Republicans Power Through Controversial Lame Duck Legislation

Dec 11, 2018

Protestors line the balcony of the 2nd floor of the state Capitol.
Credit Cheyna Roth / Michigan Public Radio Network

Republicans in the state Legislature are trying to increase their power and limit the powers of statewide offices that – come January – will flip to Democrats.


It's a strategy that's angered Democratic voters, and protestors have been flooding the state Capitol with chants like “We voted for blue, not for you.” Protestors have even interrupted committee hearings with one man shouting to the committee members before being escorted out of the room. That exchange happened during a committee hearing on a bill that would allow the legislature to intervene in lawsuits involving the state (HB 6553).

Democrats say it’s a blatant attempt to undermine incoming attorney general Dana Nessel. Representative Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) chairs the committee that sent the bill to the full House. He cut off testimony and called a vote -- over the objections of Democrats when protestors started clapping at the end of one Democratic committee member’s statement. And they kept on clapping as Republicans voted to pass the measure out of committee, and Democrats shouted “No!”

Later on, Chatfield defended the bill. He said it would give the legislature -- which represents the people -- a stronger voice. But he recognizes the timing doesn’t look great.

“Let me be the first to admit this,” he said during a floor speech. “My biggest issue with this bill is that it was not introduced 18 months ago."

In other words: when it was a Republican holding the office of attorney general. Same goes for another bill (SB 1197). One that appears to be an effort to restrict Governor-Elect Gretchen Whitmer. That legislation could hamper her efforts to shut down a controversial oil pipeline. Something she pledged to do on the campaign trail. Patrick Schuh is with the progressive group, America Votes. He said the organization has engaged with tens of thousands of voters.

“At no point did voters say they wanted the rules manipulated,” Schuh said. “At no point did they say they wanted bills rushed through a hasty lame duck session."

Schuh’s group is opposing another bill. This one takes aim at the Secretary of State’s office (SB 1248-SB 1252). Which will also be led by a Democrat come January. The bill would take campaign finance oversight away from the secretary of state – and give it to a commission made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

“Look we are attempting to put together a board here that would have to act in a bipartisan fashion,”

said bill sponsor Senator Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc).

“We have heard a lot from the other side of the aisle over the last eight years about the need for bipartisanship in all things. Here is an opportunity for them to embrace it.”

But that is definitely not what’s happening. Democrats see these bills as nothing short of a power grab -- being executed in the final weeks Republicans still control things in Lansing. They warn the tactic could backfire.

Jim Ananich (D-Flint) is the leader of Democrats in the Senate. He said voters don’t like what’s happening -- and they’ll remember it in upcoming elections.

“I think they’re going to actually be more engaged and they’re going to send a stronger message in 2020 and 2022…And I’m going to wipe the floor with these clowns,” he said.

But other political observers say: welcome to politics.

"One of the characteristics of modern politics is, not just trying to advance your agenda, but looking for ways to reduce the power of the other side when they occupy various positions of authority,”

said former lawmaker and current Republican strategist, Ken Sikkema. Sikkema said when it comes to a backlash against Republicans … he’s not worried.

“Voter attention span is relatively limited and several months from now, or in the next election, nobody’s going to remember what happened in lame duck of 2018.”

Most – if not all – of these bills are expected to head to the governor’s desk soon, possibly by the end of the week. What we don’t know yet is whether term-limited Governor Rick Snyder will l go along with his party on these issues or make one final power move of his own.