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Party leaders react to Democrats gaining control of Michigan Legislature for first time in 40 years

Dome of the Michigan State Capitol building

Democrats won a slim majority in both the state House and state Senate in the election. The results took both Republicans and Democrats by surprise.

Minority leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) said Democrats have some immediate action items on their agenda, once they take control of the state legislature in January.

"This is the first time in over 40 years that we've competed on a level playing field thanks to the state Redistricting Commission," Lasinski said. "It's incredibly important that we repeal the 1931 abortion ban, and that we work to make sure the constitutional amendment that Michiganders just passed have the laws written to implement it and protect the rights of women."

She said another top priority is restoring "ethics and integrity" by investigating alleged financial misdealings by former House Speaker Lee Chatfield.

"We've stood firm on that for two years, calling for bipartisan investigations into what — as one news organization characterized it - the criminal enterprise that's been run by Republicans at the state House," Lasinski said.

Democratic State Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) said the news of the Democratic victory came in the early hours of the day after the election.

"It was unbelievable," she said. "It's certainly an incredible moment and sends a huge message to everyone around the state and even the country that is a loud rebuke to this ugly political moment that we're in."

McMorrow says Democrats are gathering as a caucus on Thursday to decide what is on the agenda and in what order. She said people can expect a more collaborative "big tent" approach to governing, compared to control of the agenda by a few powerful individuals such as House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell), and Senate Majority Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

"It's been 40 years. We have a lot to prove. We have to show that we can be aggressive — shore up voting rights, expand the Elliott-Larsen Act to include the LGBTQ community," McMorrow said. "Get to the basics of rebuilding a state that gives everybody equal opportunity. Fully funding education and make sure Betsy Devos's 'Let Kids Learn' voucher initiative doesn't pass."

Without pausing to take a long breath, she added, "And protect clean water in the state, get hearings on dozens of gun violence prevention bills that have been stalled under Republican control of the legislature - expanding economic opportunity by focusing on people —"

Republican response to the sea change in Lansing was, by comparison, muted.

Outgoing Republican House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) said "House Democrats ran a good race this year, but House Republicans will be back in majority in two years to continue our work."

"The people of Michigan have spoken, and however narrowly, have chosen Democrats to control the Senate," said outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake). "While not the outcome I was hoping for, I offer my congratulations to my Democratic colleagues. We will do our part for a smooth transition."

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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