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With lame duck over, (political) eyes turn to 2014


This week we saw the wrap-up of the Legislature’s lame duck session. It was big and messy and there’s still a lot to sort out.  But clearly the biggest news, history-making, really, was that Michigan will become the nation’s 24th right-to-work state. Right-to-work is a loaded issue with passionate supporters and
opponents. Thousands and thousands of protesters turned out to try and make their voices heard. This will be an issue that resonates for a long time. It has huge cultural consequences. But, as always, on It’s Just Politics, we want to focus on the inside mechanics, the down-and-dirty politics.

And, some of the politics during lame-duck sure was down and dirty. One of the final actions of the Republican-controlled Legislature was to make it much harder to recall elected officials. Recalls are among the retributions being plotted by labor in the face of right-to-work. This could be a bit of a game changer before that’s even started. That should have state Senator Partrick Colbeck, a Republican from a swing district in western Wayne County, breathing a little easier. Colbeck was a big backer of right-to-work and is now considering a top recall target by Democrats.

Republicans also made sure their work won’t be the target of a referendum campaign by putting an expenditure in it. GOP lawmakers also did this when they passed a new emergency manager law this week. We’ve talked about this before on It’s Just Politics: how Republicans in this session have used this provision in the Michigan Constitution that’s meant to protect the state’s ability to pay its bills. But, it’s being used, time and again, to shield laws from the threat of voter-reversal through a referendum.


This week, after months – years, really – of saying right-to-work wasn’t something he wanted, that it was too divisive of an issue, Governor Snyder signed the legislation into law. To many, it seemed almost like it was forced on him. Particularly after One Tough Nerd had been a Hamlet on the question, “to be right-to-work or not to be right-to-work…?” This has many political observers wondering: was this just a Kabuki  dance all along? Was there always a plan to “do” right-to-work?

Meanwhile, compare the Governor’s apprehension with Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger. Bolger, who just might be Lansing’s most-powerful politician right now, was *never* coy about the issue. No doubt about it: he wanted, pushed for, worked for right-to-work. And, how interesting it is that it was just a little over a month ago that Bolger was teetering on the edge of humiliation. House Republicans had mismanaged a couple of controversies (think the Roy Schmidt party-changing episode and “Vagina-gate”) and Bolger came close to becoming the first House Speaker in 20 years to lose his seat. But, he came back to Lansing after the election, seemingly unharmed,  and waged the battle over right-to-work.

But, it’s not just Republicans who are making a name for themselves in the right-to-work fight. State Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer looks to be preparing for a run for something else in the face of the controversy. Whitmer is term-limited and the smart money seems to be betting that she’s setting her sights on a 2014 Gubernatorial run. Whitmer has emerged as the Democrats’ go-to voice on a lot of weighty issues and was front-and-center during the right-to-work protests at the Capitol.

We should also mention the next House Democratic leader Tim Greimel. He’s turned out to be something of a firebrand but, alas, does not have a fancy new website like Whitmer does. Hers is a generic, office-unspecific site that just says, “2014 is our year.” It has a picture of her, arm raised, delivering a fiery speech on the state Capitol steps. It was taken at a rally over this summer, with hands behind her raised in the V-symbol (although, we, here at It’s Just Politics, are pretty darn certainly that “V” is not for “victory.”)  

So, that raises the question: is she labor’s new heroine? We might not know that answer to that question yet but we do know that labor, indeed, needs a hero right now. It’s suffered defeat after defeat and even without all this Republican ballot protection, the typical metrics suggest 2014  could be a tough year for Democrats. That’s because mid-term elections during a president’s second term are rarely kind to the party that holds the White House.

So, as always, it’s fun to make a lot of guesses and calculations about what comes next but, of course, like in all political-stories: this is only the beginning.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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