As we review the first six months of 2017, the Michigan Legislature was focused on the State budget, the Michigan Public School Teachers Retirement System, tax incentives and jobs, the Flint water crisis and the 2018 elections. In addition, we highlight the prescription drug/opioid addiction problem in Michigan, provide an environmental update and review the State’s position on autonomous vehicles.
With the passage of the budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 and teacher pension revision behind them, the Michigan Legislature broke for its annual summer recess. The House adjourned early on June 21 and was back briefly on July 12 to pass the Governor’s jobs and tax incentive package. The Senate adjourned on June 28 and, like the House, met to pass the jobs packages.
The first six months of the 99th Michigan Legislature was concentrated on the State budget. At different times during the budget process, Republicans had disagreements over various issues. First it was a dust-up between the Governor and legislative leaders over an overhaul of the teacher’s retirement system known as the Michigan Public School Teachers Retirement System (MPSTRS). This spat kept the Administration out of budget negotiations until it was settled. Next came a disagreement between the Governor and the Speaker of the House over possible promises the Governor had made to Democratic lawmakers in order to secure their support for his tax incentive/jobs package without consulting with the Speaker. Clearly upset, the Speaker was concerned the Governor, who was out of the country on a jobs’ mission, had cut a deal with the Democrats which would have compromised core principles and policy objectives of the Republican Caucus. Consequently, the Speaker decided to hold up the Governor’s jobs package until he had a chance to meet face-to-face and get some assurances the priorities of the Republicans were not being sold down the river. Bottom line was the Governor’s jobs package had to wait until the House would meet again on July 12, and action on that package would depend on the outcome of the meeting between the Speaker and the Governor.
Also during the first six months of session, the Attorney General filed criminal charges against two former emergency managers for the City, the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Chief Medical Executive of the State.
In May, the Legislature lost one of its own with the tragic suicide of a highly regarded northern Michigan lawmaker. The Governor called a special election to fill the vacancy.
Early on in the Speaker’s new term, 12 of his fellow Republicans bolted from the Caucus and sided with House Democrats to defeat a proposed income tax rollback. The rollback had been opposed by the Republican Governor because he could not make room for it in the budget. Nevertheless, the Speaker persisted and the rollback went down to defeat, causing temporary embarrassment, but also making him the champion of the conservative wing of his party.
This year is the calm before the political storm which is brewing for 2018. However, the maneuvering has already begun with Governor candidates already declared on the Democratic side, and at least two waiting in the wings expected to seek the GOP nomination. In 2016 we learned that we cannot always rely on polling when trying to pick the outcome of a political election. However, most reliable polls indicate that Republican President Donald Trump is in free-fall with his favorability ratings among voters. Local Democrats hope to take advantage of his unpopularity as well as that of the current Republican Governor to take back the Michigan House in 2018 and retain the U.S. Senate seat now held by incumbent Debbie Stabenow.
Following is a brief summary of State budget highlights that were recently signed into law by the Governor with a few line item vetoes.
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
The Legislature appropriated over $19 million gross, $8.4 million GF/GP to increase the reimbursement rate for child care providers. It also increased state aid to libraries by $1.2 million GF/GP, to total $11.1 million GF/GP for the upcoming fiscal year.
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
Lawmakers agreed to appropriate almost $15 million in one-time funding to the Refined Petroleum Product Cleanup Program. They also agreed to an appropriation of $1.3 million in GF/GP for an expanded Lead and Copper Rule Program which regulates public drinking water. A new section of boilerplate language requires the Department to be responsible for payment of current and former employees’ legal costs for legal actions related to the drinking water declaration of emergency. Another new section of boilerplate language requires the Department to spend up to $36 million for cleanup and to reimburse owners and operators of underground storage tanks who have taken remedial actions toward cleanup that predate 2014.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
At the start of the year, no one knew what affect a new Republican Administration in Washington would have on health care policy. Moreover, the Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and kept control of the U.S. House ostensibly on the promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Meantime, Michigan had more than 650,000 citizens newly insured due to the State’s new Medicaid expansion program called the Healthy Michigan Plan. Policymakers were waiting on Washington to determine what direction they should take on state Medicaid policy. After all, Medicaid consumed over $4 billion in General Fund dollars in the current budget. What was clear is that Lansing policymakers were looking for efficiencies and to possibly demand more from recipients and limit their duration while enrolled in the Healthy Michigan Plan.
Without direction from Washington regarding Medicaid and/or Medicaid expansion, the Governor and lawmakers crafted a budget that keeps eligibility and benefits intact.
What was contentious in the first half of 2017 was the debate over physical and mental health integration with Health Plans replacing Prepaid In-Patient Health Plans (PIHP) and some Community Mental Health (CMH) agencies with regard to contract administration. PIHP and CMH organizations, along with certain advocacy groups, opposed full financial integration, calling it “privatization” of a public mental health delivery system. That tag has stuck, even though Medicaid health plans are more highly regulated by state and federal governments than PIHPs or CMHs. In spite of stiff opposition to full health care integration by certain interest groups, four “pilot projects” for health care integration were spelled out in budget boilerplate language. Specifically, one is to take place in Kent County with the other three in areas of the State to be determined by DHHS. A Michigan research university is to be retained by DHHS to evaluate the success of the pilot projects. Other budget highlights for DHHS include:
- A one percent increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates in an attempt to achieve actuarial soundness.
- Retention of the carve-out from prior authorization for mental health and psychotropic pharmaceuticals. However, new language was added (Section 1858) requiring DHHS to report on the amount spent on brand name prescriptions and the number and amount spent on generic prescriptions.
- A new requirement that DHHS report on the number of Healthy Michigan Plan participants who have not paid their copays, the total amount of uncollected copays and the steps taken by DHHS and health plans to ensure greater collection of copays.
- Implementation of a Direct Primary Care pilot program in Wayne, Oakland, Kent, Genesee and Livingston counties.
- A requirement that 25 percent of a hospital’s graduate medical education payments be withheld if the hospital does not submit the data to a qualifying organization by January 1, 2018.
- Money to fund a modest increase in caseloads for Medicaid and Medicaid expansion.
- A requirement that DHHS “explore” the implementation of managed care long-term systems and support programs.
GENERAL GOVERNMENT BUDGET
The Governor proposed a deposit of $175 million into the Budget Stabilization Fund (BSF), or Rainy Day Fund, and the Conference Report gave him $150 million, which was most of what he wanted. With this appropriation, the BSF is approximately $800 million, an encouraging figure for Wall Street investors.
The General Government Budget is an umbrella for the budgets of the Departments of Attorney General, Secretary of State, Technology Management and Budget, Treasury and Talent and Economic Development.
The fight against the opioid abuse and addiction problem in Michigan continues as the Legislature appropriated another $700,000 to support a statewide drug enforcement strategy. The Department was also appropriated $375,000 for four full-time employees for investigations and enforcement activities related to medical marijuana facilities.
SECRETARY OF STATE
The Legislature concurred with the Governor’s recommendations and appropriated $1.4 million to increase investigations and regulatory enforcement of vehicle repair facilities and mechanics.
DEPARTMENT OF TECHNOLOGY, MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
The Legislature appropriated $6.7 million of the $7 million requested by the Governor to support the Cybersecurity Continuous Improvement Program. This program centralizes and coordinates cybersecurity activities and the appropriation will fund 12 full time employees. The Legislature also accepted the recommendation of the Governor and appropriated $3 million in one-time funding to the Information Technology Investment Fund for upgrade projects. This one-time funding is part of a total of $65 million in ongoing appropriations. Lawmakers also included $300,000 GF/GP to track data and metrics on state vendors and for the State to review the information provided throughout the contracting process. This comports with new budget boilerplate language to require a project with a third party vendor that will provide comprehensive information on all vendors with whom the State conducts business transactions.
DEPARTMENT OF TREASURY
The Department was appropriated $4.6 million and four full-time employees for medical marijuana activities. The Legislature concurred with the Governor when it appropriated nearly $1 million GF/GP and nine full-time employees to decrease telephone wait time for taxpayer phone calls and reduce processing times for refunds. In addition, the Legislature agreed with the Governor when it appropriated over $5 million to the expansion of the collection program for the Detroit city income tax.
DEPARTMENT OF TALENT AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The Legislature concurred with the Governor’s recommendation when it appropriated $5 million GF/GP for a marketing program to attract individuals to live and work in Michigan. The Legislature also increased arts and cultural grants by $1 million. Moreover, the Legislature appropriated nearly $36 million for the Michigan Enhancement Grant Program that will include 20 projects around the State. Included in the grant program was $1 million for the Van Andel Institute for Entrepreneurship.
DEPARTMENT OF LICENSING AND REGULATION
Lawmakers concurred with the Governor and increased funding for Attorney General costs incurred for enforcement of unlicensed activity. In addition, the Legislature mandated that funds from the Liquor Purchase Revolving Fund be used to mitigate delays in issuing licenses. The Legislature also requires the Department to submit a report detailing usage statistics for the Michigan Automated Prescription System and the number of cases related to opioid overprescribing and dispensing.
DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
The Legislature agreed with the Executive and appropriated $1.7 million for additional conservation officers for Great Lakes enforcement. They also agreed to add nine new full time employees and $2.8 million in restricted funding for recreational improvements. The Legislature added $200,000 GF/GP for invasive species control and eliminated funding for numerous projects including local boating infrastructure maintenance, recreational and improvement grants, chronic wasting disease mitigation and special maintenance on Mackinac Island.
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Highlights of this almost $4.35 billion budget include:
- An appropriation of $1 million from the State Transportation Fund (STF) to cover increasing IT costs and increased use of e-construction technology.
- An increase in baseline funding by $8.5 million from the STF for improved drainage and flooding mitigation in Metropolitan Detroit.
- Over $78 million more than the current fiscal year in state trunkline road and bridge construction.
- An increase of $138.5 million to be distributed to local road agencies from the Michigan Transportation Fund, totaling over $1.37 billion.
- A reduction from the current fiscal year of $2.3 million for the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.
- A $5 million project earmarked on I-94 between M-60 and Sargent Road in Jackson County.
K-12 EDUCATION OMNIBUS A/K/A THE SCHOOL BUS
Along with a budget for all departments of state government and capital outlay projects, the Legislature enacted a budget for aid to public schools and school academies, sometimes called the “School Bus” bill. The Conference Report for HB 4235 appropriates over $14.3 billion to schools. Of that amount, federal funds amount to approximately $1.72 billion, GF/GP funds amount to $205 million and nearly $12.4 billion come from restricted funds, most notably the School Aid Fund which obtains revenue from the sales and use tax.
Some of the highlights of this budget include:
- Increases ranging between $60 and $120 in funding per pupil at a cost of $153 million.
- $120 million more for “at risk” children and broadened pupil eligibility.
- Increases for kindergarten entry observation, Michigan Education Corps and bilingual education totaling almost $11.5 million.
- An increase for career education planning districts costing another $3 million.
LEGISLATURE’S ATTACK ON OPIOID CRISIS
By all accounts, Michigan has one of the highest rates of prescription/opioid addiction in the country. In response to this alarming trend, the Legislature is in the process of enacting measures most experts believe will at least slow down the rate of addiction among the citizenry. SBs 166 and 167, sponsored by Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) would, as of January 1, 2020, require licensed prescribers to review the Michigan Automated Prescription System before prescribing Schedule 2 – 5 narcotics to new patients. The legislation also imposes sanctions on a prescriber’s license for failing to follow this procedure. The Senate passed these two measures just prior to summer break and they are now with the House.
HBs 4403 – 4408 are a bipartisan series of bills that would:
- Allow a Medicaid recipient acute medical detoxification for opioid use disorder.
- Define “pain management facilities” within the Public Health Code and provide for their regulation.
- Allow a pharmacist to refuse to fill a prescription if the pharmacist believed the prescription was not prescribed in good faith, or had no legitimate medical purpose.
- Require the Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Commission to develop and provide recommendations for the instruction of students on prescription opioid abuse.
- Require the Department of Education to make available to school districts and public school academies a model program of instruction on prescription opioid abuse.
- Require a prescriber to obtain parental consent before issuing a first prescription of a controlled substance containing an opioid to a minor.
The House has passed these bills and they are now with the Senate Committee on Health Policy.
SBs 270 and 272 require a bona fide patient-physician relationship to exist prior to prescribing Schedule 2 – 5 controlled substances and require a patient’s written consent prior to being prescribed such drugs. While SB 272 has remained in its first House committee, SB 270 has passed the Senate and is now with the House.
PHARMACISTS EXEMPT FROM TORT LIABILITY
The previously mentioned HB 4405 exempts from civil liability a pharmacist who in good faith refuses to fill a prescription. Currently, a pharmacist is exempt from sanctions placed on his/her license for a good faith failure to fill a prescription. HB 4405 goes one step further and exempts the pharmacist from damages due to injuries to the complainant, his/her property or damage to a third party. This legislation is a breakthrough for pharmacists and Senate approval is expected by the end of the year.
PROHIBIT PHYSICIAN RECERTIFICATION AS A CONDITION OF LICENSE RENEWAL
HB 4134, sponsored by Rep. Ned Canfield, D.O. (R-Sebewaing), adds provisions to the Public Health Code stating that a physician does not need to maintain a national or regional certification, not already specifically required, in order to obtain a license to practice medicine. HB 4135, also sponsored by Rep. Canfield, amends the Insurance Code, stating that an insurer or health maintenance organization may not require a physician to maintain a national or regional certification not already specifically required by the Public Health Code before paying or reimbursing a claim.
The bills were introduced in response to the complaints of some medical specialty groups that the process for certification and recertification is too expensive and overly burdensome. The bills, which have split the physician community, have received a hearing before the House Committee on Health Policy, but remain with that Committee.
INTERSTATE HEALTHCARE LICENSURE REMAINS IN COMMITTEE
HBs 4066 and 4067, sponsored by Rep. Jim Tedder (R- Clarkston), enroll Michigan into the Interstate Licensure compact for health care professionals. A person who was licensed to practice in a health care profession in one of the participating states in the Compact would have the right to expedited licensure in Michigan. The bills have met with resistance from the existing licensed medical community.
REGULATION OF PHARMACY BENEFIT MANAGERS
Pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) make crucial decisions regarding access and cost of pharmaceuticals. It is also true that PBMs in the past have utilized power to influence the market and market networks. They also exert a great deal of power in contracting and the audits they conduct, especially with pharmacies. Even with all this influence in the insurance industry and the marketplace, PBMs remain unregulated by Michigan law. SB 287, sponsored by Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, would change all that. This comprehensive legislation would, among other things:
- Require PBMs to register and issue annual reports to the Director of the Department of Insurance and Financial Services.
- Establish a protocol for audits, placing strict constraints on times and dates.
- Prohibit PBMs from restricting an insured from only using a specified pharmacy for their prescriptions.
The bill was introduced late last year and died at the end of session. This year’s early introduction shows determination by pharmacists to get something done. However, the bill may be too comprehensive for its own good. There is potential for taking some aspects of the current bill, most notably the registration and regulating requirements, and creating either a new bill or a substitute. SB 287, in its current form, has stayed in its original committee to which it was referred. Look for a grassroots effort to get some movement on this bill.
LEGISLATURE ACTS TO PREVENT FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 513,000 women and girls in the United States have experienced or may experience female genital mutilation. Two Detroit-area doctors and a third person have recently been charged under a federal female genital mutilation statute. Some believe the federal statute is not strong enough for this crime and that it would be proper to give the State of Michigan jurisdiction as well. Minnesota is one of the states that has crafted its own statute and Michigan legislators have crafted a package of bills in the hope of eradicating the practice from the State. SB 410, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Twp.), amends the sanctions list within the Public Health Code to require the permanent revocation of a health professional’s license if found guilty of female genital mutilation. HB 4639, sponsored by Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Twp.) and given bipartisan co-sponsorship, states that a certified copy of a court record of conviction would be conclusive evidence of a conviction for female genital mutilation. These bills passed both Houses overwhelmingly. The Governor has signed both SB 410 (now Public Act 81 of 2017) and HB 4639 (now Public Act 75 of 2017).
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
Before they recessed for three weeks to begin the summer, it looked like the Legislature would pass the Governor’s Good Jobs proposal. SBs 242 through 244 act as an incentive for businesses to locate here and employ people. The bills allow businesses that set up shop in Michigan and employ at least three thousand people to obtain tax relief from the income taxes the employer and employee would have paid to the State for ten years at the average salary level for the local prosperity region. It appears to be a push by the Administration to lure the Taiwan-based company Fox-Conn to Michigan. In the past, the Governor and a number of Republican lawmakers were adamantly opposed to tax incentives or tax credits for businesses as an incentive for locating or expanding in Michigan. It was said that by doing so, the government was interfering with the market, creating winners and losers by fiat legislation. Moreover, the Governor, his Budget Director and lawmakers are still smarting over the tax credit incentives given to major employers last decade and which are maturing now, costing the State hundreds of millions of dollars. This plan, however, was different and received gubernatorial approval because actual jobs had to be provided prior to reaping the tax benefit. This all sounds pretty good, but a funny thing happened on the way to enactment.
It appears that in order to secure votes from some members of the House Democratic Caucus, the Republican Governor agreed that he would not push for any further labor relations legislation. This presumably involved the repeal of the prevailing wage statute, among other things. House Republicans were furious that the Governor had cut such a “deal” and on the last day before a three week break, refused to take up the package that had been on their calendar.
In the end, the matter finally reached a vote on July 12 and passed both Houses with some opposition from members of both parties. The Governor happily signed the legislation. However, and with a bit of irony, on the very day the Governor signed the jobs incentive bills, Fox-Conn announced it would locate an American facility in southeast Wisconsin. However, recent rumors indicate that a possible research and development site may still locate in Michigan.
During this budget season (February through mid-June), House and Senate Republican leadership had different priorities but both involved spending less than the Governor asked for in his Executive Budget recommendation. House leadership wanted an income tax rate rollback. Senate leadership, on the other hand, wanted to begin addressing the State’s mounting unfunded mandate within the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS). The System provided a pension for retirees affiliated with public education. However, in doing so, the System was $30 billion in the red and that deficit was growing. The Governor opposed both the income tax rate rollback and the MPSERS initiative as budget busters, something the State could not afford at this late stage in the budget formation process. Legislative leaders finally decided to address the MPSERS issue, but the Governor still would not budge in his opposition. Consequently, legislative leadership cut the Governor’s office out of budget negotiations until he agreed to address MPSERS, which he ultimately did. The revised plan, embodied in SB 401, requires, among other things:
- Employees hired after February 1, 2018, to be part of a defined contribution plan instead of a hybrid contribution defined benefit plan.
- A new 401(k) retirement plan for new employees with a four percent state match toward the owner’s account, plus a three percent contribution amount by the employee, which would in turn be matched by the State.
- If the employee does not opt for a plan, direct contribution will be chosen for him/her.
- Beginning with fiscal year 2018-2019, prohibits the employer portion of the normal cost and unfunded accrued liability contribution rates from declining one year to the next.
- Definition of a retirement age.
- Replacement of the currently assumed actuarial rate of either percent with a rate as determined by the Director of the Office of Retirement Systems and retirement board after consultation with an actuary.
As part of the revision to the System, the Legislature set aside $255 million in the upcoming budget, $55 million to cover the cost of conversion in the first two years and a $200 million installment on the unfunded liability. The bill was signed by the Governor and is now Public Act 92 of 2017.
PIPELINES UNDER THE STRAITS: NO ACTION
Over 60 years ago, a pipeline was laid near the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. The pipeline carries crude oil and propane, much of which is used to heat homes in the Upper Peninsula in the long, cold winter months. After the Enbridge pipeline disaster, which contaminated the Kalamazoo River in 2010, more attention was paid to the potential vulnerability of the Line 5 pipeline crossing at the Straits. Both liberals, as expected, but conservatives as well, have expressed deep concern over protection of the Great Lakes, but, to date, nothing has been done. Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) introduced SB 292 in March.
The bill prohibits the DEQ from granting a permit over, through, under or upon the bottom lands of the Great Lakes for a pipeline to transport oil or petroleum products. The bill also gives the DEQ broad powers to shut down an existing pipeline if the public trust in the waters of the Great Lakes is being impaired. The Senator has firsthand experience with Enbridge as his mother-in-law lost her home in the 2010 Kalamazoo River disaster. House Democrats have introduced a package of bills calling for severe penalties and remediation in the event of a spill. Conservative Attorney General Bill Schuette has said the Legislature should enact a statute prohibiting heavy crude oil and tar sands from the pipeline. In late June, Dynamic Risk Assessments, Inc. issued a report that looked into six alternatives, including keeping the current pipeline or closing it. The report concluded that keeping the current pipeline would have the fewest costs and environmental risks, but that the State could reduce any risk by moving the pipeline into or under the lake via a tunnel. The problem with that alternative is, of course, money. It is estimated that a new line in a trench at the bottom of the Lake would cost $30 million, while a tunnel under the Straits would cost $150 million. So, for the time being at least, don’t look for any legislative action toward a new pipeline to replace the current one, now six decades old. Still, a series of hearings is being planned by the DEQ in order to get public input.
The Governor and other leaders want Michigan to become the national leader for autonomous vehicle research and development. In fact, University of Michigan has taken steps to be the center of that research in the State. However, the State has a lot of national competition from California and Florida, among others. Among the many concerns with driverless vehicles is the vehicle’s ability to read changing road conditions such as construction zones or where emergency vehicles may be deployed. In an effort to remedy that concern, the Michigan Department of Transportation is partnering with Magna, a large auto supplier of such things as cruise control, and 3M, a global science company. The effort is meant to address issues such as the positioning of street signs, internet matters and processing of vehicle to infrastructure information.
Even though the 2018 general election is 16 months away, political candidates and potential candidates are jockeying for positions. Following is a breakdown of where we are today.
Gov. Rick Snyder is termed out, so that leaves an opportunity for Democrats to recapture the State House . . . or does it? Four Democrats who have declared are: (1) former Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing; (2) businessman and former health official Dr. Abdul El Sayed of Detroit; (3) Bill Cobbs, a former Xerox executive from Farmington Hills; and (4) Shri Thamedar, an entrepreneur of Ann Arbor. To date, Whitmer has the advantage in name identification and is considered the odds-on favorite. That is, of course, if neither Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, nor Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan enter the race. Both have great name recognition in the most populated areas of the State. Whitmer’s campaign was well on its way when sitting Flint Congressman Dan Kildee decided not to risk his safe seat for a gubernatorial run. Another name which has been mentioned was prominent plaintiff attorney Mark Bernstein. Although a political novice, Bernstein’s name is well recognized through advertising and his family has the resources to conduct a viable campaign. However, Bernstein recently issued a statement saying he will not be a candidate. Another name that has recently risen is someone who tried once before to become Governor. His name is Geoffrey Feiger, a very well-known plaintiff’s attorney who got trounced by Gov. John Engler in 1998. However, he remains popular among many. The race for the Democratic nomination is far from over. El Sayed has impressed at speaking engagements. Thamedar is contributing over $3 million of his own money toward his campaign. And recent polls show Feiger and Whitmer running neck and neck among Democratic voters. Even with all this, Whitmer is, at least at this stage, still the favorite to be the standard bearer.
On the Republican side, there are five declared candidates: (1) State Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township; (2) Jim Hines, a physician and President of the Christian Medical and Dental Association Insurance; (3) agent Joseph Derose of Williamston; (4) Mark MacFarland, a private investigator of Pinconning; and (5) businessman Evan Space of Grand Rapids. However, there are two individuals who are widely speculated to jump into the race. They are Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette. The Attorney General has the clear advantage in both resources and name identification. He has access to considerable funding through his many connections and he is a well-known figure, having served as a Congressman, State Senator, Michigan Court of Appeals Judge, Attorney General and Director of the Department of Agriculture over four decades. He has run three statewide races, having won two of them, and won another race involving 58 of Michigan’s 83 counties. The Lieutenant Governor, on the other hand, was elected as a state representative from rural Ionia County, and after winning a hard fought primary in 2010, was tapped by then gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder to be his running mate. Since his election, Calley has worked hard for the Governor, taking the lead on such issues as income tax revision, the new bridge across the Detroit River, autism syndrome, insurance coverage, health care integration and a number of other issues. Historically, it has been difficult for one political party to succeed itself after it has controlled the office of chief executive for two terms. Although difficult to continue the Republican domination, conventional thinking could be overturned in a very unpredictable political climate. It is not yet known what impact, if any, President Trump’s Administration will have on the electorate. Still, at this point at least, Attorney General Schuette appears to be the strong favorite.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Like the Governor, Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is term limited. At the end of her term, the GOP will have held the office for 24 straight years and with such things as voter access to polls being a major concern, Democrats want to recapture the office. The leading candidate for a Democratic Party takeover appears to be Jocelyn Benson, a highly respected attorney and law school professor. Benson unsuccessfully sought the office previously, but with very little funding and organization, her campaign earned high marks for its effectiveness.
On the Republican side, the leading candidate appears to be State Sen. Mike Kowall of White Lake. Kowall is the current Senate Majority Floor Leader and is well regarded in Party circles. However, a couple of potential candidates have recently emerged. Mike Senyko has been the current Secretary of State’s Chief of Staff during her tenure and has indicated he is definitely interested. Before coming to Lansing, Senyko was Johnson’s Deputy Clerk in Oakland County. Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot has also expressed strong interest. As with the candidates for Attorney General and Lt. Governor, the suitors for the office of Secretary of State will be decided at the state party conventions next year. Yet, at least on the Republican side, there may be indications as to who the true frontrunners are after the Party’s biennial leadership conference in September on Mackinac Island.
The good news for Republicans was they swept all statewide elected offices in 2010. The bad news is that all of them are termed out, including incumbent Bill Schuette. Republicans have held the office with Schuette and predecessor Mike Cox since 2003, and Democrats hope to capture it back. At this stage, it appears that a leading candidate for the Democrats is Patrick Miles of Grand Rapids. Miles is a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, being appointed by then-President Barack Obama. He resigned upon the election of Donald Trump. Miles would be a good fit for the Party as it has a tradition of balancing its statewide ticket regarding race and gender. Another potentially qualified candidate for the Democrats is Barbara McQuaid, who was also a U.S. attorney during the Obama administration, with her service being to the Eastern District of Michigan, most notably the densely populate southeastern part of the State.
On the Republican side, Speaker of the House and former State Assistant Attorney General Tom Leonard appears at this time to be gaining support among the more conservative elements of the Party. Another leading candidate is current State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker of Lawton in Van Buren County. She is highly regarded by the conservatives in the Party as well.
Clearly, this is the wild card position on the ticket. The political parties, Democrats in particular, often use the position to provide gender and racial balance to the ticket. For instance, if former State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer wins her Party’s nomination, chances are she will choose a white male from either Flint or southeastern Michigan to be her running mate. There is precedent, remember, when then candidate Jennifer Granholm chose State Sen. John Cherry from Clio (Flint area) in 2002?
The Republican side would be a little less clear as the GOP has not adhered to the balance theory as ardently as the Democrats. Nevertheless, if either Lt. Gov. Brian Calley or Attorney General Bill Schuette happen to win the Party’s nomination for Governor, don’t be surprised to see a female as their running mate. Some have suggested Rep. Laura Cox from Livonia would be a nice balance, but Cox is considered a shoe-in for a vacant state senate seat in her area. Others claim that if Speaker Tom Leonard is the Party’s nominee for Attorney General then State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker would provide balance and some gravitas. However, at this point, the nominee at the political conventions of both Parties is only pure speculation.
When most observers didn’t think it was possible for Republicans to gain more seats, they did just that in the 2014 election, gaining an additional one and making their majority an insurmountable 27 – 11. The GOP faces perhaps a greater challenge in 2018 to either hold onto the same or substantially the same majority. Of the 27 seats that are open this year, 19 are currently held by Republicans. While winning the 2010 election allowed Republicans to redistrict to their liking, reaching 27 seats, let alone keeping them, was never really anticipated. At this stage, with poll numbers indicating the President’s popularity is low, and with other Republican office holders being unpopular, we may see Democrats gain three to four seats in 2018.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Can the Democrats take back control of the House they lost in 2010? Well, maybe and only if they can keep the seats they have and make inroads in places like Eaton County, Battle Creek and northern Michigan. They need nine seats to overcome the current GOP majority of 63 – 46 with one current vacancy that should stay Democratic.
On paper, there are 24 open seats in the House this time due to term limits. Thirteen are currently held by Democrats and 11 by Republicans. However, there are a few factors which even out these numbers. First, the Governor has called a special election for a vacant seat that traditionally has been held by a Democrat, and should be again. The vacancy was created by the death of a state representative serving in his last term. So really, Democrats have 12 instead of 13 seats to defend. The Republicans would have 11 to defend, but six of their members who are not term limited have indicated a desire to run for State Senate, foregoing their last term of service in the House. If that is indeed the case, Republicans would have 17 seats to defend.
At this point, look for Democrats to make it a closer count in the House, but right now they are a few seats shy of controlling the gavel.