Choosing the Next Michigan Speaker of the House

Some key differences between the potential leaders

Cotter and Pscholka

In the event that the Democrats gain control of the Michigan House on Nov. 4, it is likely that the next Speaker of the House will be current House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills. If the Republicans retain control of the House, however, the next Speaker will almost certainly be either Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, or Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville.

Current Speaker and Republican House Leader Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, will be term-limited out at the end of December. His replacement as House Republican Leader will be elected by the incoming House GOP caucus. Traditionally such inner-caucus elections take place behind closed doors a few hours or days after the conclusion of the November general election.

Another tradition is that candidates vying for caucus leadership positions emphasize winning or keeping control of the House and downplay inner-caucus rivalries until the general election is over. This year is no exception; Reps. Cotter and Pscholka are clearly adhering to that longstanding rule of thumb.

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“Right now, I’m focusing on keeping the majority in the House and making it a stronger majority,” Rep. Pscholka told Capitol Confidential. “We need to get as many seats as possible as we look ahead to 2015-16.”

Rep. Cotter made basically the same point.

“It is true that I am seeking to be caucus leader and the race has been unfolding for some months and will continue up to when the general election is over,” he said. “We need to be careful to make sure our first priority is winning as many seats as possible so that we keep our majority in the House. It is only if we do retain the majority that our leadership race will determine who will be the next Speaker and it would be a great honor to be elected to that post by my colleagues.”

As a rule, candidates for caucus leader team up with floor leader candidates, which become more or less their running mates. Rep. Cotter is teamed up with Rep. Tom Leonard, R- Lansing; and Rep. Pscholka is teamed up with Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto.

Among Lansing insiders, Reps. Pscholka and Lyons are generally considered to lean more toward the “establishment” than Reps. Cotter and Leonard. It is difficult to tell, however, whether that assessment is accurate or primarily superficial.

A key difference is on the Obamacare Medicaid expansion which Reps. Pscholka and Lyons voted for and Reps. Cotter and Leonard voted against. On the so-called internet tax, Rep. Cotter and Rep. Lyons voted for it in committee. Neither Rep. Pscholka nor Rep. Leonard were members of the committee in which the vote was taken on the Internet tax.

Full information on the votes taken by these leadership candidates is available at www.MichiganVotes.org. But it should be noted that history indicates a lawmaker’s voting pattern can, but does not necessarily, serve as a barometer to how they will perform in a leadership role.

Voting records of those running in caucus leadership races are only one of many considerations members take into account when deciding which candidate they’ll back. Other factors include: individual political ambitions, the kind of working relationship a member has with each candidate, which candidate is perceived to have better overall leadership qualities and which candidate the members believe would do a better job of protecting the caucus.

An issue that could have a significant impact on this year’s House GOP leadership race is the so-called Hastert Rule, under which a House Speaker pledges not to allow any measure to pass that doesn’t have the support of a majority of the members of his own caucus. In 2013, Medicaid expansion was passed by the House with the Democrats supplying most of the “yes” votes along with slightly less than a majority of the Republicans.

The Hastert Rule was named for former Republican U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Although the Republican members who opposed Medicaid expansion put up little resistance on the House floor, the idea of legislation passing in this manner didn’t sit well with some of them. Certain incoming House Republicans are said to be withholding their votes from both Rep. Cotter and Rep. Pscholka, until one of these candidates agrees to adhere to the Hastert Rule pledge.

Members are not required to reveal the leadership candidates they supported to the public because such votes are internal caucus matters. In close leadership elections, new members coming in to serve their first term can often play a pivotal role in determining the outcome.

There is a chance that a new candidate could belatedly and unexpectedly jump into either the House Republican or House Democratic leadership races. But that possibility appears to be a remote one.


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