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Michigan lawmakers set to meet at Capitol for fewest days in 14 years

The sultry days of summer are no break from politics. In fact, the state Legislature’s summer recess is becoming a political wedge itself.

Playing politics

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon has held a series of press conferences (that just happen to be in the media markets of competitive state House seats) and the message is that the Republican-controlled Legislature is on an extended recess and that the GOP leadership is just taking it easy.

“They certainly don’t want to tackle the tough problems, and we want ‘em to know the Democrats are ready to come back, and do the job they’re paid and elected to do, and Republicans have decided it’s more fun to be at the beach,” Dillon told reporters.

Now, this is an easy shot for Democrats to take. They’re not in charge of either chamber of the Legislature. Not the Senate. And not the House, where all 110 seats are up for election this year. Democrats see a path (albeit a thin one) to taking majority, and ending the Rick Snyder era of Republican hegemony in Lansing.

A takeover of the House would mean Ds would become full partners at the bargaining table in the last two years of Governor Snyder’s term.

Fourteen years

The Legislature does have a session day on its calendar scheduled for midweek but it’s really a placeholder, just in case lawmakers have to deal with a crisis.

As it stands now, Wednesday will come and go with no quorum and no votes. And that means the Legislature is on track to have the fewest number of session days in 14 years, since 2002 and Governor John Engler’s administration (hat tip to Emily Lawler at MLive and MIRS News Service for those numbers).

We are certainly not done with knotty, controversial political questions but there just are not that many left. At least not that many that Republicans want to deal with.

And there are a few reasons for the fewer days. For one, there are always fewer days scheduled for lawmakers to meet when it’s an election year. Lawmakers tend to get anxious to get home and meet with voters - their ultimate bosses rather than sit in chamber. And, that’s particularly true with the August primaries and the November general election fast approaching.

Fewer priorities

Legislatively speaking, there’s also just not as much to do.

Republicans have been in charge since 2011 - since a GOP wave swept Governor Snyder into office and handed the GOP large House and Senate majorities. Since then, we’ve seen a tax overhaul, Right to Work, the Detroit “Grand Bargain,” and a roads deal.

We’re not done with knotty, controversial political questions, certainly, but there just aren’t that many left. At least not that many that Republicans want to deal with.

In fact, by way of comparison, if you look back 14 years, the last time the Legislature was meeting as sparingly as this year, was the final year of Governor John Engler’s 12 years in office.

And, there seems to be a similar lack of urgency this summer - a sense that there is still plenty of time to get things done.

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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