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Last week’s state House votes to repeal the state’s 53-year-old prevailing wage law and adopt work requirements for Medicaid expansion recipients may have long-term impacts on Michigan residents, but the actual vote had an immediate impact on one Ingham County commissioner.
He lost his day job as a House staffer. Let’s set the stage.
Readers may know Ryan Sebolt as the bow tie-wearing Ingham County commissioner who began his first term last year.
His full-time job, up until last Wednesday, was “floor operations manager” for Michigan House Minority Floor Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills. One of his duties is to procedurally assist Greig through the tactics a minority party can employ to slow offending legislation.
Democrats haven’t needed to open the trick bag very often this term since the drama has stayed mostly among Republican caucus members and legislative leaders as the R’s struggle to scratch off the last few items from their to-do list after seven years of single-party rule.
The notable exception was last Wednesday when the 63-member Republican caucus repealed the mandate that workers on public construction projects receive the regional prevailing union wage in that area.
The trade unions stopped this initiative before by cutting a deal with Gov. Rick Snyder under which he promised to veto the measure if it reached his desk. Proponents, led by the Associated Builders and Contractors, went around the governor by starting a citizens initiative. If they collected enough signatures, they could get the Legislature to vote it up or down without Snyder’s signature.
The first time “Protecting Michigan Taxpayers” tried this, organized labor found the signature-collection company hired did a sloppy job and got the secretary of state to invalidate the drive.
The unions thought they had this thing stopped this year, too. Apparently, prevailing wage repeal proponents hired a new batch of signatures circulators who used vacant lots and abandoned homes as their home addresses. The signatures these liars collected couldn’t be good … right? Wrong!
The Supreme Court said the signatures were fine, but the circulators could be prosecuted.
So, understandably, union members were ticked when prevailing wage repeal was before the House for immediate adoption last week. The House gallery was packed with union members hurling insults and shouting snide remarks as members debated, adding to a tense floor environment.
After it passed, Republicans employed a questionable procedural move where the presiding officer gave the measure immediate effect — as opposed to it going into effect next April — based on his judgment that two-thirds of the chamber voiced its support. Clearly, two-thirds of the 109-member House didn’t support this. Outside of the shouts and desk pounding, at least 40 Democrats signed a document opposing immediate effect.
It didn’t matter. Immediate effect was ordered and the citizens’ initiative was sent to the House Clerk’s Office for processing. (As a side note, both parties have employed this tactic for years. The Dems once challenged it in court and got nowhere.)
Next up was the bill requiring Healthy Michigan recipients to work 80 hours a month. This time, Republicans — agitated that the Dems played to the angry gallery with their prior floor speeches — cut off debate four members early.
The bill was passed and immediate effect slammed through.
The Democrats couldn’t do anything about it, but one tactic minority parties have used — just to be a pain — is to make a motion to reconsider the vote until the next day. Such a motion freezes the bill, but can only be made if the bill is physically on the floor.
Enter Sebolt. Seeing the Medicaid work bill handed to a clerk staffer to be carried downstairs for processing, Sebolt ran around the House rostrum and tried to stand in the clerk’s way to keep him on the chamber for a couple seconds so Greig could make that motion.
She never did. Instead, some physical contact was made as the clerk muscled his way off the floor. But a story emerged among Republicans that Sebolt rushed the rostrum like a lunatic, pinned a House clerk to the wall and needed to be escorted off the floor by the House sergeants.
House TV video I subsequently tweeted out doesn’t support this story, but because Sebolt did make contact with the clerk, House Speaker Tom Leonard fired him immediately.
House Democrats have been standing by Sebolt, saying the whole situation was blown out of proportion. Many wore bow ties in support of him the next day and Sebolt received love on social media, one woman tweeting that her superman wears a bow tie.
Sebolt has kept a low profile since then, declining to talk to media and trying not to inflame the situation as he considers his next steps. But among House Democrats, last Wednesday will be remembered as the day Sebolt took a bullet for the caucus.
(Melinn, news editor of the Capitol newsletter MIRS, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)