News Story

Interview With New House Education Committee Chairman, State Rep. Tom McMillin

"We won't be bullied...we're pushing ahead"

State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills

On Nov. 8, Michigan House Education Committee Chair Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, became the first Michigan lawmaker in 28 years to be successfully recalled from office. The recall effort was bankrolled and coordinated by the Michigan Education Association, which is the state's largest teacher union.

The election result was decided by fewer than 200 votes. In the month prior to Election Day the courts called the recall election off for a week; then switched gears and ordered that it go forward.

Arguments over what the recall meant, if it meant anything at all, will likely go on for years. However, for Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, the outcome resulted in a new role. House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, picked Rep. McMillin to replace Scott as chairman of the House Education Committee.

Rep. McMillin was interviewed about his new post via telephone on Thursday. The following are excerpts from that interview.

Q. Is the fact that Rep. Paul Scott was recalled going to affect the House Education Committee agenda?

A. “It really won't change anything; other than the fact that I'll be the Chair instead of Paul, of course. We're still going to be pushing ahead with our efforts to make sure education in Michigan focuses on what's best for the kids. We're still going to be moving forward on issues like charter schools and cyber schools and addressing failing schools.

“Our focus will be on the kids. It's no longer going to be about doing things to satisfy the adults first. It won't be all about the unions and so forth, the way is was when the Democrats were in the majority."

Q. How would you describe the House Republican Caucus reaction to the recall?

A. “If possible, we're even more determined than ever not to be bullied. The recall involved a lot of circumstances. A lot of money was spent by both sides. It was a very close vote and other issues besides education were involved. It was definitely not a mandate for the liberals' side of the education debate.

“In fact, the Scott recall actually started out over teacher tenure. The recallers couldn't make that work, so they ended up doing it the way they did.” (Over the alleged K-12 cuts and the pension tax.)

“I don't believe it was the right thing for the MEA to do for its constituents. I don't think the teachers will benefit from it. It's like Speaker Jase Bolger's office has been saying: We're not going to be reckless or vengeful, honestly, we're not interested in going in those directions. But we're also not going to be bullied. We are going to keep moving forward with education reforms.”

Q.  Do you think you're going to be able to work with the MEA?

A. “Well, I'm not going to kick them out of my office. But I don't know how the MEA can come back and try to lobby for their constituents. Our caucus did include some members who had some sympathy for some of their (MEA's) positions. But I don't know if that's the case anymore.

“The MEA was openly hostile to us. I mean . . .  the way they launched into those attacks . . .  It was like a  huge, well-oiled bullying effort. I thought it would backfire then and I still think it will backfire. So, can they come back and effectively work with the Legislature? I really just don't know the answer to that. This has never happened before, so this is a case where we're really sailing in uncharted waters.”

Q. The House passed the teacher dues bill and the release-time bill. However,  those bills have yet to be passed by the Senate. Are you worried about the future of those bills?

(Readers note: House Bill 4929, the teacher dues bill, would ban the practice of union dues being automatically deducted from teacher paychecks. House Bill 4059, the release time bill, would ban putting union stewards on a public payroll.)

A. “Those bills are both currently in the committee chaired by Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids. I am more than a little bit involved with both of those bills. I think the Senate is 'there' (in a supportive position) on these bills. It's just that the Senate sort of has it's own timing on things.”

Q. Is there anything new you have planned for the education committee?

A. “I'm looking at potentially creating subcommittees to take a thorough look at education mandates. This is something I was thinking about pursuing even before I was named committee chairman. If we could find ways of eliminating some of these mandates it could lift some burdens off of teachers and let them concentrate on the job of teaching.”

Q.  Do you anticipate working with the Democrats on anything?

A. “Yes, there are areas where we can agree. In fact, I just had a press conference with Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, on repealing the 'peace bond.' We have legislation to repeal a bad state law that allows judges to suspend a person's right of free speech by imposing what they call a 'peace bond' on them.

“Our legislation on this is supported by both the Thomas More Law Center and the ACLU.

“Also, there are members of the House Education Committee, such as Rep. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, and Rep. Rudy Hobbs, D-Lathrup Village, who definitely share our concerns about failing school districts and have shown a willingness to work with us.”