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What if Democrats regain control of the Michigan Legislature?

Inside the dome of the Michigan Capitol in Lansing.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
The state Capitol building.

For three and a half decades, Republicans have either run the agenda in Lansing or at least had veto power amid Democrats’ shifting fortunes. At no point since 1983 have Democrats simultaneously held the governor’s office, the state House and the Michigan Senate. But Democrats are cautiously eyeing the 2022 cycle as a tantalizing possibility for a long-awaited trifecta.

That’s because redistricting has made some legislative seats more competitive. Also, many incumbents are term limited. But there are also conflicting headwinds — including voter sentiments toward President Joe Biden in the off-year — that combine for an anything-could-happen election season.

The Michigan Senate has been the Republican firewall since the early 1980s, but Zachary Gorchow, publisher and executive editor of the Lansing-based Gongwer News Service, said the chamber is in play.

“It really could go a lot of different ways. I could draw you up a scenario that’s gets to 19, 20, or 21 Democratic seats, and I could draw you up a scenario that gets to 19, 20, or 21 Republican seats,” he said.

Nineteen is the magic number for a Senate majority, although whichever ticket wins the governor’s race would make a difference because the lieutenant governor gets to cast tie-breaking votes.

Breaking the Republican hold in the Michigan House is less likely, but still possible, according to Gorchow.

If, and it’s a big if, there's Democratic control in Lansing, it would be a dramatic culture change.

State Representative Joe Tate is widely considered the Democratic leader-in-waiting for the coming two-year session. He said there are pent-up policy wishes that have been building for years.

“There’s probably going to be no secrets or surprises for the most part,” he said. “What we’ve been talking about, what we’ve seen in the past, those priorities remain the same.”

If Democrats are running the show, he said, look for the Legislature to expand Michigan’s civil rights law to cover LGBTQ rights. Also, to repeal the state’s 1931 abortion ban, whether or not Proposal 3 — which would add reproductive rights to the state constitution — is adopted by voters. Union rights and eliminating the tax on pension income would also be high on the to-do list.

But Republicans say the GOP’s influence in the Legislature has kept taxes from going up, has been good for business and the economy, and has set boundaries on executive branch overreach.

“What you’ve seen with a Republican Legislature is you’ve seen a check and balance on Governor Whitmer’s more radical policies,” said Representative Matt Hall, the likely next House Republican leader.

He said voters want a balance of power. “I think if you look back at Governor (Gretchen) Whitmer, when she came into office, she put forward a 45-cents-per-gallon gas increase proposal,” he said. “You look at the way that she behaved during the pandemic. It was pretty extreme and out of line with what other states did.”

He predicted Republican House control will remain regardless of whether Whitmer or GOP nominee Tudor Dixon wins the race for governor.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.