Friday, July 3, 2020

Michigan's newly elected officials plan their next steps

November 29, 2018
Democratic congressional candidate Elissa Slotkin, gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, and candidate for lieutenant governor Garlin Gilchrist II watch former Vice President Joe Biden speak at LCC on Nov. 1.
Democratic congressional candidate Elissa Slotkin, gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, and candidate for lieutenant governor Garlin Gilchrist II watch former Vice President Joe Biden speak at LCC on Nov. 1. —
Photo by Andrew Roth | The State News

After a historic midterm election, Michigan will have a new governor, attorney general, and secretary of state come 2019, while East Lansing will get new representatives at the state and federal level. 

U.S. Representative-elect Elissa Slotkin 

Shortly after her upset victory over incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Michigan, Congresswoman-elect Elissa Slotkin traveled to Washington, D.C. for the first week of an orientation that teaches newly elected members of Congress how to effectively represent their districts. 

“Orientation covers both the high and heady and the low and mundane,” Slotkin said. 

Between learning about ethics laws and drawing names in a raffle for office space, the newly elected representatives got a tour of the U.S. Capitol and Library of Congress.

“The first time I walked on the House floor was really moving, and to have the docent tell you about the bills that were passed there, the legislation that was crafted in that corner, and the debate, the group, the deadlock on an issue happened in that pew … is pretty amazing,” Slotkin said.

One of Slotkin’s colleagues in the House, incoming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York’s 14th Congressional District, has been sharing her experiences at the orientation through a series of Instagram live videos that garnered national media attention. 

One of the things that Ocasio-Cortez said she learned at orientation is that members often must choose whether to prioritize constituent services or policy introduction, due to limited time and resources. When asked what she would prioritize between the two, Slotkin said she can tackle both sides of the job effectively.

“My goal is to have the best constituent services in the state,” Slotkin said. “I can walk and chew gum — I can have a great district office, hopefully with some satellite offices in other parts of the district, and I can be a real force on introducing bills and on policy.

“That’s what I intend to do, and that’s part of being this different generation. I think all of us have had other experiences and careers that have taught us a lot about how to get things done and how to keep your focus on the mission.” 

Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer

Less than 24 hours after beating her Republican opponent, outgoing Attorney General Bill Schuette, Whitmer met with outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder at the state capitol. The two discussed ways to ensure “an efficient, collaborative process” during the transition period.

While Michigan Democrats made gains this year, they failed to flip either chamber of the Legislature, potentially creating a roadblock for Whitmer’s legislative priorities.

“Governor-elect Whitmer has a record of reaching across the aisle to get things done for Michiganders, and as Governor will work with everyone who wants to build a better Michigan, regardless of political affiliation,” a spokesman for the transition said in an email.

Whitmer will be inaugurated Jan. 1, 2019 in a public ceremony.

Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson

When she takes office in January, Benson will be responsible for implementing two ballot proposals passed by Michigan voters this year, creating an independent redistricting committee and expanding voter rights.

Additionally, she will create an online portal through which Michigan citizens can register to vote after Snyder signed a bill into law allowing for online voter registration. 

“Jocelyn Benson laid out a very specific agenda during the campaign, which a majority of voters embraced, and when the Secretary-elect takes office on January 1 she’ll have a plan for tackling all that she has to do,” said Liz Boyd, Benson’s spokesperson. “But no one should be surprised if customer service and getting to work on honoring a 30-Minute Guarantee is at the top of her to-do list.”

Benson is scheduled to meet with outgoing Secretary of State Ruth Johnson in early December.

Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel

Outgoing Attorney General Bill Schuette has prosecuted a number of high-profile cases during his final months in office – including those related to the Flint water crisis and Larry Nassar – as well as investigating potential sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. 

Nessel’s transition team said she will not publicly announce which cases she will continue until she takes the position Jan. 1, 2019.

“There are tens of thousands of cases pending before the Attorney General and the team is closely looking at the status of those cases and others she may want to pursue,” said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, Nessel’s transition communications director. “She is deeply concerned about the people of Flint and that case is very high on the agenda. However, until she takes office, she will not comment specifically on any pending issue or cases.”

Michigan Representative-elect Julie Brixie

Come next legislative session, which begins next year, Democrats in the state House of Representatives will elect a new leader. Current leader, Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, was term-limited and ineligible to seek reelection this year.

Taking his place in representing the 69th House District will be Julie Brixie. Similar to the orientation Slotkin received at the federal level, newly elected members of the Michigan Legislature attended an orientation within days of the election.

“It definitely makes it sink in that you are going to be a state representative and you’re going to be down at the Capitol making decisions that impact people’s lives,” Brixie said. 

During orientation, Brixie met several of her new colleagues and found common ground with some Republicans in attendance. However, she said that Democrats’ failure to retake the state House and Senate could mean that her legislative priorities will need to be reevaluated. 

“I had told people (during the campaign) that my personal priorities would be one thing if we had a majority in the House and if we had the governor and everything, but that my realistic sense of priorities would be ‘what can we get accomplished,’” Brixie said. “Since we don’t have a majority in the House, I think my expectations have probably changed as a result of that.”

Statewide policy, not constituent services, will be Brixie’s main focus as a legislator – not because she doesn’t care about her constituents’ needs, she said, but because they care more about policy than more personal interactions.

“We happen to have the great fortune to live in the 69th District that really is different than a lot of districts in this state and has constituents that are above median incomes on average, above median education levels on average and that have a desire to see policies advanced at the state level,” Brixie said. 

However, Brixie still plans to be accessible to the public. Events listed on her Facebook page show that she has already planned coffee hour style forums through March. 

Brixie has been sworn in and will begin her term in January 2019 at the start of the 100th state legislative session.

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