Whitmer has to get things done with GOP Legislature
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.
Gretchen Whitmer will have a hard time following through on calls to repeal the right-to-work law.