Nov. 18, 2022 | This Week in Government: Caucus Leadership Unveiled; DePerno Running for MIGOP ChairNovember 18, 2022
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.
Anthony To Chair Senate Approps, Rest of Dem Leadership Unveiled
Sen.-elect Sarah Anthony of Lansing will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee during the next legislative session, Senate Democrats announced Wednesday, along with the remaining members of their caucus leadership team.
Anthony and five others are taking leadership roles under the next senate majority leader, Sen. Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids when Democrats take control of the chamber for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Sen. Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak will serve as majority whip, Sen. Dayna Polehanki of Livonia will be the majority caucus chair, and Sen. Stephanie Chang of Detroit will be the caucus’ policy and steering chair.
“This is truly a leadership team and caucus that reflects Michigan: we are diverse, we have broad expertise, and we are ready to hit the ground running to deliver for the people of Michigan,” Brinks said in a statement. “Each member of this leadership team has a strong record and together they are champions for the people of Michigan. I am proud to stand with them as we pursue an aggressive people-first legislative agenda.”
The announcement of Senate Democratic leadership comes a day after House Democrats announced their leadership team (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Nov. 15, 2022).
Anthony, who will be the first Black woman to serve as Senate Appropriations chair, in a statement, expressed excitement at her appointment.
“I am proud and honored to serve as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee next term,” Anthony said in a statement. “The soon-to-be Democratic majority is eager to get to work on a responsible, equitable, and fiscally sound state budget that addresses needs now and into the future, and we welcome all who are willing to do so in good faith with us.”
Anthony was elected with 60.1% of the vote to the 21st Senate District last week after serving two terms in the House. She also will be the first Black woman to represent Lansing in the Senate.
Democrats, following their election wins last week, have quickly made history in their leadership choices. Brinks will be the first woman to serve as Senate majority leader in state history, while Rep. Joe Tate of Detroit will be the first Black man to serve as House Speaker in state history.
With Tate’s choice Tuesday of Rep. Laurie Pohutsky of Livonia to serve as speaker pro tempore in the House next term and Ms. Brinks’ choice of Moss to serve as president pro tempore in the Senate, both chambers will have their first pro tempore positions held by members of the LGBT community in state history.
Sen.-elect Sam Singh of East Lansing was named Senate majority floor leader for the next term, the first Indian American elected to the chamber. On the House side, Rep. Abraham Aiyash of Hamtramck will be the House majority floor leader and the first Muslim leader for a legislative majority in state history and the country.
DePerno Running for MIGOP Chair; Dixon Considering Bid
DePerno is the second to declare his candidacy. Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser has said he will not be running. The state party convention will elect a new chair to a two-year term in February.
Tudor Dixon, the Republican nominee for governor who lost to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by 10.5 percentage points, said this weekend she is considering a bid. Another name circulating is Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, who did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Others mentioned as possible candidates were former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Sen. Tom Barrett, who lost a close race to U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) last week. Neither could be immediately reached.
James Craig, the former Detroit police chief who failed to make the ballot in the governor’s race, told The Detroit News he’s considering a run. Already in the race is Tuscola County Republican Party Chair Billy Putnam, the News reported.
DePerno said, “we must take back MIGOP” in his announcement, which followed last week’s Democratic sweep of state government for the first time in 40 years.
“Let me start off by just stating the obvious: this year’s election did not go the way it should have gone,” DePerno said in an emailed announcement. “We have seen fingers being pointed by just about everyone within the party; and although we are all frustrated by the outcome of the election, pointing fingers does not turn back time and will not fix our problems. Instead of playing games, we must unify and focus on the path forward.”
DePerno entered the Michigan political scene as the attorney to former Rep. Todd Courser, who resigned just before getting expelled from the House, and then rocketed to the forefront as one of the leading voices insisting, without proof, that fraud decided the 2020 presidential election in Michigan.
He remains under a criminal investigation into whether he and others illegally obtained voting equipment following the 2020 election.
During the 2022 cycle, DePerno became a significant force in Michigan Republican politics. Former President Donald Trump endorsed him for attorney general, fueling his victory over former House Speaker Tom Leonard for the party’s nomination. He lost to Nessel by less than Dixon lost to Whitmer. However, he lost to Nessel three times the margin Leonard did in 2018.
DePerno will be formidable at a state party convention given the support he enjoys among the delegates, who are believed to be more supportive of Trump and the nationalist tendency in the party since DePerno won the endorsement convention over Leonard in the spring. A new slate of precinct delegates was elected in August.
However, he will likely face strong opposition from various swaths in the party, much like when he ran for attorney general.
DePerno listed five priorities:
- “Be a voice against the radical left-wing policies that Lansing is going to try and force on us”;
- Strengthen county parties and conservative organizations, as well as fill every precinct delegate slot;
- Raise money “to ensure we never again face the lopsided spending that we did this past election.” The state party was short of funds and provided nowhere near the financial assistance nor the support that it historically has provided to its candidates);
- Develop a strategy to help conservatives win elections and “never again” let Democrats define the issues of an election; and
- “Welcome an ongoing dialogue with conservative leaders from across the state” to make sure concerns are heard and addressed.
On Saturday, Dixon said in a statement she will announce her plans regarding a possible run for state party chair in the coming days.
Last week, Paul Cordes, the chief of staff in the Michigan Republican Party, issued a memo that in part criticized the issues Dixon emphasized during her campaign.
“Since the Michigan GOP election memo was released, a number of people have reached out and encouraged me to run for state party chair, which I am considering,” Dixon said. “We must have a unified party that focuses on winning votes and elections. In the post-Covid, Prop 2 era, our party must be competitive, and it has not been for a variety of reasons. I believe in a bright future for Michigan where we forge a path to win Republican majorities again through family-friendly policies. I will be announcing my plans in the coming days. I appreciate the encouragement and continued feedback.”
The prospect of DePerno and Dixon, who lost by wide margins last week, leading the party drew criticism from some Republicans. Dan Wholihan, a longtime Republican consultant from Livingston County, retweeted DePerno’s announcement with this commentary of his own: “No. Losing by 9% is unacceptable.” He then added, “No to Dixon as well for this. 10% loss is unacceptable.”
One of the few bright spots for Republicans last week was the victory of Rep.-elect Bill G. Schuette in the 95th House District. Schuette ran well ahead of the top of the ticket, winning his seat by a 61% to 39% tally. He was the only Republican to carry the city of Midland, which has been shifting Democratic.
Schuette said the selection of a new state party chair is an opportunity for the party to rebuild and win. Whoever is the next party chair must be able to raise the money and unite the party, he said.
Taking back the Michigan House and flipping U.S. House seats will be key in 2024, Schuette said.
“It’s an important question because obviously it was a disappointing result that we had across our state,” he said. “We took some hits in this last election, but I know that we can win again, I know that we can unite, and I know we can win in 2024 and cycles going forward.”
Pohutsky Named Speaker Pro Tem; Tate Announces Rest of Leadership
Rep. Laurie Pohutsky will serve as speaker pro tempore when Democrats take control of the House next year.
Speaker-elect Joe Tate (D-Detroit) named Pohutsky of Livonia and other representatives to the 2023-2024 leadership team on Tuesday.
Pohutsky was elected to her third term in office during last week’s election. She’s currently the minority vice chair of the Families, Children, and Seniors Committee and serves on the Health Policy Committee. Pohutsky represents the 19th House District and will be the first openly bisexual woman to serve as speaker pro tempore.
“Going into the 102nd Legislature, it is vital we have a leadership team that reflects the diversity of our state and is led by public servants that voice the issues that matter most to the people of Michigan,” Pohutsky said in a statement. “Speaker-elect Tate will make history as the first Black Speaker of the House and that commitment to record-breaking diversity and unprecedented community representation continues in nominating this leadership team. Our agenda, one that advocates for all Michiganders, is in strong and passionate hands.”
As speaker pro tempore, Pohutsky will preside over most house sessions and wield the gavel. She took a moment on Twitter to remember when the outgoing speaker pro tempore, Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Township), gaveled her down when attempting to speak.
“This is the team that will bring forth the work of the people. It’s a phenomenally talented group of representatives and representatives-elect with an unmatched work ethic,” Tate said in a statement. “The people of this state chose Democratic leadership for Michigan’s future, and I’m proud to report back to the people what that leadership team will look like in the House.”
Majority Floor Leader-elect Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) also announced the assistant majority floor leaders for the next session on Tuesday. Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt), Rep.-elect Jimmie Wilson (D-Ypsilanti), and Rep.-elect Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) will serve together in that role.
“Managing the House Floor and transforming our values into law through the legislative process requires careful attention to detail, collaborative teamwork, and meticulous planning from the introduction of a bill to the Governor’s desk,” Aiyash said. “We’ll be in confident and trusted hands with the team we have assembled.”
Tate also announced his picks for other members of the Democratic leadership team.
Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton) will be the majority whip and Reps.-elect Carrie Rheingans (D-Ann Arbor) and Alabas Farhat (D-Dearborn), serving as deputy whips. The caucus chair will be Rep. Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw), and Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit), Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac), and Rep.-elect Jasper Martus (D-Flushing) will serve as caucus vice chairs.
Strategists: Abortion, Funding Proved Key in Governor’s Race
BIRMINGHAM – The U.S. Supreme Court decision ending the federal legal right to an abortion altered the traditional dynamic of a midterm election where the president’s party struggles, and a massive resources edge on the Democratic side assured that Democrats would drive the advantage on that issue, strategists from opposing sides said at a Detroit Regional Chamber event.
Amanda Stitt, chief strategist for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer‘s reelection campaign, said coming into the cycle, the Whitmer campaign knew “this election could be a really tough one.” Having President Joe Biden in office instead of former President Donald Trump in 2018, when Whitmer won her first race for governor, sets up a much different environment.
“Because once you elect a president of your party to the White House, Michigan is a swing state, we go back and forth,” Stitt said. “And so for us on the Whitmer campaign, it was about, you know, just doing everything that we could to try to drive the right narratives that would help us win, that would, you know, define Gretchen Whitmer early and define whoever our opponent would be early and to put in place, you know, winning operation to go out and get votes.”
Paul Cordes, chief of staff at the Michigan Republican Party, recently authored a memo to members of the Michigan Republican State Committee that was a post-election autopsy. At least one member of the committee leaked it to the Detroit Free Press, and then Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon tweeted the memo to her 180,000 Twitter followers and slammed the state party as culpable in her defeat. Cordes said at the Detroit chamber event that he was not seeking to blame Dixon. Still, the reality was that her campaign, which rocketed to the top of the pack in the primary after half the Republican field was disqualified from the ballot, lacked funding and organization.
The party turned out 335,000 more Republican votes in the statewide education board races than in 2018, Cordes said, but the massive organizational and resource advantage the Democrats and Whitmer had over Dixon buried the top of the ticket.
“We turned out a lot of Republicans, but the top of the ticket was a drag on everything down ballot. Losing by 11% was a genuine challenge,” he said. “A lot of donors did not feel like donating to the party or candidates because of Donald Trump was the main concern that we had heard and we started with a gubernatorial candidate that had no big operation, no money in the bank, and with the Democrats sitting on millions and millions of dollars and they were up on TV for two months before we could get up and playing that same ad over and over and over again, and really defining the race, defining the abortion narrative. And we just didn’t have the tools to fight back.”
Cordes said the party felt Dixon needed to stay within 8 points of Whitmer to save its House and Senate majorities.
“I felt really good about the caucus races that were run but we just didn’t have enough steam at the top of the ticket to get everybody across the finish line,” he said.
The abortion issue, as soon as the Dobbs opinion leaked in the spring, began showing up in focus groups that it would be a big issue for women even if they weren’t that excited about Whitmer, Stitt said.
“A state Senate candidate mentioned to me that he encountered a voter out on the street who said, ‘I’m definitely voting for you, and I’m even voting for that Gretchen Whitmer, because of abortion,’” she said. “And so, you know there’s something definitely going on there. So, the combination of course of data and then anecdotes like that helped us know that.”
After Dobbs, Republicans and opponents of Proposal 22-3, which passed and legalized abortion in Michigan, sought to emphasize the nuance of abortion, emphasizing the need for regulations like parental consent.
Cordes said the resource disadvantage for the Republican candidates made that impossible.
“We wanted to talk about the nuances, we want to talk about leaving room for restrictions or reform. And I don’t think that that was ever able to occur again because of the fact that there was so much spending on the Dem side that that really drove that narrative of this is about abortion or not abortion from the top of the ticket to prop three, AG SOS – that’s what it was all about. And so, we just never really had the resources to try to change that narrative,” he said. “My wife, our finance director, every 25- to 35-year-old woman I know couldn’t turn on their YouTube TV, their Hulu without seeing that ad six times within 30 minutes. So, I mean, we were out done at that point in a pretty spectacular fashion.”
“That ad” Cordes referenced was the “perfect example” ad run by the Democratic Governors Association that captured a clip from a podcast in which Dixon was asked by Charlie LeDuff about having an exception for a 14-year-old rape victim to obtain an abortion. Dixon responded, “Perfect example,” and then sought to explain why it would be better for the girl to not have an abortion available to her from the standpoint of trying to arrest the rapist.
Stitt was asked whether the Whitmer team celebrated when they saw the “perfect example” comment.
“I think what we thought when we were talking about abortion and looking at in focus groups and in research, early on, before the primary was that all of our Republican opponents had said something about abortion that was out of step with where Michiganders, the people in the middle were, and so I think that no matter who our opponent had been on the Republican side, they would have been off base of where we are in this moment of being faced with the 1931 law that would make abortion a felony,” she said. “So, no matter whoever the Republican was, I believe we would have been able to really define them on that issue. Perfect example was, of course, the perfect example.”
Senate Leaders Expect No Major Policy Items During Lame Duck
With the Legislature set to change control in January following last week’s election, Senate leaders have signaled little interest in taking on any major policy items before the end of the year.
When asked last Thursday by reporters following the session what his goals were for the upcoming lame-duck session in December, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) summed things up by saying: “For it to be as short as possible.”
“There’s no major policy things that I think we need to get done. Most of those they can wait for January,” Ananich said.
He added that he has been in discussions with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), and he expected some individual member priorities might come before the Legislature in December. Lame duck is expected to be short.
Matt Sweeney, spokesperson for Shirkey, largely confirmed this Monday in response to questions on the status of the lame-duck session.
“The agenda for lame duck is still being determined, but I fully expect it to be extraordinarily lame,” Sweeney said. “I’d never say never on any issue, but at this point it seems highly unlikely that major issues will be addressed before the end of the year.”
There is little expectation of any serious negotiations between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican majorities prior to January when Democrats assume control of both chambers. From there, Ananich, who is leaving the Senate due to term limits, said he expects tax conversations to continue.
Despite this being the likely path on taxes, Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) told reporters last Thursday he would like to see some action on taxes before the end of the year.
“I’m always open to returning money to hardworking taxpayers, and that’s something with small business owners and hardworking families here in the state with the cost of Biden-flation, that I think any way we can try to deliver on those results is going to be important,” Nesbitt said. “I’m always open to those conversations.”
Twice earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed large tax proposals that the governor vetoed.
Shirkey did not speak with reporters last week following the session, but in a television interview in late October, he said: “It think it’ll be a pretty lame lame-duck.”
In the late October interview, he said he anticipated a year-end book-closing supplemental appropriations package to possibly contain some infrastructure spending. Shirkey said few policy items are expected to move, adding he would like to see his proposed integration of physical and mental health services move before the end of the year (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Oct. 24, 2022). That latter item now seems unlikely.
Shirkey reiterated that he expects it to be a quiet lame-duck during an interview Monday on JTV’s “The Bart Hawley Show.”
“It’s hard to imagine what topics the governor would want to negotiate with me on between now and the end of the year,” Shirkey said.
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