Jan. 6, 2023 | This Week in Government: Wide-Open Field Could Emerge in Wake of Stabenow RetirementJanuary 6, 2023
Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.
Wide-Open Field Could Emerge in Wake of Stabenow Retirement
Thursday’s announcement by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow saying she will not seek reelection sparked immediate speculation about which Democrats and Republicans might seek to fill her seat in 2024 as the scramble began for a rare open U.S. Senate seat in Michigan.
While Democrats control the U.S. Senate 51-49, the 2024 U.S. Senate map is highly favorable for Republicans as far as which seats are up for election, and Republicans immediately began eyeing Michigan as a potential pickup opportunity. Democrats, however, have won 15 of the last 16 U.S. Senate races in Michigan going back to 1976.
The announcement by Stabenow (D-Lansing) will end a decades-long career in local, state, and federal elected office, opening the door to higher office for aspirants and increasing the stakes in Michigan even further as it maintains swing state status ahead of the next presidential election.
It also will be the first election for an open U.S. Senate seat in Michigan in a decade and just the fourth ever. The last was in 2014 when U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) won the seat after serving in the U.S. House.
Among the early names of Democratic contenders were U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Lansing and Sen. Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak.
Republican names being floated in the wake of the senator’s announcement included U.S. Rep. John James, former U.S. Rep. and former Secretary of State Candice Miller, former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids, and U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain of Bruce Township.
Multiple other members of the state’s congressional delegation were reportedly weighing their options.
Sources also told Gongwer News Service on background that former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon is not ruling out a run, while another 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidate, Kevin Rinke, is seriously considering running.
The New York Times was among outlets reporting on Thursday to report Slotkin was calling supporters and may announce a U.S. Senate campaign as soon as next week. The same story reported that U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Birmingham) also was seriously considering getting into the race.
A source within Slotkin’s camp confirmed that the representative is “seriously considering” running but did not confirm the further reporting in The New York Times article.
A message left with a spokesperson for Stevens for comment was also not immediately returned.
Slotkin is battled-tested, having won three close races in a 50/50 congressional district as well as being a strong fundraiser, sources naming her as a potential candidate said.
She won the most expensive U.S. House race in the country in 2022. If she runs for U.S. Senate, it would set off a scramble for her House seat with speculation already underway that the man she defeated, former Sen. Tom Barrett of Charlotte, would try again, and who among the many Democrats in Ingham County would run.
A message left Thursday with McMorrow, who emerged as a national star in 2022, for comment was not immediately returned.
“No one has been more instrumental in building the infrastructure of the Michigan Democratic Party to this historic moment we’re in today,” McMorrow said in a statement. “As we get set to open session with the first Democratic trifecta in nearly 40 years, Senator Stabenow deserves recognition not only for her own career, but for her tireless work to help create this unprecedented opportunity.”
Republican former secretary of state and former U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, now the Macomb County Public Works commissioner, is also weighing a run, her long-time former congressional chief of staff Jamie Roe said Thursday.
“I can confirm that she is seriously considering it at this time,” Roe said, adding he had spoken to her Thursday. “She’s got a calling to serve this state.”
Roe said open U.S. Senate seats do not occur often, so public servants should take a serious look at such an opportunity when it arises.
“I think you’re going to see no shortage of people looking at on both sides of the aisle,” Roe said.
There is a more than 20-year history of Miller turning down opportunities to run for offices like governor or U.S. senator though she has always remained a top potential candidate given her strengths in southeast Michigan and appeal to independents.
McClain did not rule out a run in a statement on Thursday.
“Right now, I am 100% focused on serving the great people of Michigan’s 9th District. But I will not close the door on opportunities to serve the entire state,” McClain said.
Democrats were optimistic about being able to hold the seat, saying the party has a deep bench.
“I think that the Democratic Party right now has an embarrassment of riches on the bench compared to … even a few years ago,” said Josh Pugh, senior director of public affairs at Truscott Rossman.
Pugh said Slotkin would be a great candidate. Despite having eight years of eligibility left in the state Senate, McMorrow could be in a position to run, he added.
Other Democrats who might want to look at the race, he said, could include U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten of Grand Rapids and former state Rep. Donna Lasinski of Scio Township, he said.
A Democratic source, speaking on background, echoed Pugh on the size of the party’s bench. The source said Slotkin, McMorrow, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson were some of the earliest names being referenced in the wake of Stabenow’s announcement.
The source added there likely will be multiple Detroit candidates, including one or more current or former Black lawmakers. The source said the Democrats have a lot of strong women that could run, as well as candidates who are people of color or members of the LGBT community.
When asked who might run on the Republican side, the source chuckled and said: “I’m sure John James is.” James lost a closer-than-expected race to Stabenow in 2018 and a razor-close race to Peters in 2020.
It was pointed out by the source that when Peters ran in 2014, it spurred a major reshuffling among local, state, and federal elected Democrats into new positions. This could lead to another shakeup if the Democrats hold the seat, it was stated.
“It was a political earthquake that spurred a thousand meetings … across Lansing, that’s for sure,” Harbor Strategic CEO John Sellek said of the announcement.
Sellek said the Democrats have many viable candidates to choose from.
Key challenges, he said, will be finding a consensus candidate and avoiding a fight between a moderate and more left-wing candidate in the primary. It also adds pressure to leaders like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to not only lead with slim Democratic Legislature majorities but to help keep the U.S. Senate seat in the party’s hands and the state in their column in the presidential election.
He said to watch for multiple Republican candidates who ran for governor in 2022 to get in the race. Others who might run on the GOP side could include James, Miller, former Attorney General Mike Cox, former Attorney General Bill Schuette, and Meijer. Sellek added that in media interviews before leaving Congress, Meijer expressed a desire to enter public service again in the future.
As to the status of the Michigan Republican Party after losing the Legislature and all statewide Michigan elected offices last November, he said Stabenow’s retirement could be a good opportunity to rebound.
“The party has been infighting so much … it needs something to rally around,” Sellek said.
Multiple Democrats quickly issued statements saying they will not be running to replace Stabenow.
Whitmer made it clear she will not seek to fill the seat in a statement praising Stabenow for her work in the U.S. Senate.
“As governor of this great state for the next four years, I look forward to working with her through the end of her term and beyond in however she serves our state next,” Whitmer said.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II did not provide any clue as to whether he would consider running in a statement, instead praising Stabenow and calling her a trailblazer and historic leader in the state.
“Let’s build on her legacy and continue working together to make a difference for Michiganders in every community,” Gilchrist said.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who moved to Michigan in 2022, said in a statement that he will also remain in his current role.
“I am fully focused on serving the President in my role of Secretary of Transportation, and not seeking any other job. We are hard at work to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, grow the economy, and create good-paying jobs,” Buttigieg said.
A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint Township) said he also was not going to enter the race.
James, in a text provided to Gongwer regarding his interest in the U.S. Senate race, said: “Look, I haven’t even been sworn into Congress, yet! So here’s my plan: Get sworn in and get to work serving the people of Michigan’s 10th District.”
He was referring to the ongoing votes to elect a U.S. House speaker, which on Thursday was entering its third day of voting without an end in sight. Until a speaker is elected, the U.S. House cannot formally swear in members or conduct further legislative business.
The implications of Stabenow’s retirement were not lost on Republicans.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Mike Berg, in a statement, sought to frame the news as a bad sign for national Democrats in 2024.
“Senate Democrats don’t even have a campaign chair yet and they are already dealing with a major retirement. We are going to aggressively target this seat in 2024. This could be the first of many Senate Democrats who decide to retire rather than lose,” Berg said.
During the 2022 election cycle, Peters served as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, helping the Democrats to maintain and expand their U.S. Senate majority by a single seat to 51-49. He opted not to hold the position for a second cycle.
In the 2024 election cycle, Democrats have a tough map in the U.S. Senate to defend their majority. They must defend 21 seats, along with two seats held by independents who caucus with the Democrats. Republicans only have 10 seats up for election in 2024, all of which are in strongly GOP states, leaving little chance for the Democrats to pick up any seats.
Dem Supreme Court Majority Elects GOP-Nominated Clement as Chief
After being tapped to fill in as chief justice during the end of former Justice Bridget McCormack’s tenure, the high court on Wednesday – with its newest member in tow – unanimously elected Chief Justice Elizabeth Clement to hold the honor for the entirety of the current two-year term.
Clement was previously selected as chief when McCormack announced her retirement last year by a first unanimous vote.
The selection is significant in part because Clement is a GOP-nominated justice, who was first appointed to the bench by Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder, and the Supreme Court has a 4-3 majority of justices nominated by Democrats.
She also leads a high court that has a majority of women serving on the bench. While that is not a first historically, it holds similar significance for the court.
“I am honored to have been chosen unanimously by my colleagues to serve as Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court for the next two years,” Clement said in a statement. “In the new year and beyond, we all look forward to working with judges and court professionals statewide to further our shared commitment to civility, transparency, and accountability. Together, we can achieve our shared mission to ensure courts are independent, accessible, engaged, and provide an efficient justice system that works for everyone.”
Clement’s office said Monday that the bench would be holding a conference to let newly appointed Justice Kyra Harris Bolden have a vote on who would hold the chief justice position following the new chief’s election months earlier.
With Bolden taking a seat on the bench, the Democratic Party majority held strong with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer‘s appointment of the latter, but the majority still felt Clement was worthy and deserving to lead the court and the state’s judiciary from an administrative standpoint.
Doing so continues the streak of congeniality the high court has forged over the last four years when McCormack, who was also a Democratic Party nominated jurist, was elected during a 4-3 GOP majority, then comprising of Clement, current Justice Brian Zahra and Justice David Viviano and then-Justice Stephen Markman.
Clement has also been praised by both parties and operatives of all stripes for her reputation as an independent-minded jurist, which is why Justice Richard Bernstein – the court’s senior Democrat – felt it was necessary to first elect her in late Nov. 2022.
“The thing that I think that people really admire so much about her is that she is fierce, just fiercely independent,” Bernstein said in a previous interview (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Nov. 21, 2022). “When you look at her decisions, when you look at how she rules, the thing that you can always say about her is that she brings that independence to the court system. I think at this point and where we are right now, I just can’t think of a better representative than somebody who has that incredible ability to approach things in a very independent way.”
For example, Clement, in July 2022, wrote the 5-2 majority opinion in Rouch World v. Department of Civil Rights, joining all four of the bench’s Democrats against her two GOP-nominated colleagues to that rule that sexual orientation was a protected category in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Bernstein also pointed out previously that Clement’s experience in working with all three branches of government, calling that significant and a skill unpossessed by most other justices past and present.
Clement also received praise and admiration on social media from politicos of various stripes, including Senate Majority Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing).
Whitmer Hints at Gun Reform, Climate Change Action in Inaugural Speech
It’s a new day in Lansing as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has Democratic majorities in the Legislature to work with. During her inauguration Sunday, she touched on policy proposals that certainly wouldn’t have moved under previous Republican control.
Whitmer, who said she would have more to say at her upcoming State of the State and budget addresses, reiterated longstanding priorities, including repealing the so-called pension tax.
But she also leaned into potential policy changes that will most certainly be easier with Democrats in charge of the House and Senate. She also called for eliminating “outdated laws” dealing with abortion and same-sex marriage, passing “common sense” gun control measures, and addressing climate change “head-on.”
“We must do everything we can to lower costs, so families have more money in their pockets to pay the bills and put food on the table,” Whitmer said. “Grow our economy so every person can get the skills to land a good-paying job. Ensure every Michigander is safe going to work, dropping their kids off at school, or at home in their neighborhood. Build up infrastructure for our communities: From the roads people drive on, the homes they live in, to the pipes that deliver their kids’ drinking water.
“Our task is clear: focus on the fundamentals, work together, and get things done,” she said.
Democratic officials from across the state came together at the Capitol on Sunday as Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson officially began their second terms – which will be highlighted by a Democratic majority in both chambers of the Legislature.
Lawmakers making up that new majority smattered the crowd while the new Democratic leaders – Speaker Joe Tate and Majority Leader Winnie Brinks – addressed the audience, many donning bright pink beanies saying “Michigan Strong” – in their new capacities. Minority leaders Rep. Matt Hall and Sen. Aric Nesbitt sat on the Capitol steps with the Democrats.
While it was cloudy and cold, the rain stopped before the event began and held off as roughly a thousand people surrounded the Capitol to hear statewide officers be sworn in and speeches from the top leaders.
New Justice Kyra Harris Bolden started out her term on the bench swearing in Whitmer.
“In November, Michiganders spoke with a clear voice. They want the ability to raise a family without breaking the bank, strong protections for constitutional rights, and leaders focused on the fundamental issues that matter most to their lives,” Whitmer said. “They expect us to embody the values they live up to every day – grit and grace. They deserve practical problem solvers who get things done.”
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Nessel, and Benson also took their oaths today to officially begin their second terms.
Nessel joked before her speech that she promised her wife she would stick to the script, warning the crowd it would be “super boring.”
“It’s been the privilege and honor of my lifetime to serve as attorney general of this amazing state I’ve called my home all my life,” she said. “Thank you to the voters of Michigan for giving me the opportunity to do it for another four years. I pledge to do all I can to represent the state with fairness, compassion and with dignity, and to continue to search for and implement every conceivable way to bring justice to as many people as possible.”
Benson said four years ago, she declared it a new day for democracy in Michigan, “and indeed it was,” she said.
“I committed to each of you and to the citizens of Michigan that as secretary of state I would work and fight every day to protect every vote, every voice in our democracy,” she said. “And did we ever. Over the last four years we have had the highest turn out elections in Michigan’s history.”
She said the state is in an era of misinformation and bad actors continue to spread lies about democracy.
“But today proves they will not prevail,” Benson said.
Gilchrist touched on the administration’s successes during the last four years: broadband expansion, semiconductor manufacturing, and greater access to equitable education.
Yes, it’s true that we have lost. But we also have loved. We have wept, and we have worked. Circumstances cannot stop us from carrying forward,” he said. “It’s our enduring grit and grace that propels us. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make these things happen across Michigan. … We can make life easier for those who are struggling to get by. And doing so now will make a difference for decades. Our pledge is as simple as it is profound. We will serve in support for the success of every Michigander.”
Along with Bolden, Justice Richard Bernstein and Justice Brian Zahra took their oaths of office. Other statewide officials with the education boards and Court of Appeals administered their oaths as well.
Nesbitt: Senate GOP Will Work with Dems, But Fight When Necessary
Sen. Aric Nesbitt stresses that finding policy areas where both parties can work together will be one of his goals as the Senate’s next minority leader, adding that his Republican caucus will also defend its past policy achievements and seek to slow what he called Democratic overreach when necessary.
During a recent year-end interview, Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) repeatedly pointed to his good working relationships across the aisle during his time in the majority and his willingness to achieve policy wins for residents.
At the same time, he also said he hopes the members of the incoming Democratic majority who ran on a moderate message stay true to their word. The senator said his Republican caucus will not hesitate to use all the tools at its disposal to stall any staunchly liberal agenda items the majority may push and fight to get its message across to the public.
“Are they going to govern by the moderate 70% or is the far-left going to take over?” Nesbitt said.
Democrats return in January with a 20-18 Senate majority and 56-54 House majority. Coupled with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer winning reelection, the party will have full control of state government for the first time since after the 1982 elections.
Nesbitt said Senate Republicans stand ready to work together on areas of broad bipartisan agreement if the Democrats are willing to negotiate in good faith on policies to make the lives of residents better.
On the Senate GOP agenda, Nesbitt said they would be pushing to help families and improve quality of life while also “fighting for small businesses and building a strong economy overall.”
Areas of agreement, he said, include work on bipartisan budgets in the last couple of years that included spending on education, infrastructure, and paying down debt. His hope is that that type of bipartisan work can continue in the upcoming term, along with a focus on areas including continued strong funding for workforce training programs.
An Earned Income Tax Credit expansion has drawn bipartisan support. However, Nesbitt said he would like to see such a move as part of a broad tax cut that provides for all people and not more narrow items such as the repeal of the “retirement tax” proposed by the governor.
Republicans twice pushed through significant multi-billion-dollar tax cut proposals during 2022, which were rejected by Whitmer. Democrats at the time contended that the GOP proposals largely favored businesses and that the proposals themselves were not negotiated with their party.
The senator, speaking of being able to work across the aisle, used the example of working well with Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), the next Senate majority leader, on issues of education and infrastructure in the past. He added that he has worked well with Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) on items over the last term in the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee, with a large majority of items reported with bipartisan votes.
Work on updating the solid waste code, contained within a package of recycling bills that passed earlier this month, was another area of negotiation and agreement, he said.
On the other side of the coin, Nesbitt sided with House Minority Leader-elect Matt Hall (R-Comstock Township) after the representative asserted earlier this month that Whitmer had walked away from a deal during the final voting days of lame duck session that would have resulted in a year-end supplemental package (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Dec. 7, 2022). Whitmer has since rejected Hall’s interpretation of negotiations, saying the representative was not even part of them, so his claims were irresponsible (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Dec. 14, 2022).
The senator said he believed it unfortunate that the governor would begin the new working relationship with one of the legislative minority leaders on a bad note.
Nesbitt, speaking about the November elections, said the Senate GOP has a strong caucus of new and returning members and staff, so it will be able to work hard at getting results for residents.
He defended the party’s platform during the last election.
“The governor was right … the Democrats don’t have a mandate,” Nesbitt said of recent remarks by Whitmer to reporters.
He said the governor won by double digits, and the races for attorney general and secretary of state were also won by Democrats by a wide margin. On the legislative side, however, the margin was closer to 1.5 percentage points, he said.
“I think people in Michigan are looking for more balance,” Nesbitt said of the Senate. “Democrats won an outright majority by 400 votes, by one member.”
The spending disparity in favor of Democrats up and down the ticket had a significant bearing on results, Nesbitt said. He pointed to the wide fundraising and spending advantages enjoyed by Whitmer over GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon and the wide margins for Democrats in the attorney general and secretary of state races as well.
That disparity, coupled with significant national Democratic national money bolstering strong fundraising by state Democrats, was critical.
“When you have that kind of spending disparity at the top … there’s not a lot of buffer room,” Nesbitt said.
Nesbitt praised his caucus election team’s efforts and said he believed they had run on a strong platform, particularly on the economy. Republicans ran on issues including lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, and support for education and law enforcement, he said.
Following the November election losses, Nesbitt formed a five-member Campaign Review Committee to review the Senate Republican Campaign Committee’s operations to see what could be done differently in the next Senate elections (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Dec. 8, 2022).
He said Republicans also had strong candidates in Sen.-elect Michael Webber of Rochester Hills, Sen. Mark Huizenga of Walker, and Sen. Jon Bumstead of North Muskegon, who won close races in the 9th, 30th, and 32nd Senate districts, respectively. He pointed out that the candidates each had strong personal brands that helped them win in districts where Whitmer simultaneously won by strong margins.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Nesbitt said of the Senate campaign committee’s work, adding that is why the election review committee was tasked with taking a deeper dive.
He said he felt Republicans had a strong message but will need to ensure their fundraising is stronger next cycle.
Looking back on the last four-year term, he said the Legislature in the last few years was able to work well together on crafting budgets that reduced debt, increased the state’s rainy-day fund, and put more into education and infrastructure. He said he hopes both sides can work together to make that continue.
“Let’s work together,” Nesbitt said of a broad-based tax cut, increasing infrastructure funding and paying down state debt.
He also lamented the governor’s numerous vetoes during the 2019 budget cycle during her first year in office, along with what he called her move through the State Transportation Commission to approve billions in infrastructure bonds for road and bridge repairs.
Nesbitt said the governor “maxed out the state’s credit card” with that move, bypassing the then- Republican-controlled Legislature in a fight over infrastructure funding.
Conversations with Democratic leadership ahead of the next session have been over administrative items, including the session schedule, Senate rules, and committee structure, he said. Once the administrative items have been ironed out, the policy discussions can get underway.
Areas he would like to see movement on next term include expansion of producing natural gas in the state and increasing access to high-speed internet in areas of the state lacking in such infrastructure.
Other goals next term would include protecting past policy accomplishments from being undone, seeing if any improvements in election security are possible, and working to make the permitting process more efficient through state agencies.
Nesbitt said a frustration for businesses and residents is the pace of permitting within some departments and agencies. He said streamlining processes would help spur economic development and provide consistency.
“It’s going to be … what can you do in a bipartisan way,” Nesbitt said of his caucus’ policy goals under the new Democratic majority.
Pohutsky Set to Take The Gavel As Speaker Pro Tem
As the incoming speaker pro tempore, Rep. Laurie Pohutsky feels the weight of responsibility and as the first openly LGBTQ person to hold the position, the weight of history.
“I’m really excited,” Pohutsky of Livonia said. “My biggest concern up to this point has been making sure I feel prepared, and I understand the rules as best I can so I’m able to run things smoothly and efficiently.”
She said she’s also been working to reconcile the way she thinks about herself with what it means to be the first bisexual woman to preside over the Michigan House of Representatives as Speaker Pro Tem.
“It’s hard for me to make peace with the fact that it’s me, and I know how goofy I can be as a person, but also understanding that anyone who is the first of anything to do something, that’s important,” she said. “That makes it easier for someone to see themselves as the second or third … and I am honored and humbled to be able to represent and reflect the LGBTQ folks in our state.”
In her new role, Pohutsky will often have the responsibility of running the proceedings in the House. The speaker pro tem usually presides over the House unless the speaker takes the gavel or the pro tem delegates duties to the associate speakers pro tem.
She said she wants to be sure that the floor rules are followed and will enforce them, but she wants to enforce them equally, which is not something she felt Republican leadership always did.
“I certainly don’t want to limit anyone’s ability to debate or make a point, but I do value following the rules and making sure things run efficiently and smoothly while still giving people the opportunity to make sure their voices are heard and that the voices of their constituents are heard,” she said. “There’s a balance to strike there, and my hope is to strike it more equitably and fairly.”
Pohutsky herself has been gaveled down on the House floor, notably during a discussion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Since the election, many prominent Republicans, including the minority leaders of both the House and the Senate, urged Democrats to avoid a “radical agenda” and to govern from the middle.
That has irritated several Democrats who contend the Republicans did not exactly govern from the middle during the past 12 years they controlled both legislative houses.
“I’ve found a lot of them very patronizing,” Pohutsky said, pointing out that it was Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Comstock Township) who brought Rudy Giuliani to the House Oversight Committee in Dec. 2020 for a polarizing hearing. “It just seems a little hypocritical.”
Regardless, Pohutsky said that she finds the Democratic agenda to be full of commonsense solutions to the problems that Michigan residents face, such as making sure people earn a living wage, have basic human rights, can make decisions about their own bodies, and are equally protected under the law.
“Whether or not all of the Republicans agree with that remains to be seen, but the fact of the matter is their unwillingness to do some of that things that some of them find controversial are also why we have majority now and they don’t,” she said. “I’m not sure that the Republican caucus is in a position to be giving advice.”
The Earned Income Tax Credit, labor laws, and expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include LGBTQ individuals are all issues Pohutsky said she hopes to tackle in the new term. Further protecting access to abortion and environmental protections are also important and are issues that voters are passionate about, she said.
There’s a lot that Democrats hope to get done, but conversations about the first bill to be introduced by the new House are ongoing, Pohutsky said.
“When you look at the top-of-the-line issues that were important in this last election cycle, I think that it’s really hard to argue that abortion was not one of the biggest issues,” she said. “There are things that we have been focused on for a longer period. … It’s just how far you want to look back.”
As of right now, Pohutsky doesn’t see a role for herself chairing a committee, as there are many people qualified to fill leadership positions, and there are only so many to go around.
“I’m not going to be twisting anyone’s arm,” she said. “I am happy to do whatever is most helpful.”
In recent years, speakers pro tem generally have chaired a committee. While they served as speaker pro tem, former Rep. Jason Wentworth chaired a select committee on auto insurance, former Rep. Lee Chatfield chaired two committees, former Rep. Tom Leonard chaired the Insurance committee and former Rep. John Walsh chaired an Appropriations subcommittee, and a special committee on Detroit recovery after the bankruptcy.
Since the election, rumors have flown around Lansing that some House Democrats are leaving their elected positions for other opportunities. Rep. Kevin Coleman (D-Westland) announced at the end of last term he planned to run for mayor of Westland (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Dec. 6, 2022). Pohutsky said she isn’t worried about the party losing its majority, though, because the caucus understands the significance of taking the gavel.
“I know this is a short-term gig, even with the term limit changes. This is not something, especially as the average age of a representative gets younger, that most of us are going to do into retirement,” Pohutsky said. “But that being said, I do think that there is a duty that we have, and particularly right now … just making sure that in this moment we understand what we need to do to hold the line and make sure that we do have enough people to pass some of the things that we need to get done for the state.”
Pohutsky said there aren’t any procedural rules in the House that she hopes to change but that leadership is discussing how rules are interpreted.
“Some of the rules were ignored or abused to benefit the end goal of the majority caucus,” she said. “That’s not to say that Republicans were the only ones to bend those rules or outright break them. The last time Democrats had control, they were also pretty liberal with their interpretation … so there’s a conversation to be had about whether we want to continue doing more of the same or if we want to try and get back to basics.”
The shift in control presents an opportunity for both parties to work better together, Pohutsky said, but there are things like disrespect of LGBTQ Democrats and the promotion of election conspiracies that will not be tolerated by Democratic leadership, Pohutsky said.
“There are going to be a lot of opportunities for working together and for bipartisanship,” she said. “But I also think that there are things that are just not acceptable for our caucus, and there might be some growing pains there.”
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