After last week’s midterm elections resulted in a historic victory for Michigan Democrats, both political parties are left with questions about what the next several years will look like.
Come January, Democrats will have a legislative trifecta for the first time in nearly four decades – a majority in the state house and senate, as well as a Democratic governor. As the party chose its new leadership last week, many Michiganders wondered what type of policy they’d begin to see come from Lansing in the new year.
The Democratic caucus selected Rep. Joe Tate as state speaker of the house, and Sen. Winnie Brinks as senate majority leader. Both are historic appointments: Tate will be the state’s first Black speaker, and Brinks will be the first woman to serve as majority leader.
Brinks said that the next two months will be spent developing a set of goals for the new state legislature in a press conference on Nov. 11. 40 years of pent-up legislative priorities have Democrats eager to hit the ground running.
“We’re going to pull up our list, we’re going to compare, we’re going to talk to the House and we’re going to talk to the governor’s office and we’re going to put together a list of things that puts the people of Michigan first,” Brinks said. “You’ll see a continued focus on making sure that our economy is strong, making sure our education systems are strong.”
Widely discussed amongst Democrats has been the potential repeal of former governor Rick Snyder’s “Right to Work” policy, which bans requiring workers to financially support union membership. Other legislative goals could include inflation relief programming and increased protections for reproductive rights in following with the now-passed Proposal 3.
On the GOP side, the post-election period has been more tense. An internal memo that was leaked from state Republican leadership slamming former gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon for causing losses by conservative candidates led to squabbles about the future of Michigan’s GOP.
The memo, authored by party Chief of Staff Paul Cordes, said that GOP losses at the top of the ticket and across the state could be attributed to how Dixon’s campaign was run, including low name recognition and failure to stay “on message.”
“There were more ads on transgender sports than inflation, gas prices and bread and butter issues that could have swayed independent voters,” the memo said. “Voters simply didn’t like what Tudor was selling.”
Like many states Republican parties, the MIGOP has struggled with whether or not to embrace former president Donald Trump as a kingmaker or to err on the side of independent voters who may view Trump less favorably. The memo said that Trump’s endorsement of Dixon hurt, rather than helped her.
"I'm sure the pundits and politicos will assign their blame in the coming weeks, but it is clear that independent voters were turned off by the top of the ticket in Michigan and it trickled down statewide," Cordes said at the end of the memo.
In light of the growing rift among Republicans, Dixon announced that she’s considering a run for state party chair, responding to the memo that the state party's success was "a matter of leadership." Former attorney general candidate Matt DePerno announced Monday that he also intends to seek the chairmanship.
“We need a state party that will fight for the future of Michigan and lay the foundation to make Michigan red again in 2024 - and beyond,” DePerno said in a Tweet.
If a candidate like Dixon or DePerno is elected state party chair in 2023, it could represent a formal swing to the right by Michigan Republicans, who have grappled with accusations by Democrats of being too extreme while also fielding criticism from a portion of voters who believe the party establishment isn’t conservative enough.
Dixon said in a statement that the MIGOP has failed to be competitive in a post-COVID-19 world.
“Since the Michigan GOP election memo was released, a number of people have reached out and encouraged me to run for state party chair, which I am considering,” Dixon said. “We must have a unified party that focuses on winning votes and elections.”
Regardless of where Republican leadership thinks the party may have gone wrong in the 2022 election cycle, the next two years will be the first time in Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s tenure that the state senate won’t wield its veto power over her agenda. Democrats’ sweeping victories in Michigan represent a significant change from the norm, and that shift will extend into governing.
Whitmer, speaking the morning of Nov. 9, said that she’s excited to build on the work of her first four years in office.
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"We'll keep fighting to repeal the retirement tax so seniors can keep more of what they've earned,” Whitmer said. “We will protect the Great Lakes for generations and ensure that every Michigander can pursue their potential from preschool to post secondary, and we'll keep fighting like hell to protect fundamental rights, as they've continued to be under assault across the nation. We made huge strides yesterday, but that's important to continue as well."
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