Finley: Calley’s part-time plan risks Snyder’s agenda

Nolan Finley, The Detroit News

Fallout from Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s ill-considered part-time Legislature proposal continues; some of it good, some bad.

Give Calley credit for jerking to attention those who have long bemoaned the damage done by Michigan’s restrictive legislative term limits but have done nothing to change them.

Now, the prospect of a legislature made up not only of inexperienced lawmakers but also one that is in Lansing just three months of the year may motivate them.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said he’s had some initial discussions with groups and individuals who are ready to push ahead with term limit reform.

I’ve been hearing the same rumblings from the business community since Calley dropped his dud a month ago on Mackinac Island. Conversations are starting about the possibility of countering Calley’s proposal with another ballot initiative that would change the way term limits work.

Specifically, the hope is to win passage of a measure to reduce the current 14-year limit on combined Legislative tenure — six years or three terms in the House and eight years or two terms in the Senate — to 12 years, but allow lawmakers to serve all the time in one chamber.

It would still maintain term limits, and that’s not great, but at least it would allow lawmakers to stick around long enough to gain experience and expertise before they’re booted out the door. Leaders could be selected from more seasoned lawmakers who have had time to build relationships and learn how to play the political game.

Term limit relief has to be twinned with Calley’s proposal for a part-time Legislature. If voters approve one without the other, the dysfunction gripping Lansing will become a meltdown.

So if the lieutenant governor accidentally delivers term limit reform with his ballot initiative, it would be turning lemons into lemonade.

But the other consequences of Calley’s impulsive move — initially aimed at boosting his expected gubernatorial bid — are a lot less positive.

What the Republican Calley is proposing is a full frontal assault on a Legislature controlled by his own party.

GOP lawmakers are bristling at the threat he is presenting to their livelihoods. It hasn’t helped that Calley is characterizing them as inept fat cats who aren’t earning their pay. (He’s not necessarily wrong).

Since Calley is seen as Gov. Rick Snyder’s surrogate, that will make things even tougher for the governor’s agenda in his final 18 months.

It began to play out last week, when Snyder’s top priority — the Good Jobs bill — was derailed at the last minute by House Speaker Tom Leonard, who accused the governor’s staff of making secret deals with Democrats.

Relations between Snyder and Republican lawmakers have always been testy. Now, there’s very little trust between the GOP governor and his own legislative caucus. Calley’s proposal has only made things worse.

And he may have hurt his own hopes of filling Snyder’s chair. Calley reportedly planned to simultaneously announce the ballot initiative and his own election bid on Mackinac, but had to pull back because of concerns his involvement in a ballot drive as a political candidate would violate campaign finance laws.

Now it’s not clear when, or if, he’ll make his gubernatorial run official.