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Will Republicans and Democrats play nice in Lansing in 2013?

The 97th Legislature of the state of Michigan began this week, having still not shaken off the hangover of last year, as Republicans forced through controversial issues like right-to-work during last month’s lame duck session. And, it’s probably fair to say that this is more than a double-aspirin hangover.

There are however, some efforts toward mending some of the very hard feelings leftover. “This past year has strained relationships,” state House Speaker Jase Bolger said on the House floor, “however, we can and should leave that past behind us.” Of course, that’s easy to say when you’re not the one still spitting the sand out of your mouth. But, Democrats and Republicans did negotiate for a peaceful opening day.

Yet, Democrats and unions have made it plain that forgive and forget is not in the cards.  They want the last two years, especially everything that happened in December, to be the main topic of conversation in Michigan politics for the next two years. And it certainly seemed like another thumb in their eye when the Michigan Economic Development Corporation paid for an ad in the Wall Street Journal touting Michigan as the nation’s newest right-to-work state under the banner of the very successful and super popular Pure Michigan brand. Democrats say it’s politicizing the brand and some marketing experts are even saying it might not have been the wisest choice.

But, in other ways, Republicans are trying to make nice. This week, Speaker Bolger invited United Auto Workers President Bob King and Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook to his office. Apparently, they never met like that until well into the middle of making Michigan a right-to-work state. Democrats say they’re open to conversation but, again, they say they don’t intend to just let the controversies of last year go.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder is also making the fence-mending rounds. The Governor says he wants transportation funding – revenue, taxes and fees – dealt with in early 2013. That is a big deal. He says Michigan needs at least a billion dollars more every year to invest in all kinds of transportation infrastructure. The governor says he’s going to make another proposal this year in his State of the State address and that this one will be more *concrete* (Bad joke, please forgive us). This however is not going to be easy to get done.  A year before a gubernatorial election, the state House and Senate are all up: it’s not optimal timing.

So, toward that end, Governor Snyder is also trying to make nice with Democrats after a rough year. In typical One Tough Nerd fashion, the Governor said, “we’re going to have some challenges there, but I view that as just good, hard work, working together and communicating well. Relentless positive action.”

The Governor made the rounds on the Legislature’s opening day, including a
closed-door meeting with House Democrats. It’s likely he’ll need their help if he’s going to get any kind of tax or fee increase for transportation.

But, the Governor might want to try to continue to mend fences by giving a special shout out to state House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel during his State of the State address on Wednesday night. Why? Well, apparently the Governor kept calling Representative Greimel “Andy” during the meeting.

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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