Whit­mer has to get things done with GOP Leg­is­la­ture

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN OOSTING AND BETH LEBLANC The Detroit News

Lans­ing — Demo­cratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whit­mer, who cam­paigned on her abil­ity to “get things done,” faces a chal­lenge by need­ing to work with a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture to do so. While the for­mer state Se­nate mi­nor­ity leader is con­fi­dent in the ne­go­ti­at­ing skills she honed serv­ing 14 years in a leg­isla­tive mi­nor­ity, di­vided govern­ment will com­pli­cate Whit­mer’s pledge to “fix the damn roads.” The

Repub­li­cans’ abil­ity to pro­tect their ma­jori­ties in the state House and Se­nate likely dooms lib­eral plans such as re­peal­ing the state’s right-towork law op­posed by unions.

The elec­tion was a “clear man­date the peo­ple want, ex­pect and de­serve lead­ers who can work to­gether to solve prob­lems,” Whit­mer said Wed­nes­day morn­ing af­ter de­feat­ing Repub­li­can Bill Schuette by 9 per­cent­age points.

The East Lans­ing Demo­crat is vow-

ing to re­sume reg­u­lar “quad­rant meet­ings” with both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic lead­ers in the state Se­nate and House. In an olive branch across the aisle, she said she will also con­sider ap­point­ing Repub­li­cans to her cabi­net or other ad­min­is­tra­tion posts.

“Whether I can find com­mon ground on is­sues with Repub­li­can lead­ers or not, we are go­ing to sit and meet and start to build re­la­tion­ships,” Whit­mer said. “I think when you talk, you can find com­mon ground. But if you’re not talk­ing, you don’t have any shot at it.”

Democrats flipped five state Se­nate seats in Tues­day’s elec­tion, but Repub­li­cans will re­turn a 22-16 ma­jor­ity. Democrats also picked up five seats in the state House, where the Repub­li­cans will hold a 58-52 ma­jor­ity.

“Luck­ily we have a Leg­is­la­ture that is com­mit­ted to ‘re­sults not re­sis­tance,’ ” said Whit­mer cam­paign man­ager Eric Gold­man, echo­ing the Michi­gan Repub­li­can Party’s elec­tion mantra.

But cer­tain ar­eas are con­sid­ered off-lim­its by in­com­ing Repub­li­can lead­ers, in­clud­ing higher taxes and other leg­is­la­tion that would in­crease the costs of eco­nomic devel­op­ment. Sen. Mike Shirkey of Clark­lake made it clear Thurs­day af­ter his GOP col­leagues elected him as as their next ma­jor­ity leader, be­sides choos­ing Sen. Jim Sta­mas of Mid­land as the ap­pro­pri­a­tions chair and Sen. Peter MacGre­gor of Rock­ford as ma­jor­ity floor leader.

“Ev­ery­thing we do is go­ing to be ori­ented and fo­cused on mak­ing sure that we cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that is at­trac­tive to cap­i­tal in­vest­ment, the cre­ation of jobs and max­i­miz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Shirkey said.

Shirkey, who led the suc­cess­ful ef­fort ear­lier this year to im­ple­ment Med­ic­aid work re­quire­ments op­posed by Whit­mer, said he was in­ter­ested in speak­ing with the gover­nor-elect about her pri­or­i­ties and poli­cies. But he in­di­cated he would op­pose tax in­creases on cor­po­ra­tions and any at­tempt to change the state’s right-to-work law.

The 2012 law, which pro­hibits worker con­tracts that re­quire union dues or fees as a con­di­tion of em­ploy­ment, was “the sin­gle big­gest thing we’ve done in the last eight years to make Michi­gan at­trac­tive to cap­i­tal in­vest­ment,” Shirkey told re­porters. “I would fight with ev­ery ounce of my body to make sure that doesn’t get changed.”

In­com­ing House Speaker Lee Chat­field said Thurs­day said it was im­per­a­tive to work across the aisle to en­sure proper fund­ing for roads and ed­u­ca­tion.

“Peo­ple are up­set with Wash­ing­ton be­cause they can’t get things done,” said Chat­field, R-Lev­er­ing, who was cho­sen by GOP col­leagues on Thurs­day. “Lans­ing will not be Wash­ing­ton.”

With a Demo­crat in the gover­nor’s of­fice for the first time in eight years, it’s “go­ing to be a new dy­namic,” said state Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint. “The vot­ers sent a pretty strong mes­sage that they want re­sults, I think less par­ti­san­ship, less ide­o­log­i­cally driven govern­ment, more fo­cused on find­ing so­lu­tions and com­pro­mise.”

But the Flint Demo­crat con­ceded that Whit­mer will have a hard time fol­low­ing through on calls to re­peal the right-to-work law or re­store a pre­vail­ing wage law for con­struc­tion work­ers that Repub­li­cans scrapped ear­lier this year over protests from or­ga­nized la­bor.

Ananich will re­tain his lead­er­ship post next ses­sion. Democrats on Thurs­day also elected Sen.elect Stephanie Chang of Detroit to serve as cau­cus floor leader, and Sen. Cur­tis Her­tel Jr. of East Lans­ing is ex­pected to serve as vice chair on the bud­get ap­pro­pri­a­tions com­mit­tee. Lt. Gov. Gar­lin Gilchrist II will pre­side over the Se­nate and have the power to cast a tie-break­ing vote on a bill.

Chat­field’s lead­er­ship team will in­clude Rep. Ja­son Went­worth of Clare, who was elected as speaker pro-tem, Chat­field’s cur­rent po­si­tion, and Rep.

Tris­ton Cole of Mancelona, who was elected ma­jor­ity floor leader.

Rep. Chris­tine Greig of Farm­ing­ton Hills was elected to serve as the House Demo­cratic leader over Rep. Brian El­der of Bay City.

Greig wouldn’t com­ment on the con­test be­tween her and El­der, say­ing “what hap­pens in cau­cus is go­ing to stay in cau­cus.”

Bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions next year be­tween Whit­mer and leg­isla­tive lead­ers will be “crit­i­cal” to set­ting the early tone in Lans­ing, said TJ Bu­cholz, a Demo­cratic strate­gist who worked de­part­men­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions jobs un­der the En­gler and Gran­holm ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Whit­mer, who has called for $2 bil­lion a year in new road re­pair and in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing, has al­ready said she’ll write new money into her first bud­get pro­posal as a start­ing point for talks with the Leg­is­la­ture.

“Fix­ing the damn roads is not go­ing to be an easy fix,” Bu­cholz said. “It’s go­ing to be like un­ty­ing the Gor­dian knot, so she’s go­ing to need help.”

Whit­mer in­tends to sit down with leg­isla­tive lead­ers next week as she pre­pares to take of­fice Jan. 1. On the cam­paign trail, she said she would ask law­mak­ers to ap­prove new “user fees,” which could in­clude gas taxes or reg­is­tra­tion fees, to fund road re­pairs.

“My goal is mak­ing sure we have a ded­i­cated fund­ing source, and I need leg­isla­tive part­ners to help me get that done,” Whit­mer said. “If they’re not strong enough, I’ll got to the vot­ers” and seek ap­proval to bor­row money by bond­ing.

David Gu­ral­nick / The Detroit News

Gretchen Whit­mer will have a hard time fol­low­ing through on calls to re­peal the right-to-work law.



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