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Couples counseling for GOP House Speaker Jase Bolger and Dem. Leader Tim Greimel

Welcome to our “Anatomy of a Kerfuffle” edition of "It’s Just Politics." This week: a throw-down between Republican state House Speaker Jase Bolger and state House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel. It culminated in the speaker yanking eight Democrats off their legislative committees. This was a big deal, a really unprecedented move and a classic example of the principle: it is better to be feared than loved.

But first, before we go into the back-story of this dustup, a disclosure: as the columnist George Will has said, “I don't have a dog in this fight. I have a wife in this fight.” One of us (that would be Rick) is married to the legal counsel for the House Democrats. She is not always happy with the analysis we give on "It’s Just Politics," but here it is anyway: What happened between Bolger and Greimel actually has its own term that couples counselors sometimes use, “cascading.” It’s where one argument cascades into another argument and before you know it, you’re both arguing about everything.

That is what happened a week ago when Jase Bolger let it be known that if Democrats didn’t put up votes for some type of road revenue (votes for a tax increase of some sort), Republicans might go it alone and their solution might include some things that Democrats and unions really would not like. Something like outlawing prevailing wage – rules that say public works projects have to pay the typical union scale for a job.

Democrats have made – or have tried to make – protecting prevailing wage the admission fee for even entering into negotiations on road funding. Republicans in the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder have been trying to force the Democrats to put a specific transportation funding proposal out so they have something to bargain against. With the threat of Republican action on prevailing wage hanging out there, Democratic leader Tim Greimel said, “We’re not going to negotiate with terrorists.”

It was a flippant statement, but Republicans jumped on it, saying it was insensitive in light of the recent Boston bombings. Greimel’s press secretary later said it was probably a poor choice of words. Later that afternoon, Democrats put out a statement that was all about saying: Well, if you want to talk about insensitive, let’s talk about Republicans walking out of a meeting of the House Insurance Committee before it was over.

At a hearing last week on overhauling Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance law, a lot of people injured in auto accidents, many of them in wheelchairs, showed up to testify. After many hours of testimony, some Republicans got up and left the hearing. Greimel said those four Republicans should be removed from the committee for being so insensitive as to walk out.

So, Jase Bolger essentially said: Fine, you want to talk about attendance at committee meetings? You know those eight Democrats who missed meetings in the past week? Well, they’re off their committees. 

Pure cascading. But we are pleased to announce that détente has been reached. Bolger and Greimel met, made up, and put out a joint statement. It certainly wasn’t warm and fuzzy, but they did pledge to try to work together, and now all eight Democrats are back on their committees.

So, peace in our time, which, of course, is what British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said about a peace treaty that was supposed to avert World War II…

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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