Opinion: 2020 will only be worse for Whitmer
It may be hard to believe, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has only been in office for a year.
You are forgiven if you thought the Democratic governor was running for reelection this past November. Her endless posturing last year certainly made it seem like she was.
And if you thought last year was bad, this year will surely be worse.
Besides the headline-grabbing presidential race and control of Congress, the Michigan House of Representatives is also up for control.
Democrats hope they can take a majority in the lower chamber of the Legislature. Not only would that help Whitmer with getting her agenda through the Capitol, but it would also strengthen the party’s hand in the redistricting process.
Yes, a voter-approved citizens commission is supposed to do much of the redistricting work, but ongoing litigation has created an outside chance that the courts could still toss their mandate on constitutional grounds. If that happens then Democrats with their majority in the House would be in a strong position to demand concessions in the mapmaking of congressional, state Senate and state House districts.
Even if the process ends up in the hands of the commission, sitting legislators will remain important due to the power of incumbency. If the commission truly draws fair, nonpartisan boundaries then it is inevitable that some sitting Democrats would either end up in the district of a Republican or in a more competitive seat against a non-incumbent challenger when the first election under the new map is held in 2022. In both scenarios, the conventional wisdom says an incumbent from the party with majority is favored, if only slightly.
At the end of the day, however, Whitmer has a simple math problem: There are more Republicans than Democrats in the Legislature.
And even if her party had majority in one or both chambers it is unclear that anything would be different.
Just look at Whitmer’s gas tax hike, the signature policy proposal of her first year and arguably the most important plank in her 2018 campaign platform, even if at the time of running she lied about her raising taxes to “fix the damn roads.”
Sure, Republicans under the consistent leadership of Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey opposed the gas tax hike. That was a given, notwithstanding the very real concern that some term-limited GOP legislators might vote with the governor. Yet, Whitmer’s gas tax hike wasn’t killed by their unified opposition. It was the Democratic leader in the state House who actually sealed its fate.
Whitmer’s inability to count votes — to say nothing of her ability to actually get work done — cost her a year of results.
And in an election year, the chances of any Republican legislators defying their party to vote with the governor are nonexistent.
Even coming together on something as simple as a state budget that both respects the political mandate of majority Republicans and is workable for Whitmer will hardly be easy, as we saw when the governor provoked a constitutional crisis over the most recent GOP-passed budget.
Dennis Lennox is a political commentator and public affairs consultant.