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Democrats retake Michigan House with special election wins

Democratic wins in both the 13th and 25th state House districts mean Democrats are once again in full control of the Michigan Legislature. (Bridge file photo)
  • Democrats win two special elections to restore a narrow, two-seat advantage in the Michigan House
  • Mai Xiong, Peter Herzberg won election in 13th and 25th districts, respectively 
  • Their victories break the months-long partisan tie in the Michigan House created when two Democrats resigned for mayoral jobs

LANSING — Democrats are back in control of the Michigan House – and the full state government – for the rest of the year after their candidates in two special elections won big Tuesday night.

The contests put an end to a months-long partisan stalemate with Republicans in the lower chamber after Democrats lost two of their own to mayoral positions in Westland and Warren, creating a temporary tie. 

With their majority restored, House Democrats are expected to quickly ramp up talks on the state budget for next fiscal year, including consideration of the $80.7 billion spending plan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed in February. 

“These seats will allow Democrats to continue fighting for a brighter future for all Michiganders," Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said in a statement Tuesday night as polls closed.

Up for grabs was a seat in the 13th House district, which covers parts of Warren and Detroit. Democrat Mai Xiong won with 66% of the vote, compared to 34% for Republican Ronald Singer, according to unofficial results. 

Democrat Mai Xiong won election to the Michigan House, according to unofficial results from the 13th District race. (Courtesy photo)

Xiong, a Macomb County commissioner since 2020, has said her background as a refugee, mom and small business owner gives her unique insight into the needs of her constituents.

"I've cherished the opportunities this state has provided, from receiving a higher education to finding meaningful employment, starting a business, and raising a family," Xiong said Tuesday night in a victory statement.

"There is still work to be done to ensure that every family has a fair chance to thrive."

The other seat, in the 25th House district, covers most of Westland, all of Wayne and smaller portions of Canton Township and Dearborn Heights. 

There, Democrat Peter Herzberg won with 60% of the vote, topping Republican Josh Powell at 38%, according to unofficial results. 

Democrat Peter Herzberg won election to the Michigan House, according to unofficial results from the 25th District race. (Courtesy photo)

Herzberg is a Westland City Council member who defeated five other Democrats in the January special primary.

In a victory statement, Herzberg said he hoped to work with fellow Democrats in Lansing to "move forward several pieces of legislation regarding labor, healthcare and so much more."

Democrats were heavy favorites in each district, but the party aggressively campaigned in both. Earlier Tuesday in a social media post, Whitmer urged local voters to support Herzberg and Xiong.

The wins give Democrats back the 56-54 seat advantage they held in the state House to begin 2023. Paired with control of the Senate for the first time in four decades, Whitmer and legislative Democrats quickly took action on what they called pent-up policy goals. 

That included expanding tax benefits for low-income workers and seniors, repealing a nearly century-old state ban on abortion, moving up Michigan’s presidential primary date and repealing Right-to-Work laws limiting labor unions’ power in the workplace — all in the first four months of 2023. 

The party’s Lansing “trifecta” was somewhat short-lived, however. Then-Reps. Lori Stone and Kevin Coleman soon announced their intent to run for mayor in Warren and Westland, respectively.

Each won their bids and stepped down from their state House roles in November. Their absence pushed Democrats, now lacking a majority, to adjourn session for the year a month earlier than usual. 

Since reconvening in January, House leadership has asked lawmakers to attend session 18 times and held 30 votes on bills, many relatively minor, according to legislative journals reviewed by Bridge. 

In a handful of instances, bills put up for floor votes failed to pass due to lack of majority support, a rare occurrence. 

Republicans accused Democrats of an unwillingness to compromise and criticized their refusal to share power during the temporary tie. 

“We could have been more productive,” House Minority Leader Hall, R-Richland Township, told reporters in March. “I think we could have done a lot more.”

Tuesday’s elections restore Democrats’ two-seat advantage, ending a nearly four-month stalemate that has stymied progress on party priorities like overhauling corporate subsidy programs, expanding hate crime laws and bolstering school safety, the latter of which has bipartisan support.

“Being back at full strength means we can continue to do the work that we're sent here to do for Michigan residents,” House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, told Bridge Michigan earlier this month. 

“After these elections…we'll be able to do that.”

The battle for control of the Michigan House is far from over, however. 

All 110 seats will again be up for grabs this fall in the November general election. And with former President Donald Trump polling well at the top of the ticket, Republicans are optimistic about a possible flip.

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