Being in the majority has its privileges.
After 40 years in the minority, Michigan Democrats are figuring out that being in the majority comes with power.
Republicans are figuring out that without power, there’s political currency in being the loyal opposition at the expense of getting things done.
Let’s start in the Michigan House of Representatives.
For 50 years, the etiquette has been that the minority party supports the majority party’s choice for speaker. For one brief moment at the beginning of a session, everyone presents the illusion that Republicans and Democrats will work together for a common goal.
This year, the Democrats got behind Rep. Joe Tate — a former Marine, son of a fallen firefighter and one-time Michigan State University offensive lineman. The soft-spoken but physically imposing, 6-foot-5 Tate has earned a reputation as someone who listens more than he speaks, a rare but valued trait in Lansing.
He’s a Democrat, but not a political idealogue, which is a difference. Considering some of the other progressive options in the Democratic caucus, Republicans should be breathing a sigh of relief that Tate was their choice.
Still, our sharpening political divide compelled eight Republicans, several of whom associate with the Freedom Caucus, to vote against Tate. A ninth voted against Rep. Laurie Pohutsky as the new speaker pro tem.
The next day, the Democratic majority released a committee list that showed every Republican member who voted against Tate and Pohutsky received one or zero committee assignments. Those who received none ended up getting a solitary slot on a newly created subcommittee.
Every other House Republican member averaged three.
For a representative hoping to make a difference in public policy negotiations, this would be a major setback.
But in today’s political environment, these nine Republicans are being heralded by their base of supporters as heroes who should be revered for standing up for principles.
Former congressional candidate Mike Detmer, who may end up being the Michigan Republican Party’s next 7th Congressional District chair, issued a Facebook post calling Reps. Ann Bollin and Robert Bezotte — Republicans who voted for Tate — “weak, spineless, feckless phonies who wanted to make sure they weren’t deprived of their coveted committee assignments.”
He challenged both of them to have the “guts” to “stand before” him at the upcoming county and state conventions so he can “remind each and every one of them to their faces WHO it is they actually work for!”
Meanwhile, in the state Senate, the 20-member majority has inflated their membership margins on committees to the point where each Democrat is sitting on an average of eight legislative panels. One member is sitting on 11 and several more are sitting on 10.
The average Republican is sitting on four.
By comparison, the last time the Senate had a 20-18 split in 1987, the majority members averaged four committees and the minority members sat on three.
This committee inflation has been going on for several sessions. It gives those in the majority more access to donors with keen interests in specific committees. It also protects certain members from “bad votes” out of committee on controversial topics.
It also shows who has the power in Lansing. If Republicans don’t like being outnumbered 2:1 on a committee despite only being in a 20-18 minority, they can pound sand, as far as the Democrats are concerned.
What can the Republicans do if they don’t like it? Issue a press release? Make a Facebook post? Or swallow the Democrats’ sign of strength whole and be embraced as martyrs by their passionate conservative base?
In the Senate, the Republicans could always block a bill from taking immediate effect, which delays the action until 90 days after the chamber adjourns for the year.
But the Democrat Legislature could always adjourn in June and ask Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to call them back into a second session.
That particular tactic hasn’t been used since the 1960s … but neither has voting against a majority party’s choice for House speaker.
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