Elections trim majority, leave slim vote margin for Michigan House GOP

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House GOP majority will have little space for defectors on controversial votes after losing two Republican lawmakers to the Senate in Tuesday's election. 

The elections of Republican state Reps. Doug Wozniak of Shelby Township and Mark Huizenga of Walker to fill state Senate seats, combined with the October death of state Rep. Andrea Schroeder, R-Independence Township, decreased the House GOP majority from 58 to 55. The House Democratic caucus also decreased Tuesday — from 52 to 51 — when Democratic state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud was elected as Dearborn's mayor. 

By the end of next week — Wozniak and Huizenga's final days in their House seats — the House's voting members will decrease to 107, meaning any bill will need 54 votes, or the support of a majority of voting members, to pass. Hammoud's term as mayor won't start until Jan. 1, but the majority votes needed will remain the same after he leaves.

It's not clear when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will hold special elections to fill the seats left vacant by Schroeder, Wozniak, Huizenga and Hammoud, or whether she'll extend the House's vacancies by delaying those special elections. 

The 55-seat House Republican majority usually would have a cushion of one vote under the 54-vote requirement, but state Rep. Steve Marino, R-Harrison Township, hasn't been to session since a personal protective order was taken out against him in September. Democrats also have been down a vote since September after state Rep. Jewell Jones, D-Inkster, was jailed over bond violations related to drunken driving charges. 

Marino's lawyer declined to comment on whether his client planned to return to session. 

With Marino out indefinitely, Republicans will need the support of every caucus member to pass a controversial bill along party lines. The flexibility they once had is gone.

"At 55 votes, it’s a manageable majority for Speaker Wentworth," said consultant John Sellek of Harbor Strategic. "But it puts more of a spotlight on Rep. Marino’s future status because they would love to have that vote.”

New majority limits votes

Residents can expect fewer votes on controversial bills now that House Republicans essentially have no margin for error, said political analyst Bill Ballenger, a former state lawmaker. . 

"They’re not going to bring them up," Ballenger said. "You may see legislation slowing down, the volume of legislation, that is. I think there are going to be bills where they realize, 'We’ve got some questions here, we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable to Democrats deciding whether or not something passes.'”

There also will be less flexibility for Republican lawmakers in swing or vulnerable districts to vote against the party on items that might affect their re-election, Sellek said. All of those calculations will likely go on behind the scenes and bills that might put those conflicts on display likely won't make it to the House floor.

But sometimes those negotiations and considerations can't help but be put on display, Sellek said. 

For example, last week, House session dragged into the night as leadership worked to secure a majority for a controversial bill addressing short-term rentals that had split some Republican lawmakers. 

When the vote finally happened just before 2 a.m., nine Democratic lawmakers had crossed over to vote for the bill while 10 Republicans broke ranks and voted against it. The final vote was 55-48. 

Both Wozniak and Huizenga's districts were in solid Republican territory and their votes weren't subject to the pressures of a swing district, Sellek said. 

"Those are two votes they could have relied on," he said. "That is an example where the speaker’s flexibility has now been curtailed.”

Still, Sellek said, the situation has to be demoralizing for the Democratic caucus because, despite Republican losses, Democrats were unable to make any gains in the House.

"Not only did they lose Rep. Hammoud but they have no idea if Rep. Jones will ever come back, so they’re essentially at 50," Sellek said. 

House vacancies, absences 

Schroeder passed away Oct. 1 after a long battle with cancer, leaving the 43rd House District chair vacant. 

Wozniak, who represents the 36th House District, on Tuesday took 62% of the vote against Democrat Martin Robert Genter in a special election to serve the rest of the term for former Republican state Sen. Pete Lucido. Lucido left his seat upon winning election as Macomb County prosecutor in November 2020. 

Huizenga, who represents the 74th House District, won his Tuesday special election with 61% of the vote to fill out the remainder of former state Republican Sen. Peter MacGregor. MacGregor won an election last year to to be Kent County treasurer.

Wozniak and Huizenga's elections increase the Senate Republican majority to 22-16.

Hammoud, who serves the 15th House District, was elected as Dearborn's first Arab American and Muslim mayor Tuesday, defeating former Wayne County Commissioner Gary Woronchak to succeed Mayor John "Jack" O'Reilly Jr.

Jones has been in jail for several weeks due to a drunken driving offense and subsequent bond violations. He has a hearing Thursday where the possibility of bond is expected to be a topic of conversation.

Marino has not been to session since a fellow lawmaker and former girlfriend Democratic Rep. Mari Manoogian of Birmingham took out a personal protective order against Marino. The Macomb County lawmaker was removed from his committees but is still able to attend and vote at session. But House leadership said, because of the PPO, Marino would be required to have an escort to and from the House floor.