Some political observers think so. Republicans are in charge of everything in state government, they say, and if anything’s wrong and if you think the “country” is on the “wrong track,” well, the GOP must be to blame, right?
So, take it out on Republicans at the polls.
Is that really how voters are thinking? And is it likely to be the basis on which they make their decisions at the ballot box Nov. 8? Here is why the GOP’s critics think Republicans will be held responsible for all that is wrong in Michigan:
— On May 5, 2015, Michigan voters rejected Proposal 1, the infrastructure “fix-it” package. Its defeat by a 20% Yes/80% No margin was the worst loss for any statewide ballot proposal since 1948. Because the Legislature, controlled by Republicans, had voted to put it on the ballot, the GOP must be to blame for such a failure, right?
— By September, 2015, the Flint “water crisis” had become a national and international story. Gov. Rick Snyder’s handling of this ongoing brouhaha has been viewed as stumbling-and-bumbling, if not outright criminality, even though he’s taken “responsibility” for what happened in the Vehicle City. His personal approval/job ratings have plummeted in polls. Since Snyder is a Republican (he’s not on the ballot this year), that means Republicans in the Legislature will pay the price at the polls 11/8 even if they had nothing to do with what happened in Flint and they have appropriated more than $240 million to clean up the Flint mess.
— A sex-and-coverup scandal involving State Reps. Todd Courser (R-Lapeer Co.) and Cindy Gamrat (R-Allegan Co.) became a statewide, even national soap opera. They were both Republicans, and even though the House, including virtually all of the GOP members, voted to expel or force them to resign (with some assent from Democrats who hoped to make an issue of the way House Republicans handled the embarrassment), this escapade will come back to haunt the GOP because, again, Republicans were in charge.
— This year, the latest financial “crisis” shifted from the City of Detroit to the Detroit Public Schools (DPS). Teacher sickouts, the prospect of payless paydays for DPS teachers, and the indictments of more than a dozen school administrators involved in kickback schemes with school suppliers, dominated the public’s attention. The Republican Legislature’s response was to pass a $617 million DPS rescue package, with no Democratic votes.
— U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13, leaving in doubt the future of labor law, campaign finance, and reapportionment (redistricting) litigation at the federal level and within various states.
— Donald Trump will almost certainly emerge as the Republicans’ presidential nominee in Cleveland two weeks from now. Self-anointed “conservatives” who thought they were in charge of the national GOP view Trump as the most inexperienced, undisciplined, controversial, and narcissistic candidate ever to win a Republican presidential nomination — at least since Wendell Wilkie in 1940, who was the only GOP prez nominee ever to beat Franklin D. Roosevelt in Michigan.
Doomsayers fully expect Trump to be routed in November by the Democratic nominee, whether it’s Hillary Clinton or not. Right now, Clinton leads Trump in Michigan polls by anywhere from 3% to 18%. If in fact Trump gets pummeled, soothsayers compare such a landslide defeat with Republican Barry Goldwater’s wipeout by Democratic incumbent Lyndon Johnson in 1964, which resulted in a massive shift of 19 seats in the state House to the Democrats, giving them the party its first majority since 1938. Or they look to Barack Obama’s defeat of Republican John McCain in 2008 by 17 points, which netted House Democrats nine seats (the same number the Dems need this year to gain state House control).
Republican Snyder, in his six years as governor, has not had to operate so far with divided control of the state legislature. How does that compare with his predecessors? Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm had little success after Democrats took control of the state House, but not the Senate, in 2007-10. Republican John Engler had divided control in the legislature during six of his 12 years in office; in addition, another two years of Engler’s tenure saw the House in a “shared power” arrangement between Republicans and Democrats. Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard had divided control for almost seven years of his eight years as governor. Before him, Republican Bill Milliken had eight years of his 14 years as governor when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. Yet, despite divided government, Milliken, Blanchard and Engler all had records of legislative accomplishment, even if it could be argued that Granholm didn’t.
Psephologists also argue that a pattern has emerged with the Michigan governorship since the four-year term took hold in 1966, and that it’s now the Democrats’ turn. They observe that, during the past 35 years, after a governor serves at least two terms the other party wins the governorship, i.e., Blanchard after Milliken (1982); Engler after Blanchard (1990); Granholm after Engler (2002); and Snyder after Granholm (2010). The hand-wringers contend that pattern is bound to repeat itself in 2018 when Rick Snyder is term-limited, and that the hemorrhaging will begin this fall.
So, is it true? Will the GOP look back at 2015-16 as the apex of their power in Michigan, and they’re due for extinction at the polls this fall, and in 2018? Maybe, but here are a few things to think about:
— After the defeat of the “infrastructure rehab” ballot proposal in the spring of 2015, majority Republicans passed a statutory “road fix” last fall. It will take years to demonstrate improved road conditions, but voters understand that, and there are plenty of orange barrels on the state’s highways this summer. Is anybody talking about punishing Republican candidates on this “issue” now?
— How can Republican legislators, or GOP candidates running in open districts, be held responsible for what happened with Flint’s water, which was under the aegis of either the governor or local Democrats? Indeed, it was the Republican-controlled Legislature that has voted more than $240 million in state aid for Flint’s broken water system.
— How can Republicans who voted to oust their own two members from the state House be made to paid by voters, especially when a substantial number of Democrats voted against the expulsion and have done nothing to take action against their own members under fire for unethical conduct, i.e., state Rep. Brian Banks (D-Harper Woods)?
— Will outstate and suburban voters, where most state House elections will be won and lost, lash out against Republicans after GOP lawmakers appropriated more than $600 million to bail out the corrupt and incompetent DPS? Democrats evidently believe voters will punish the GOP for not giving DPS even more money, and more authority to drive its school system into the ground again.
— Nobody is going to vote against Republican state House candidates because Justice Scalia died last winter and the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate has not confirmed a successor.
— Donald Trump is what he has always been — a conundrum. He may well prove to be a disastrous Republican presidential nominee, but he may not. He’s likely to be given a gift (if he can take advantage of it) — a flawed and ethically-suspect Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, about whom few voters are enthusiastic. As for comparisons with Barry Goldwater, the Republican state House losses in 1964 were due as much to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims one-man, one-vote decisions (and to the Democratic Austin-Kleiner gerrymander which ensued) as to the Arizona senator’s defeat for president in Michigan.
Ultimately, control of the state House this fall may boil down to the “pack and crack” philosophy of Michigan Republicans’ 2011 gerrymandered Congressional and legislative maps. Those maps supposedly cracked the Democratic-leaning suburbs of Detroit and some outstate urban areas and attached them to areas that are trending Republican, thereby limiting the potential for a “dummymander” whereby redistricting backfires as districts shift over the course of the decade. The maps are designed to maintain Republican majorities in all but the worst Republican years, while maintaining the potential for further Republican gains.
The last Republican gerrymander, drawn up in 2001, didn’t do that. It failed to protect the Michigan House GOP in 2006 and 2008, when George W. Bush and the Iraq War turned unpopular, and Democrats regained their natural advantage (at least for four years).
No gerrymander can last forever. Have Republican computers done the job right this time? That will determine who controls the House after this November more than any of the issues mentioned above.