually all the other of the 110 House members voted “Yes.”
Question 2): A six-week abortion ban or ‘early abortion’ ban, called a “heartbeat bill” or “fetal heartbeat bill” by proponents, is a form of abortion restriction legislation in the United States. These bans make abortion illegal as early as six weeks gestational age (two or three weeks into a pregnancy), which is when proponents claim that a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected. 
Efforts to introduce this model law have succeeded in passing through political branches of government in about a dozen states, including in Georgia just this past week. In most cases, the courts struck down or blocked similar legislation. However, the Texas law and analogues subsequently adopted in other states succeeded due to a unique enforcement mechanism that makes challenging the law extremely difficult, and which was upheld by the Supreme Court. In some states, the heartbeat bills’ effect (whether blocked or not) has been minimized by more stringent total abortion bans that were announced following the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization; in other states, such as Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee, judges lifted the injunctions against the previously passed laws.
Anti-abortion groups argue that heartbeat “is the universally recognized indicator of life” and as such must be protected. Reproductive rights advocates, on the other hand, say that these bans are de facto complete abortion bans, since many women do not even know that they are pregnant six weeks after their last menstruation, which is four weeks post-fertilization.: 1 
The question is: Does this issue have any bearing on the campaign for and against Proposal 3, which would enshrine abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution? More specifically, a “heartbeat” bill was introduced in the Michigan Legislature in 2019. If the GOP-controlled legislature had passed that legislation and the Democrats had opposed it and Gov. Gretchen WHITMER had vetoed it, would the raging debate over Proposal 3 be playing out differently in the current election season?
Answer 2): No differently whatsoever. Why would there be a difference between 2019 and today? The “heartbeat” bill was viewed by Whitmer and the vast majority of Democrats in 2019 the same way they viewed other efforts by Republican legislators, during many decades, to chip away at the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision with pro-life bills like “parental consent” and “informed consent” and bans on “partial birth abortion.” Then comes the U.S. Supreme Court decision last spring to overturn Roe v. Wade, and now the battle lines have been drawn over Proposal 3 on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. Nothing has changed. The supporters of Roe v. Wade are the same as the post-Dobbs decision supporters, and some previously disengaged citizens have jumped on the abortion rights bandwagon. Same for pro-life adherents — those opposed to Roe v. Wade for half a century — are just as opposed today. The question implies that there are some previously “disengaged” voters, or even some who supported Roe v. Wade, who might now decide, if ‘heartbeat’ legislation had been passed and vetoed, that they can no longer stomach abortion and will join the pro-life side. Sure, there may be a few of those, but all the polls show that they have been swamped by the pro-choice side. All the pro-lifers could hope for is that if they could add the “heartbeat” issue to the list of all the other “extreme” elements of Proposal 3, they might scare the populace into voting “No” on 11/8. That’s unlikely to make a difference, although it’s true that 60% of the electorate voted “No” on a pre-Roe abortion rights proposal back in 1972 when it was last on a Michigan statewide ballot.
Is Urging A ‘Just Vote No’ on all three Ballot Proposals a good strategy for those groups opposing them? It’s been done before, and there’s an effort to do it again this year. The term limit folks are hoping to kill Prop 1 by asking voters to defeat all three ballot issues. “Vote No on All Three Proposals” is the header on a social media message reportedly engineered by term limit supporters. They have gotten some help from West Michigan GOP grassroots veteran Brandon HALL to push this “No” vote strategy. Here’s the way “No” vote proponents describe the three proposals:
As recently as 2018, the “Vote No” strategy was advocated by those who didn’t like any of the three ballot issues on that ballot — legalized pot, the Voters Not Politicians redistricting proposal, and Promote the Vote, which opened the door to widespread absentee voting in the state. The Detroit News argued that all three issues would be better handled through the legislative process, which of course was the reason behind the petition drives because backers could not get the GOP legislature to say “Yes.”
Voters eventually said “Yes” to all three, which raises the question: With three new issues up for grabs, will this reboot of “Vote No on All Three” work this time?
Answer 3): It could. There were a half-dozen proposals on the statewide general election ballot in 2012, and all six lost. But many believe the fact that there were so many proposals put before voters a decade ago was the main reason all six were defeated. This year there are just half that many, and right now polling on all three 2022 proposals shows all three passing by hefty majorities. Public opinion appears to be strongly on the pro-choice side of Proposal 3 with support for Proposal 2 just as robust. As for Proposal 1:
- Polling published in the Gongwer newsletter has Prop 1 at 62% for passage, down from WDIV’s 80% earlier this summer. There have been some efforts by conservative opposition to wrap Props 1, 2 and 3 together in a “vote-no-on-all-the-props” strategy that is getting Prop 1 entangled with the other two proposals. Meanwhile…
- The Detroit Free Press has endorsed Prop 1, and the UAW, AFL-CIO, Lansing Chamber of Commerce and Voters Not Politicians have all endorsed Proposal 1.
But we’ve got a ways to go yet — just over five weeks.