Capitol News

November 2014

Campaigning and preparations for the November 4 election consumed Michigan during the last month. Despite the Michigan Democratic party’s much ballyhooed plan to flush out its sporadic voters and increase absentee voting, turn-out in Michigan was actually a bit lower than in 2010’s mid-term elections. 3.15 million votes were cast in the governor’s race this year and 3.23 million ballots were cast in 2010. The Department of State said roughly 808,000 absentee ballots were cast, up 50,000 from four years ago. Even President Obama’s visit to Detroit did not result in better attendance at the polls there.

REPUBLICAN WAVE BUT NO TSUNAMI

Statewide races — Governor Snyder won re-election by 4 points, down from his sweeping 18.5 point victory of 2010 against Virg Bernero. Snyder carried 72 of the state’s 83 counties, losing only Alger, Bay, Eaton, Genesee, Ingham, Manistee, Marquette, Muskegon, Saginaw, Washtenaw and Wayne. An NBC News exit poll showed Democrats made up 39 percent of the electorate, compared to 30 percent for Republicans, but Governor Rick Snyder won independents by 61 percent to 34 percent to make up the difference. Both candidates won about 90 percent of their party’s voters. Snyder also topped Democrat Mark Schauer by 16 percentage points among men, overcoming Schauer’s 8-point edge among women, the exit poll showed.

But Snyder’s coattails did not carry over to the U.S. Senate race where Democrat Gary Peters trounched Terry Land by 14 points. He will succeed the retiring Carl Levin. Peters will be part of the new minority party in the U.S. Senate as Republicans flipped the U.S. Senate to their control.

Incumbent Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson both won their races handily. Republican-nominated Justices Brian Zahra and David Viviano were also re-elected and will be joined by new Democratic-nominated Richard Bernstein replacing the retiring Democratic-nominated Justice Michael Cavanaugh. The court will remain at a 5 2 Republican/Democrat split after inaugurations on January 1, 2015.

Education boards — Bucking the Republican tide, seven of the eight education board seats went to Democrats. These races are a crucial measure of whether Michigan is considered a red or blue state. Since fewer voters go down the ballot to vote in these races because of unfamiliarity with the candidates, which party takes these seats is considered a barometer of party strength and discipline. On that scale, the Democrats succeeded. Republican Melody Foster’s success in taking an MSU Board of Trustee seat was attributed to her marketing campaign around the Lansing area where many MSU alumnae live and the popularity of a Green Party candidate in the race who took some votes from the losing Democrat incumbent candidate, Faye Owen.

U.S. Congress — Five new faces will be going to Washington to represent Michigan because of open seats though no districts changed party representation. New faces are John Moolenaar (R-Midland), Mike Bishop (R-Madison Heights), Dave Trott (R- Bloomfield Hills), Debbie Dingell (D-Plymouth, and Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield).

Michigan House — Republicans increased their numbers by four seats in the House to create a 63-47 majority. The Democrats failed to flip any seat in the House and Republicans ousted two Democrat incumbents, Collene Lamonte (Montague) and Theresa Abed (Grand Ledge). Nearly every competitive race went to Republicans with the exception of Democratic incumbents Henry Yanez (Sterling Heights) and Winnie Brinks (Grand Rapids), who both won narrowly. Republicans managed to return vulnerable Ray Franz (Onekama), Ben Glardon (Owosso) and Kevin Cotter (Mt.Pleasant). Democrat Kristy Pagan (Canton Township) won an open seat narrowly. There are 43 new faces among the 110 members of the Michigan House.

Michigan Senate — Republicans increased their super-majority to 27 of the 38 seats in the Michigan Senate, capping a 34-year run of control over that body. Vulnerable incumbents Patrick Colbeck (Canton Township) and Geoff Hansen (Hart) won their elections; the GOP was successful in winning every competitive open seat. There is only one entirely new-to-the-legislature Senator, Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing).

Leadership Picks — Legislative caucuses met on November 6 and elected their next leaders for the 2015-2016 Legislative Session. The results are as follows:

Senate Republican Caucus
Majority Leader – Senator Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive)
Majority Floor Leader – Senator Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Twp.)

Senate Democratic Caucus
Minority Leader – Jim Ananich (D-Flint)
Minority Floor Leader – Morris Hood (D-Detroit)

House Republican Caucus
Speaker – Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant)
Majority Floor Leader – Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton)
Speaker Pro Tem – Tom Leonard (R-Dewitt)

House Democratic Caucus
Minority Leader – Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills)
Minority Floor Leader – Sam Singh (D-East Lansing)

Ballot proposals — Both pro-wolf hunting ballot proposals were defeated: Proposal 1 by 10 points (the legislatively-set wolf hunting season) and Proposal 2 by 28 points (authorizing the Natural Resources Commission to set game species and hunting seasons). The Humane Society-financed television ads had a profound effect since there was no discernible campaign in support of the proposals. Decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana was on the ballot in 11 cities or townships and won in the six urban areas. Road funding proposals in several counties had mixed results.

And the point is — SERA member Walt Sorg who writes the Michigan Curmudgeon blog has noted that the 2011 redistricting of congressional and legislative boundaries paid huge dividends for those who wrote the maps. Excerpts from his analysis:

In the 14 congressional races, Democrats received more votes than Republicans: Democrats: 1,515,716 (49.15%); Republicans: 1,463,854 (47.47%), but Republicans won 9 of the 14 races. The average margin of victory for winning Dems was 86,410; the average GOP win margin was 42,243.

In the races for the state House, Democrats got more votes, Republicans INCREASED their margin: Democrats: 1,536,812 (50.98%); Republicans: 1,474,983 (48.93%). The Republican maps turned a 61,829 margin FOR DEMOCRATS into a 63-47 “majority” for Republicans. The average Republican victory: 6,389 votes. The average Democratic victory: 10,092.

In the races for the state Senate, Republicans received slightly more votes than Democrats, but turned a slim total-vote victory into a super-majority: Democrats: 1,483,927 (49.23%); Republicans: 1,527,343 (50.67%). The Republican maps transforms that slim 43,416 statewide vote margin (1.4%) into a 27-11 advantage (71%) in the state Senate. The average Republican victory: 15,107 votes. The average Democratic victory: 33,133 votes.

This writer believes the Dems would do the same if they were designing the maps, only the result would be in favor of the Dems. Perhaps what Michigan needs is a fairer way of redistricting in 2020.

Lame duck issues — There are nine days scheduled for the legislature to meet before the end of the year. Typically lame duck incumbents feel freer to vote their conscience without regard to voter wrath so sometimes big issues are taken up.

Roads — Governor Snyder said right after the election that he wants $1 billion in new revenues for road repairs through fuel taxes and fees before the end of the year. Michigan spends less per capita on its roads than any state in the nation. Michigan spends $174 per person annually on transportation. Illinois and Ohio each spend $235. Minnesota spends $315. The House passed a $500 million proposal last spring but the Senate was not able to muster the votes for an alternative proposal before the election. It was a high priority issue on the campaign trail.

In a straw poll of Michigan SERA delegates at the SERA Coordinating Council meeting of November 7, there was overwhelming support for raising revenue through a one percent increase in the sales tax dedicated to roads versus increased gas tax and fees. An increase in the sales tax would need to go before the voters.

Gay rights — The Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, a coalition of business and civil rights organizations, has announced a new push for legislation to add sexual orientation to the protections in Michigan’s civil rights law. See www.freedommichigan.org, with an electronic petition as well as instructions on how to contact legislators on the issue. The group is arguing that the change in policy is needed to attract new workers and businesses to the state and to keep particularly young workers here.

Sentencing reform — A package of bills to reform our sentencing laws has been introduced with bi-partisan support. Michigan has the highest incarceration rate in the nation with commensurate high costs. Even the law and order types in the legislature want to reduce the cost of corrections and one method is in sentencing reform.

Electoral college change — Currently 48 states including Michigan have a winner-take-all electoral vote system for the Presidential candidate receiving the most votes in the state. Maine and Nebraska split their electoral votes by congressional district. Some Republicans are interested in assigning electoral votes by congressional district in Michigan with the presidential candidate earning the most votes in each of the 14 Congressional districts earning an electoral vote, and the candidate getting the most votes overall earning two additional electoral votes. President Barack Obama, who beat Republican challenger Mitt Romney by over 9 percentage points in 2012, earned the state’s 16 electoral votes. Under the proposed reform, the state’s electoral votes would have been split 9-7 in favor of Romney even though Romney lost by about 450,000 votes statewide.

Other issues ripe for lame duck — expanding term limits; giving the mayor of Detroit the authority to appoint Detroit school board members; expanding charter schools; third grade reading mandate; evaluation of schools; standardized testing of students; abolishing the prevailing wage law.

OTHER NEWS

Marriage equality — The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on November 6 that Michigan’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. With the ruling, the 6th Circuit became the first federal appellate court to uphold a state ban on same-sex marriage. All other federal circuit courts of appeals ruling on the issue have declared that such bans are unconstitutional. Gay marriage is legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia, either as a result of court rulings or laws those states enacted. Likely the plaintiffs will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and the high court would likely take the case due to the split in the circuits.

Detroit Bankruptcy — On November 7 U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stephen Rhoades approved the city of Detroit bankruptcy plan to slash more than $7 billion in liabilities and reinvest $1.7 billion over 10 years to improve city services. The bankruptcy process took an extraordinarily short 16 months to negotiate with the various bond holders, creditors, retirees, and employees and was watched nationally as a model for other municipalities. A major feature of the plan is The Grand Bargain, which combined $175 million in state aid, hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from private foundations as well as the DIA’s pledge to raise millions to reduce the hit to pensioners and at the same time protect DIA art.

The ruling officially means the end of Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s tenure, although he had ceded power over the city in October to Mayor Mike Duggan and the city council other than to complete the bankruptcy’s process. A state-led financial oversight board will have a role in reviewing city budgets for years to come.

Pension tax repeal — In an interview after the election, Governor Snyder made it clear that he does not intend to support any modification or repeal of the pension tax.

SERA Recent News — If you are a SERA member, you are eligible to receive SERA Recent News, a periodic e-mail about breaking news and media stories of interest to state employees and retirees. Write to michigansera@comcast.net, giving your name and chapter.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail michigansera@comcast.net.

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