When the smoke clears from the Nov. 2 general election, another critical election will occur in which tea partiers have no say and no candidate.
Even though Michigan voters will have decided whether it is Democrat or Republican majorities that rule the Michigan House and Senate, other important state legislative elections will take place shortly thereafter. And the vast majority of voters will have almost no say in the outcome. These battles will decide which individuals rule over the majority party caucuses that run the House and Senate. A new House Speaker and a new Senate Majority Leader will be the most consequential results.
Because of the mood of the electorate this year, the leadership races on the Republican side are particularly interesting. Some illuminating votes regarding the leading candidates are profiled below.
For a variety of reasons, none of the incumbent leadership in either chamber will be returning. The intense fight to fill these powerful positions is taking place right now, largely unseen by the voters, as the leadership candidates in each party try to secure the support of incumbent lawmakers and likely newcomers.
The Michigan Senate has been under Republican control for 27 years and few serious analysts believe the Republicans are in any danger of losing it. The House has flip-flopped control several times since 1992, and while Democrats currently enjoy a 67-43 advantage, nearly all observers believe this lead will be eroded because of what is widely considered to be a year when voters will smile more often on Republicans. Both of the major Lansing political newsletters - Gongwer.com and MirsNews.com - have run stories in the last few weeks that examined the increasing possibility that a strong win by GOP governor candidate Rick Snyder could bring a narrow GOP House majority in with him.
As such, the ongoing contest over who will respectively lead the House and Senate Republican caucuses may well be determining who - along with the governor - will be amongst the three most powerful politicians in the state.
According to reports in the two Lansing newsletters, the GOP races have settled down to two competing camps in each chamber. While all four lawmakers have a Democrat opponent in the general election, each is considered a likely winner on Nov. 2.
On the Senate side, current House member John Proos, R-St. Joseph, is running for the Senate in district 21 and is expected to win. In the race to become the next GOP caucus leader, and thus very likely the next Senate Majority Leader, Proos has emerged as the only serious rival to current Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.
On the House side, the race for Republican leader and thus potentially for House Speaker if the GOP achieves the majority, is between incumbent representatives James Bolger of Marshall and Paul Opsommer of Dewitt.
Over the last year, MichCapCon.com has reported on many votes involving these politicians. For tea party-inclined supporters of limited government, the results were a mixed bag, providing further evidence that the Nov. 2 election will not be a finish line but a starting line. Regardless of who holds the leadership titles in the Legislature, real leadership on matters of keeping state government in its proper place will default to the citizens themselves, who will likely need to continually show these politicians what they should be doing.
Here are several votes where the leading candidates to lead the two Republican legislative caucuses differed from one another or from the majority of the other Republicans:
One of the more revealing votes to take place over the last two years happened when the Michigan House took up a bill that would allow public school districts to levy a new form of property tax (www.MichCapCon.com/10576). The Michigan Chamber of Commerce vehemently opposed the bill, projecting that if it became law it would lead to tax hikes of $3.2 billion to $7.6 billion.
Bolger and most of the Republican caucus heeded the Michigan Chamber's warning and voted against the bill. However, eleven Republicans did vote for the bill, including both Proos and Opsommer. The Senate declined to consider it.
A Democrat-sponsored amendment offered in the Michigan Senate during June of 2009 would have banned Canadian trash from Michigan landfills (www.MichCapCon.com/10862). Had it become law, the amendment would have likely been struck down by courts because it violated international trade agreements such as NAFTA. An analyst writing about the amendment noted: "Rather than a serious policy proposal, the amendment was a political stunt allowing senators to express nonbinding opinions on the issue."
In addition to being vacuous, the analyst also noted that the amendment failed to account for the trade-off Michigan gets from importing household waste. The Great Lakes State is a net exporter of nuclear waste and hazardous waste. And ironically, Michigan sends much of its hazardous waste to Canada.
Most of the Republican caucus in the Senate voted against the ban on Canadian trash, but Richardville was one of the two who voted with the Democrats.
It was called "small time despotism" by the investor who was being denied a chance to buy a controlling share in a Michigan-based insurance company (www.MichCapCon.com/12780). Attempting to fight off a takeover bid earlier this year, the employees of Fremont Insurance persuaded the Michigan Legislature to change the takeover rules for publicly-traded companies headquartered in Michigan, effectively making it much harder for the owners of the company to sell their own investment to a willing buyer.
Opsommer in the House and Richardville in the Senate each voted in favor of the bill.
However, Proos and Bolger were amongst the 15 Republicans in the House who voted against the bill and to protect the rights of the Fremont Insurance shareholders who own the company.
Michigan restaurants are reporting less business in the wake of the smoking ban that the Legislature imposed on them this year (www.MichCapCon.com/13459).
Noting that many of his members were already going smoke-free voluntarily, before the ban was forced on them, a spokesman for the Michigan Restaurant Association explained that the group's opposition was based on allowing business owners to make the best choices and provide the best service for their particular customers, be they smokers or not.
"To us, this issue was never about sales," [Andy] Deloney said. "The issue was the freedom of the people who own and operate the taverns, bars and restaurants as well as the people who chose to go to them."
The Michigan Senate supported the smoking ban on a vote of 24-13. However, a dozen Senate Republicans - including Richardville - voted against imposing this ban on Michigan businesses.
The Michigan House voted 75-30 in favor of imposing the smoking ban. Opsommer and Proos both voted with the majority to force businesses to accept a smoking ban.
Bolger, along with 22 other Republicans and 7 Democrats, voted not to impose the smoking ban.
Three unpaid parking tickets could get a drivers' license revoked under a bill that was approved by the Michigan House last year but stalled in the Senate this summer (www.MichCapCon.com/13237).
Under current law, it requires six unpaid parking tickets to put a motorist in jeopardy of having their license suspended. By the admission of its sponsors, the bill is an attempt to bring in money for local governments. The Grand Rapids City Treasurer predicted to a House committee that if the bill became law, it would bring his department $500,000 during the first year and an additional $250,000 each year thereafter.
"The proposal is very straight forward ," said the treasurer. "[It] helps cash strapped local units by using existing technology to collect parking fines."
A representative of the National Motorists Association had a different view, saying that the likely result would be to turn impoverished drivers who couldn't afford pay the parking fines into scofflaws who drive without a license - a problem that he said was already harming public safety in Michigan.
"Parking tickets have no relationship to driving safety," he said. "Refusing to renew a person's driver's license for non-payment of three parking tickets can have a very negative effect on public safety."
The Michigan House voted 68-37 in favor of the harsher standard, with both Bolger and Proos voting with the majority. Opsommer and a majority of the House GOP caucus voted against imposing the harsher standard for parking ticket fines.
In the Senate, Richardville voted in favor of imposing the harsher standard.