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Nov. 6 | This Week in Government: Biden Wins Michigan; Republicans Keep House

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide 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.

  1. Biden Wins Michigan; Trump Camp Sues State Over AV Ballot Counting
  2. Republicans Vanquish Dem Hopes in House to Keep 58-52 Majority
  3. Wentworth Officially Elected To Lead GOP Caucus; Frederick Floor Leader
  4. Voters OK 89% of Local Tax Requests; Marijuana Businesses Score
  5. McCormack, Welch Wins Secure Dem Majority on Supreme Court

Biden Wins Michigan; Trump Camp Sues State Over AV Ballot Counting

More than 20 hours after the close of polls on Election Day, Democratic challenger Joe Biden won Michigan’s 16 electoral votes over President Donald Trump, bringing him ever so close to the 270 needed to win the presidency.

With 99% of precincts reporting unofficial results, and a large number of absentee ballots from Democratic strongholds in Detroit, Flint, and Grand Rapids getting tabulated toward the end, Biden opened up a 120,000-vote lead, 50.3% to 48.1%. The former vice president as of 7:30 p.m. Wednesday had 2,751,112 votes to the president’s 2,631,359 votes, unofficial results show.

Biden’s Michigan map thus far is similar to 2016 Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton’s, with a lead in Kalamazoo, Ingham, Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland, Genesee, and Marquette counties. But he vastly improved on Clinton’s margins in many of those counties, especially Oakland, where he netted an additional 110,000 votes beyond Clinton’s margin.

He is also leading in Leelanau and Saginaw counties – which went for Trump in the previous election. Muskegon County, which narrowly went for Clinton in 2016, is a dead heat with each candidate at 49.1%.

Biden narrowed the margins in some outstate counties while Trump was able to run them up slightly in others, but they were mostly low-vote contests. In the large counties, Biden ran up the margins. He won Oakland County with 109,834 after Democrat Hillary Clinton won by about 53,000 votes in 2016.

In Wayne County, Trump lost by roughly 290,000 votes in 2016 and Biden had a 308,159 margin of victory in the county Tuesday with 86% of the precincts counted. Macomb County, an area that has seen national focus for its support of Trump, also softened just slightly for the president. In 2016, Trump won the county by 48,348 votes. On Tuesday, he took the county by 38,974 votes.

Antrim County’s unofficial results reported by the Associated Press initially had Biden up, but those vote totals have since been removed entirely as the clerk’s office works through its reporting issues and reviews discrepancies in the staunchly Republican county which would only add to Trump’s dominance of Michigan’s rural areas.

In a statement to supporters at his campaign headquarters in Delaware, Biden stopped short of declaring victory but said his campaign was confident that they would win once all the votes have been counted.

As counting continues, the Trump campaign also announced Wednesday afternoon that it has filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in the Michigan Court of Claims, alleging the campaign has not been provided meaningful access to numerous counting locations to observe the opening of absentee ballots. Democrats said the claim was simply false.

A statement from Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien said the campaign has also been unable to observe the counting process in these locations as guaranteed by Michigan law.

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. v. Benson (COC Docket No. 20-000225) seeks to halt counting until “meaningful access” has been granted and a review of ballots opened and counted while they did not have access.

The key access issue cited in the lawsuit involves surveillance video of local jurisdiction drop boxes. The campaign claims that Benson has violated the Michigan Constitution and its election laws by allowing absent voter ballots to be processed and counted without allowing challengers to observe video of the ballot boxes in which those ballots are placed.

“Plaintiffs ask Secretary Benson to segregate ballots case in these remote and unattended ballot drop boxes and, before the ballots are processed, removed from their verifying envelopes, and counted, allow designated challengers to view the video of the remote ballot box,” the complaint says. “Secretary Benson’s actions and her failure to act have undermined the constitutional right of all Michigan voters – including the voters bringing this action – to participate in fair and lawful elections.”

That said, the lawsuit does not specifically detail any one location where an election challenger has been barred or prevented from viewing surveillance video of dropbox locations.

While the campaign questioned the integrity of Michigan’s counting process, Trump falsely claimed that they had not only won Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina as well as Michigan – all of which except the Great Lakes state are too close to call at this point. The Tweet also comes with a disclaimer that official sources had not called the race when Trump sent his tweet.

Several Republican election challengers also stormed the downtown Detroit TCF Center ballot counting location, stopped by guards from entering the counting area. Still, the large group had been reportedly banging on the building’s windows while chanting “stop the vote.” Some challengers in the room also told the Detroit Free Press GOP challengers were citing pending litigation in an effort to get the Detroit counting board to stop counting the ballots.

Meanwhile, a separate group gathered outside the Michigan Capitol for “count every vote” vigil that formed following the filing of Trump’s AV ballot lawsuit.

Ryan Jarvi, Attorney General Dana Nessel’s press secretary, said in a statement that Michigan has conducted its elections transparently, providing access to both parties, and has used what he called “a robust system of checks and balances to ensure that all ballots are counted fairly and accurately.”

“At this time our department has not been notified by the Court of Claims about this lawsuit and when we are served, we will review it and respond accordingly,” Jarvi said. “Michigan will always continue to protect the rights of all voters to have their ballots counted.”

Asked if Nessel’s office knew where the Trump campaign had alleged limited access or how many locations had challenger and observer access issues, Jarvi said he did not wish to comment further.

Benson, in remarks to reporters late Wednesday, categorized it as a “frivolous lawsuit without merit.”

“The litigation is ongoing. We’ll let the process play out, and respect the process, but what I can say with confidence … is that the absentee ballot tabulation process, not just in TCF but all throughout the state of Michigan, was efficient, transparent, secure and methodical,” Benson said. “Workers were methodical – they dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T,’ and take great pride in the work they all knew they were doing – and I’m proud to stand before you tonight and tell you they finished their work significantly more efficiently than we had predicted, and that’s really a reflection of the process working. I’m proud to stand by, I’m proud to defend it and I’m proud of the integrity that flowed through the process every step of the way.”

Messages seeking comments from Michigan’s respective Democratic and Republican parties were not immediately returned.

In a statement to Gongwer News Service, Biden campaign Rapid Response Director Andrew Bates said Trump’s posturing was “pathetic.”

“When Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by roughly the same amount of votes that Joe Biden just did, or won Michigan with fewer votes than Joe Biden is winning in it now, he bragged about a ‘landslide,’ and labeled recount efforts as ‘sad,'” Bates said. “What makes these charades even more pathetic is that Trump is simultaneously engaged in fruitless attempts to halt the count of votes in other states he’s on the road to losing while demanding recounts in places he’s lost. This is not the behavior of a winning campaign.”


Republicans Vanquish Dem Hopes in House to Keep 58-52 Majority

Republicans thwarted the Democrats’ Oakland County strategy to keep control of the House for the sixth consecutive term, and while Democrats did flip two Republican seats, Republicans unseated two Democratic incumbents in the increasingly red territory stretching from the northern Flint suburbs to Bay City to maintain the same 58-52 majority they won in 2018.

While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden won Michigan and saw large margins in Oakland County where many of the contested state House seats were, Republicans won two of the three closely contested Oakland County races. Democrats needed all three to have a shot at majority.

Republicans were able to knock off Democratic incumbents in the 96th House District in Bay County and the 48th District in Genesee County. Democrats also flipped two seats – the 61st District in Portage and the 38th District in Novi – but fell well short of ending the 10-year majority run Republicans have had.

Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) lost his reelection bid to Timothy Beson in the 96th District 17,788 votes to 23,963 in a massive landslide that signaled the Republican ascendance in Bay County. Rep. Sheryl Kennedy (D-Davison) also lost her reelection bid in the 48th District to Republican David Martin, 24,306 votes to 24,796 votes.

Both were areas the GOP saw glimmers of hope given President Donald Trump’s increasing popularity in these regions and the shifting demographics toward the Republicans. The Democrats were more confident about Kennedy, though, and her defeat was a surprise.

Democrats were able to keep their other incumbents, though, in the Livonia House seat and the Downriver seat, where Republicans were making a furious push, especially in Livonia where Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) narrowly won.

It is a blow to the Democrats who have been in the minority for a decade, especially now with Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the governor’s office, a Democratic House would have given them more leverage.

Republicans and Democrats will certainly continue to disagree on a coronavirus response and the GOP will remain able to undercut Ms. Whitmer’s veto pen through initiative petitions – like the Unlock Michigan initiative which will likely be able to pass now – as they continue to hold both chambers.

The first flip for the Democrats came in the 61st House District seat in Portage as Kalamazoo County Commissioner Christine Morse defeated Republican Bronwyn Haltom there. Morse won 31,885 to 27,089.

Democrats were seriously targeting three Oakland County seats but only came out with one flip in the 38th House District where Kelly Breen of Novi defeated Chase Turner of Northville 31,217 to 29,263. Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Township) won reelection, defeating Julia Pulver of West Bloomfield 30,754 to 27,561 in the 39th District. And Republican Mark Tisdel defeated Barb Anness in the Rochester-based 45th District 31,778 to 30,495.

House Republicans said they would return with at least 56 seats at 6 a.m., but it became clear a few hours later they would keep 58 seats.

“The people of Michigan have spoken loud and clear – they want two more years of House Republican leadership at their state Capitol,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) said in a statement. “House Republicans have the best plan of action to lead our state forward, and we have a proven track record of turning those plans into tangible results over the past 10 years. That is why our message struck a chord with voters looking for real answers and why this team was successful statewide. I’m looking forward to seeing what this team can accomplish over the next two years.”

House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) in a statement tried to put a more positive spin on the Democrats coming out with the same number of seats they hold now.

“This election cycle was challenging across the country for state legislative Democrats. Here in Michigan, we bucked the trend and retained our 52 House seats, despite confronting unprecedented special interest campaign spending and a Republican gerrymander of ‘historic proportions,'” she said. “House Democrats will continue to champion people-centered policies and deliver real solutions and a stronger Michigan for everyone.”

Interestingly, the 2016 election marked the first time in the term limits era since 2000 that Democrats did not gain seats during the presidential election and now in 2020, it happened again. In fact, Democrats also came out of the 2016 election with the same amount of seats it had going in, with the GOP flipping one seat and the Democrats also flipping one seat.

In another Oakland County seat, Rep. Andrea Schroeder (R-Independence Township) easily won reelection in the 43rd District, defeating Nicole Breadon 33,404 to 22,595.

In Wayne County’s 19th District, Ms. Pohutsky narrowly won the 19th House District against Martha Ptashnik, who conceded, saying she’s proud of the campaign she ran and will continue to advocate for Livonia moving forward. The final vote spread had Pohutsky up 258 votes. It is the second consecutive close win for Pohutsky.

Up North in the 104th House District covering Grand Traverse County, Republican John Roth defeated Democrat Dan O’Neil 30,311 to 28,008 to claim the seat now held by term-limited Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg).

Democratic Rep. Darrin Camilleri of Brownstown Township also won comfortably in the 23rd House District against a late GOP challenge through their candidate John Poe. Camilleri won 30,233 to 27,305.

Other seats that weren’t main targets for House control include the 71st House District where Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township) won reelection, the 98th House District where Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland) won reelection, and the 79th House District where Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet) easily won reelection.

House Republicans were also able to retain two seats in the Kent County suburbs that had intrigued Democrats with Bryan Posthumus of Oakfield Township topping Bill Saxton of East Grand Rapids and Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) defeating Lily Cheng-Schulting of Kentwood.

Johnson was able to get big margins in the Allegan County portions of the district, neutralizing the votes out of Democratic-friendly Kentwood, where Cheng-Schulting was stronger.

With 100% percent of the precincts reporting, Johnson had 55.1% to 44.9% for Cheng-Schulting.

The more Republican 73rd District wasn’t remotely close. Posthumus took 57% to 41.7% for Saxton with 100 percent of the precincts reporting.


Wentworth Officially Elected To Lead GOP Caucus; Frederick Floor Leader

Rep. Jason Wentworth will lead the House Republican Caucus during the 2021-22 term, his colleagues officially determined today, making him the speaker-elect, with Rep. Ben Frederick the incoming majority floor leader.

Mr. Wentworth (R-Clare) and Mr. Frederick (R-Owosso) were chosen in caucus votes. Mr. Wentworth had locked up the leadership race months ago.

“I look forward to the continued partnership with the state Senate and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey. We will continue to extend a hand of collaboration to our governor with hope and confidence she will take it so we can work together and solve problems for the people of this state,” Mr. Wentworth said in a statement.

He later added in a press conference Thursday that House Republicans will also work with House Democrats.

“These are challenging times – politically, socially, and economically – and people are worried about their future,” he said. “It is our duty to demonstrate steady leadership and bold solutions, and that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

Mr. Wentworth will not formally become the speaker until January 13 when the 101st Legislature convenes and the House elects officers.

The caucus also elected other to leadership roles for the 2021-22 term.

Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Township) was elected speaker pro-tempore, Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) and Rep. Brad Paquette (R-Niles) were elected associate speaker pro-tempore, Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton) and Rep. Julie Calley (R-Portland) were elected assistant majority floor leaders, Rep. Andrea Schroeder (R-Independence Township) was elected majority whip, Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) was elected deputy whip, Rep. Matt Hall (R-Emmett Township) was elected caucus chair and Andrew Beeler of Fort Gratiot, the incoming representative in the 83rd House District, was elected caucus vice chair.

Asked how the state elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other statewide Democrats in 2018, then voted for former Vice President Joe Biden and reelected U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) statewide, while also voting for a 58-52 Republican majority in the House in 2018 and 2020, Mr. Wentworth pointed to the candidate.

“It’s the people behind me,” Mr. Wentworth said as is leadership team stood with him at Thursday’s press conference. “It’s the representatives that truly represent their districts and the people of Michigan. And I think that’s why they keep sending us back to the House. We are the people’s chamber and their voice is being heard by our leadership and how we represent them. That’s why we’re back again and majority.”

House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) congratulated Mr. Wentworth in a tweet.

“The caucus made the right choice. I’ve seen him in action, and he’s a proven leader,” he wrote. “He’ll make an incredible negotiator for the House, and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s earned this.”

Mr. Frederick, who was a longtime legislative aide before being elected to the House in 2016, said in a statement he plans to take a collaborative approach as floor leader.

“It means a great deal that my colleagues have put their trust in me to take on this role and the people of mid-Michigan have given me the privilege of continuing to serve them in the House,” he said.

Ms. Lightner, who will be in her second term next year, said she will provide a voice for “rural Michigan and our entire state.”

“I look forward to working together with my fellow Representatives – both Republicans and Democrats – to continue to help find solutions to our most pressing challenges, leading to brighter days ahead,” she said.

Voters OK 89% of Local Tax Requests; Marijuana Businesses Score

Proposals asking voters to increase their property taxes for services ranging from public safety to roads to school infrastructure saw widespread approval Tuesday with 89% of those proposals passing statewide.

A Gongwer News Service analysis of results from around the state showed 133 property tax increase proposals passing with 17 failing.

School bond proposals had an especially good night with all 11 proposals authorizing tax increases to repay the cost of selling bonds to pay for new and renovated facilities passing.

There were 30 road millage increase proposals, and 28 passed. Public safety millage proposals also performed well with proposals to increase taxes for police, fire protection, emergency medical service, and 9-1-1 getting overwhelming support. Forty-seven such proposals passed with just five rejected.

Property taxes for senior services also went undefeated, 5-0, as did school district sinking fund millage increases for maintenance, technology, and security, which went 4-0. Of the seven proposals for parks and recreation services, five passed.


McCormack, Welch Wins Secure Dem Majority on Supreme Court

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack on Wednesday won reelection to the Michigan Supreme Court and will be joined by fellow Democratic Party nominee Elizabeth Welch, replacing the departing Justice Stephen Markman.

Their victory means that women will make up a majority of justices on the high court and will give the bench a Democratic Party-nominated majority after years of a conservative-leaning bench. It is the first time in 10 years that Democrats will have the majority on the court.

McCormack garnered 2,287,867 votes and Welch had 1,425,203 votes with 94 precincts reporting as of 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Republican nominees Mary Kelly had 1,223,794 votes and Court of Appeals Judge Brock Swartzle had 991,326 votes. Third-party candidates were far behind their majority party challengers.

In a statement, McCormack said her reelection was “a victory for the people across the state who believe, as I do, that the courtroom is a place where being right is more important than being popular or powerful.”

“I’m proud that their votes are being counted and their voices are being heard. In the coming term I will continue to fight for the court’s independence and for access to justice for all Michiganders,” McCormack said. “I will continue to work to make Michigan a national leader in ensuring transparency, fairness and efficiency in courthouses throughout the state where millions of people go for justice every year. To those who supported me and to those who did not, the people of Michigan have my steadfast commitment that I will serve them with the utmost integrity and fairness.”

In a separate statement, Welch – replacing Markman, who was unable to run for reelection due to the state constitutional age limit on judges – in a separate statement said she was eager to join the high court in January. Markman is a Republican nominee to the court.

“After 25 years protecting Michigan small businesses, voters, students, and natural resources, I know the impact the courts can have on our great state,” Welch said. “I am eager to join the chief justice and her colleagues in their important work of addressing challenges within our criminal justice system and their work toward ensuring everyone has equal access to our courts.”

Welch added: “I pledge to serve all Michiganders with transparency and integrity. I will work tirelessly to create a fair and equitable court. Together, we can create a system that works – for everyone. I look forward to serving my state and making justice work for us all.”

On Welch’s win, McCormack said she has “no doubt she will be ready on day one to be a fair, independent, and accountable voice on the Court.”

“With her extensive background as a lawyer representing a wide range of clients and other service to the community, Elizabeth brings to our conference table deep knowledge of the legal issues facing businesses, governments, schools, and the environment, among other issues that regularly reach our Court,” McCormack said. “Her expertise is a welcome addition that will help the Court tackle difficult issues that affect our state. My colleagues and I look forward to welcoming Justice Welch to the bench and hope that will be in person.”


Related:

Republicans Retain Majority in State House with 97.7% of Chamber-Backed Candidates Victorious