Question 1): Was anything about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State address last week memorable or significant? This was her fifth such speech, and the first since her Nov. 8, 2022, re-election. How did it compare with her previous S.O.S. performances? Was it in any way different?
Answer 1): Of course, it was different, but only because it was a once-in-two-generations phenomenon — a Democratic Governor speaking to a Democratic majority legislature. Otherwise, it was pedestrian. That’s no knock against this governor — who remembers anything any governor has said in a State of the State, going back decades and a dozen governors? Only if journalists or political scientists would go back and look at what a particular governor said compared with what ensued would it be interesting, but nobody ever does that. Whitmer would have made a mistake if she made too much of the hegemony her party now enjoys in the state capitol; she knows it can quickly evaporate, and if she gloated over the Democrats’ recent success it could only hurt her. Instead, she used a light touch to poke fun at the Republicans, who cooperated by looking tone-deaf and ungracious, sitting on their hands when they should have stood and applauded at various junctures. Whitmer was smart to talk about issues upon which she and the GOP ought to be able to agree. She emphasized the bipartisanship that will be necessary to accomplish her goals and vision. If she actually follows through on that in the right way, she should score some successes that eluded her in her first term.
Question 2): Some expected the Governor’s speech to include a proposal to send some level of relief or rebate checks (of $400 or a similar amount) to Michigan households. Was this a realistic expectation?
Answer 2): No. It was obvious before the address that the Governor wanted to go in a different direction — raising the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and “repealing” the so-called “pension tax.” That’s exactly what she emphasized in her talk. Maybe those proposals were bargaining chips against the Republicans, who we all know have a different approach to tax relief. But legislation is already moving on both those issues, with some Republican support. It’s hard for GOP lawmakers to resist tax cuts of any sort, although they will be pushing tax relief for as much of the population as possible, not just the Democrats’ lower income client groups.
Question 3): Although the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are very slim, isn’t it still a virtual slam dunk that the top three or four legislative initiatives the Governor brought up in last week’s speech will get passed and end up on her desk?
Answer 3): No, it’s not a slam dunk, but it’s probable if she truly negotiates with her adversaries and demonstrates she has the skill to put together bipartisan coalitions to get amended versions of what she wants across the finish line. Everything depends on whether, after the governor’s incessant campaign palaver that she tried to govern in a non-partisan fashion during her first term (which most observers realize isn’t true), she can really “walk the walk” by getting a significant number of Republicans on board with her agenda. If she fails to do that, it will be still another opportunity squandered.
Question 4): Many political observers expected that the Governor during her speech would bring up all three of the following issues: COVID, Right to Work, and/or ‘Fix the Damn Roads.” Did that happen?
Answer 4): MIRS newsletter quoted The Ballenger Report (TBR) a week ago as saying Whitmer shouldn’t touch COVID with a 10-foot pole. She got that message, all by herself. It didn’t happen. TBR also opined that it would be a mistake for the governor to mention Right to Work at all. She didn’t — it could only have hurt her. Yes, she may find a version of RTW on her desk at some point, but that will have to come from the Legislature, and she will have to be careful how she handles it because it can actually backfire on the Democrats. Needless to say, Whitmer had to bring up “Fix the damn roads” after she herself has acknowledged that she ‘blew it’ in the way she handled that issue in her first term yet got away with political murder by winning re-election. Now she gets a second bite at the apple, and she should figure out a way to get Republican cooperation.
Question 5): Under a 1966 state law, the boundaries of County Boards of Commissioner districts are approved by a local redistricting panel composed of three elected officials — the county clerk, treasurer, and prosecuting attorney — along with the chairpersons of the county Republican and Democratic parties.
So whichever party controls at least two of the three elected offices can control the process to approve boundary maps. The board posts are important because commissioners set policies on everything from economic development to human services while overseeing millions of dollars in spending.
BRIDGE online magazine recently wrote an article in effect goading SOMEBODY to change the system of reapportioning county commissioners districts to one more like what the electoral “reform” group called Voters Not Politicians (VNP) would want. Removing “politicians” from the drawing of legislative boundaries was the impetus for state voters’ approval in 2018 of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) for state and Congressional races. This past November was the first election based on the redrawn maps, and Democrats seized control of the state Senate for the first time in four decades, and the state House as well.
So, what about this? Who is the SOMEBODY? Does this “reform” take a constitutional amendment?
Answer 5): Nancy Wang, VNP executive director, which was the organization behind the 2018 statewide redistricting ballot proposal, said her group has heard complaints of gerrymandering at the local level. She said her group would be willing to “assist” any county that wants to adopt an independent model like the MICRC. “If there are voters that want to end county-level gerrymandering, VNP would be glad to help in order to give power back to the people,” Wang said.
Here’s the good news for Wang and her supporters — it doesn’t take a massive petition-gathering drive to put such a reform on the statewide ballot. County Commissioner reapportionment is governed by statute, and can be changed simply by the Legislature passing a bill to mandate a change in the redistricting process, provided the governor signs it into law. Everything is in place right now for Wang, Bridge magazine, Gov. Whitmer, and the Democrat-controlled Legislature to accomplish exactly what Bridge and Wang want — just pass a bill to do it!
David L Richards says
To add to the part about county commission redistricting, I have to note that Oakland County is the one exception to having three county-wide elected officials and one more member from each of the major parties doing the redistricting. After the 2010 census, the Democrats had won the county treasurer and county prosecutor offices, giving the Democrats control of redistricting in Oakland County. But Republican County Executive Brooks Patterson went to Lansing and had the Republican legislature change the procedure after the fact, giving the then Republican county commissioners in Oakland County the power to do their own redistricting, with the bill signed by Governor Snyder. In other words, the rules of the game were changed after the game was played. So Oakland County does not use the system described. Maybe the manipulation backfired, as the Democrats now have the majority on the Oakland County Commission.
Tim Sullivan says
Interesting article, Bill.
From my point of view, the SOS was more disappointing than pedestrian. I tend to think the not including repeal of right to work in the speech may be more in line with her thinking than an oversight, especially after appointing the anti-labor arbitrator Gail Wilson to the Michigan Civil Service Commission. Pete Townsend wrote a line for The Who that seems appropriate, MEET THE NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS. The question is, will we get fooled again?
John C Stewart says
Great Q & A in TBR. The Gov. Whitmer “State of the State” speech last week was a “Pep” talk to her Team. “Let’s win a Super Bowl, let’s win a World Series” Frankly, I was hoping for something more thoughtful, introspective and inspiring. While I do agree with several legislative initiatives (to some degree) How about a Governor speaking with sincerity and stating pure-motivated GOALS. !!
For God’s sake, reflect and then live in the moment.
David Locke says
It seemed more like a divisive political speech. I’m not surprised the Republicans mostly sat on their hands.
I couldn’t watch the unfolding nightmare. When I see Gretchen, I wanna start retchin’.
dan murphy says
Its unfortunate that the Governor is is using the passage of Proposal 3,which expands the abortion industry, as an incentive to for Businesses to move to Michigan . An abhorrent strategy for the Guv. and the Progressive Party. Its no longer the” Democratic Party”.
Tim Sullivan says
Certainly not the Democratic Party of my youth.
Cody Ballenger says
Hey Grandpa! Great Article.
John C Stewart says
Please allow me. First You thank the people of Michigan for the honor of serving as Governor. Then, state the case for NEED regarding various vital problems. It is the Governor’s RESPONSIBILITY to propose affirmative positive solutions. Then, you INSPIRE the people to work together to accomplish those goals. Finally you encourage everyone to go onward and forward. Sorry, the SOS last week was pedantic and partisan
Robin K. says
Right-to-work is an issue that inflames the electorate against the Democratic Party – especially among independents who do not belong to labor unions.
If the GOP wants to score points in future elections they need to emphasize support for right-to-work legislation.