Michigan Democrats won majorities in the House and Senate in November while retaining the governor’s office, giving them “trifecta” control of state government for the first time in four decades. The former party of Jefferson and Jackson also retained its advantage on the state supreme court and won every other statewide elective office. An impressive victory in a year that was supposed to favor Republicans.
Democrats want everyone to know there’s a new, blue sheriff in Lansing. “It’s a … trifecta,” an exultant Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, wrote at the start of a wide-ranging November tweetstorm. “We got ALL the gavels. Get ready for some cha- cha-cha-changes here in Michigan.”
We’re learning a few things as the new majorities settle in.
Democrats seemed as surprised as anyone that they took control of both houses, albeit by slim, two-seat majorities. They didn’t announce they were surprised, but there was a telltale dog that didn’t bark. It took until two months after the election before party leaders announced an initial legislative agenda. Confident campaigners tell voters what they’ll do if they win, and then roll it out immediately. Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America is the exemplar.
When the new majority did lay out its legislative priorities, all the ideas turned out to be reactionary, not proactive, as my colleague James Hohman observed. The major components seem aimed at undoing past Republican achievements, not advancing the governing party’s own bold, progressive vision: undo multiple Snyder-era tax reforms, reimpose union-driven prevailing wage mandates, and of course, repeal right-to-work.
I don’t recall voters clamoring for any of those things. Our polling (publicly available) shows voters favor retaining right-to-work by 2-1 margins or more.
But the Democrats’ legislative agenda does overlay nicely with organized labor’s wish list. Why is that? Shrinking unions and their compulsion-based business models have less and less influence with the public. Their political spending is under severe strain due to membership losses. Are Democrats showing that they’re in thrall to unions’ demands just as fully as they were 30 years ago? What’s progressive about that?
The Mackinac Center’s fiscal policy analyst, James Hohman, made a three-hour round trip to Lansing to testify at the Senate’s first committee hearing Jan. 26. He was prevented from speaking. Every union-backed witness was allowed to testify before the chair adjourned the hearing with 20 minutes left on the schedule. The single Republican on the panel was permitted one question. We’re chalking this up to a hiccup that we’ll be able to work out with the new leadership.
The organizational meeting of the Senate Education Committee chaired by Sen. Polehanki on Jan. 24 was brief, direct and striking. She said the committee would “listen to educators first” and pursue “legislation that the education community wants.” She did not mention students, parents or taxpayers.
Perhaps referring to past Republican leadership, Polehanki said the committee would not demonize teachers or LGBTQ+ students, or lend credence to fake scandals or conspiracies. She closed by saying, “Let me be clear that those days are over for the next four years while I hold this gavel.” Its tone reminded me of Donald Trump’s arresting “American carnage” inauguration speech in 2017. Our education policy director Molly Macek has her hands full.
I’m hesitant to predict much based on these observations. A trifecta is powerful, but you don’t get all you want, even with much larger majorities than Democrats now have. Just ask Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Speaker Jase Bolger. They led their chambers during a Republican trifecta.