Nobody with a serious chance of winning was willing to challenge Virg Bernero’s quest for a third term, leaving the mayor free to work towards a less contentious City Council. He used that fact to great advantage.
Three of the four incumbents seeking reelection were generally in the pro-Bernero faction. Losing any of them would have given Carol Wood a potentially veto-proof supermajority on the eightmember council. Instead of losing ground, Bernero ended up strengthening his hand by defeating Wood ally Brian Jeffries, a three-term Council veteran. The one-vote switch should mute some of the weekly drama at City Hall in 2014.
Whitmer, Levin bow out
Retiring politicians often attribute their departure to a desire to spend more with their family. That usually means they’ve passed their peak in office. It is rare when a politician leaves at the “top of their game.” But that’s exactly what state Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer is doing.
Whitmer is one of the state’s most popular Democrats. Despite facing a 26-12 GOP majority in the Senate, she has proven to be a force in many key policy debates and become the leading voice of “the loyal opposition.”
Meanwhile, for nearly half the people of Michigan, Carl Levin has been a U.S. senator their entire lives. That ends in a year. Levin, 79, decided to retire after 36 years in office. His seniority makes him one of the most powerful people in Washington as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Back to the mattresses
Despite happy talk about a state Legislature that could be a little more bipartisan, Republicans blew up any chances for that in the final months of the year.
First, they quickly jammed through a new law moving lawsuits against the state from Ingham County Circuit Court to the Court of Appeals in a matter of days. It allows the state Supreme Court (ranked by legal studies as the most partisan in America) to assign cases to hand-picked judges who may have no previous experience in running a trial.
GOP lawmakers followed that with a near party-line vote to prohibit insurance companies from including abortion coverage as a standard part of private health plans. Although the concept goes against GOP mantras of keeping government out of healthcare decisions and reducing regulation of private businesses, it plays well with the party’s base.
Political friction among Democrats
Ingham County has become a Democratic stronghold. As a result, some of the more interesting political battles are amongst the Dems.
Bernero’s relationship with the Ingham County Board of Commissioners has hit a couple of rough spots. Three months after receiving a letter from board Chairwoman Deb Nolan indicating a desire for continued county management of the Hope Soccer complex, Bernero negotiated a deal with a private company to take over the Aurelius Road facilities. After taking heat for the deal (in which he also managed to bypass City Council), Bernero argued that he’d been told by the county parks director that the county wanted to shed responsibility for running the city-owned facility.
Now the Commission is threatening to sue the city over the transfer of retirement funds for 911 emergency response operators. Thirty-two city employees were transferred to the county payroll with the understanding that accrued retirement funds would also be transferred. Three years after the agreement, the funds still haven’t been transferred as the two sides argue over the amount of money involved.