Michigan voters reflected the mood of the country on Election Day by re-electing Republican Governor Rick Snyder, Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette. The GOP’s celebration was tempered somewhat by the election of Democratic Congressman Gary Peters to a U.S. Senate seat and the retention of Democratic majorities on the governing boards for the Department of Education and the state’s three major research universities. Yet, with the ticket splitting that did occur, Republicans increased their majorities in the State House of Representatives and State Senate. Moreover, the GOP maintained its edge in the U.S. House delegation and on the Michigan Supreme Court.
All in all, it was a very successful election for Michigan’s GOP. It could have been even more successful given the national trend, which saw Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate, increase their majority in the U.S. House and elect Republican governors in such solid “blue” states as Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois.
As for Michigan Democrats, they knew that in order to defeat Governor Snyder, or even be competitive with him and the rest of the Republican ticket, voter turnout in this “off year” election would have to significantly increase. Consequently, the Party concentrated its efforts toward that goal. A record number of absentee ballots were distributed to ground troops spearheaded by organized labor, which spread “The Party Slate” materials in key precincts. Key national figures including former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and even President Barack Obama came to Michigan to rally the faithful. That effort did not yield the intended results: Only 3.185 million Michigan voters cast their ballots, a decrease in voter turnout from the disastrous results that Democrats had in the 2010 “off year” election.
On Nov. 6, all four legislative Caucuses met and elected leadership for the next session. In the Senate, there were no surprises as Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, was elected Senate Majority Leader by his Republican colleagues. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, was elected Majority Floor Leader. The next Chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee will be Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell. The Democrats elected Jim Ananich, D- Flint, as their leader and Morris Hood, D-Detroit, as their Floor Leader.
The House elections were much more complicated and dramatic. For weeks, the race among Republicans for Speaker was tight and had come down to Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant and Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville. Who emerged from this race was dependent upon which new Republicans would be coming to Lansing. As of 24 hours before the leadership election, it became clear the new Republican Caucus would be more conservative philosophically, a factor which weighed in Cotter’s favor. Shortly before Thursday’s election, a deal was struck making Cotter the next Speaker and Pscholka the next Chair of the Appropriations Committee. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, was elected as House Majority Floor Leader.
The Democrats re-elected Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, as their leader, but replaced David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, with Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, as Minority Floor Leader.
Key committee assignments will be made in January.
It is clear the new Republican majority in the House will be more conservative than its predecessor. The new GOP Caucus includes some of the most conservative Tea Party backed members. They most assuredly will push for bills which add more restrictions on abortion, allow for more charter schools, and repeal prevailing wage laws. There will be times when the Governor will have difficulty signing legislation he views as not really necessary for Michigan’s economic recovery.
As of now, the Legislature is scheduled to meet for nine days in December, with the last day being Dec. 18, before final, or sine die, adjournment.
If any legislation calling for more revenue for roads is to be enacted, it will have to be done in lame duck session. It is estimated that over $1 billion is needed. After the State Senate defeated proposals to raise revenue last summer, the Senate Majority Leader convened a work group in an effort to find a solution. So far, none has been found and it would appear that the Senate Republican majority is not ready to take this issue on until after Thanksgiving. The Michigan Department of Transportation has said the state is now 40th among states regarding total revenues collected from the fuel tax. It will be interesting to see what, if anything is done to address Michigan’s crumbling roads.
While changes to Michigan’s no-fault insurance would appear dead at this time, there is no telling what wheeling and dealing might go on in order to secure enough votes for a legislative priority such as road funding.
The Senate Majority Leader says he’s not interested in changing the Electoral College process, but that doesn’t mean changing the winner-take-all electoral vote proposal is dead. It still could be part of a political horse trade. This is a matter more likely to be taken up next year.
Like the proposed changes to no-fault auto insurance and the Electoral College process, SB 2, which allows Advanced Practice Registered Nurses to in many instances practice medicine, may have daylight if it is needed to obtain votes for another priority.
The Senate Majority Leader made one last push in an effort to enact legislation amending the certificate of need law to allow McLaren Health Systems to build a hospital in Clarkston. A motion to discharge the bill from Committee succeeded and the bill (SB 1073) is now on the Senate Floor.
Expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual identity and orientation as a protected classification had been given some consideration earlier this year. However, two things recently occurred which may give this measure a sense of urgency in the lame duck session. First, Michigan voters elected a much more conservative Legislature that will begin its work in January. This will be a Legislature not likely to grant such a status. Second was the recent decision by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals refusing to overturn Michigan’s constitutional definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Most recently, the Speaker unveiled a two bill package that he says would provide civil rights protections for sexual orientation, while at the same time protecting religious freedom. Those advocating for an amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Act said inclusion of sexual orientation only, and not sexual identity, meant the bill did not go far enough. Moreover, critics argue that enactment of a “Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act” would give individuals an opportunity to discriminate. It will be interesting to see if this legislation gets any traction in the lame duck session.
A package of bills was approved by the Legislature earlier this year that banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. However, they have never been formally presented to the Governor because he gave every indication he wanted e-cigarettes to be treated and taxed like tobacco.