GOP on lame duck bills: You’ll thank us later, Michigan

Michigan Republicans’ actions during the lame duck Legislature have taken a drubbing from the national media, but grassroots leaders say they’re happy with the bills.

Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

Are Michigan’s Republican legislators patriots protecting their gains? Or sore losers shackling incoming Democrats?

To Democrats, the answer is emphatically the latter.

But Michigan’s grassroots Republicans say they’re mostly glad Lansing legislators are taking action in a frenetic lame duck session. They say the measures will protect the economy and safeguard against radical changes from newly elected Democratic officials.

Throughout Michigan, Republican leaders dismiss characterizations from the national media that the legislation amounts to a power grab and instead view the proceedings as part of a bigger, more aggressive political game that both parties would play.

Related: Michigan Lame Duck Tracker: Updated daily
Related: In lame duck, all eyes are on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

“This is the way of politics right now these days. Right or wrong this is the way it is,” said Judi Schwalbach, a state GOP committeewoman from Escanaba, where she’s a former mayor.

Legislation under consideration in Michigan and Wisconsin has been in the national news as GOP lawmakers in both states adopt changes that could constrain incoming Democrats. It’s put an unflattering spotlight on the two Midwest states’ Republican leadership.

That’s rankled Democrats in Michigan and nationwide, with a spokesman of the Democratic Governors Association calling the GOP “banana republic dictators” for their actions in both states.

But Republican grassroots activists said GOP leaders are simply doing their job and making sure the laws they’ve adopted in the last eight years are not undone, even if voters chose Democrats to lead all three statewide offices beginning Jan. 1.

“It makes some sense to protect their philosophy going forward,” said Jeannie Burchfield, chairman of the Calhoun County (Battle Creek) Republican Party.

“Whether it’s overreach is debatable,” she said. “It’s not a power grab.”

Some pending legislation, like altering laws on the minimum wage and paid sick leave, are finding rock-solid GOP support across the state. Both bills weakened the impact of ballot proposals that legislators adopted last summer, protecting small businesses from having to offer paid sick time and slowing the growth of the minimum wage.

Update: Snyder signs bills that weaken Michigan minimum wage, sick leave laws

Ottawa County GOP chairwoman Janessa Smit said the economy is booming and she attributes some of that good news to the changes made in Lansing, where the tax structure was changed to become more business-friendly.

The GOP was right, she said, to alter the sick leave and minimum wage laws to keep the economy going.

“We’ve seen the results that the policies that have been enacted have produced and protecting those outcomes is the responsible thing to do,” Smit said.

‘Sore losers’?

Not everyone in the GOP is happy with the proposed changes.

J.R. Roth, chairman of the Grand Traverse County GOP in northwestern Michigan, said a number of Republicans he knows are uncomfortable with some of the legislation, like a proposal to change the recreational marijuana law just passed by voters and bills that would limit Democrats coming into office.

“We look like sore losers,” Roth said.

He fears that if the GOP goes too far that it will give Democrats more strength in 2020 just after they already rolled up their biggest gains in more than a decade.

“If they (the GOP) go too far it’s not going to be a good thing. I think politically it could be hurtful to us in the future,” he said. “They (Democrats) could come out heavier next time.”

Roth said a lot of the legislation could have been addressed months ago –  when Republicans still had all the power but before voters changed direction. To do it now, he said, “looks political. It looks bad to a lot of our folks.”

But almost every Republican who spoke to Bridge said the GOP leaders are only doing what Democrats would do if the tables were reversed.  (Even though it’s been decades since Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature and governor’s office in Michigan.)

“I’m not really shocked one way or another,” said Steve Yoder of Leelanau County, where he’s a state GOP committeeman. “If the Democrats were in power, they’d be doing it.”

Amid all the clamor about taking power away from incoming Democrats, a number of people said those candidates themselves share some of the blame because of what they said during the campaign.

Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel said she probably wouldn’t defend a state law that allows faith-based groups to reject gay couples who want to adopt children. And she told supporters this year she would sue President Trump “all day, every day.”

“Those kinds of comments create the kind of activity you’re seeing in Lansing,” Schwalbach said.

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, called Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson a “radical” because he said that she had said she’d use campaign finance laws against Republicans.

During the campaign Benson did tout campaign finance reform but most changes would require legislation and Republicans will retain control of House and Senate next year.

Still, Republicans are pushing bills to protect nonprofits, including political ones, from disclosing donors and are seeking to create a campaign finance commision and take that role away form the secretary of state.

Stay calm, don’t worry

Schwalbach, who worked for outgoing Attorney General Bill Schuette, said she’s largely supportive of Republican efforts and trusts outgoing Gov. Rick  Snyder will sign the best bills.

Not that she’d sign them all. But she said she believes Snyder will make the right choices.

“I wouldn’t sign them all,” she said, though she declined to say which ones were problematic. “I would look at them and see what I agree with and what makes no sense.”

“They’re going to get weeded out by the governor,” she said.

She blamed term limits for some of the craziness. Nearly three-quarters of state senators are retiring because of term limits and many representatives too.

Some are proposing bills that they’ll never have to defend to voters, she said.

“Those people don’t have to worry about the next election,” she said.

But as heated as the current legislative season is, few are worried about Democrats using lame duck as a rallying cry in 2020. Memories fade, and Yoder pointed to passage of a Michigan right-to-work law in 2012 even as tens of thousands of protesters descended on Lansing. The GOP still won big in 2014 and 2016.

“Democrats said it’d come back and bite them and it never did,” Yoder said.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Michael Radke
Thu, 12/13/2018 - 9:06am

“This is the way of politics right now these days. Right or wrong this is the way it is,”
Really? So the Republicans are going to do the wrong thing just because this is the way they have designed the game. And defying the will of the people, putting in place policies that will make it hard for the next legislature to function. So, so insulting to voters.

“If the Democrats were in power, they’d be doing it.”
Really? Again, this is just plain bad justification for doing the wrong things. Very childish. The Republicans are smart enough to understand that these policies are wrong. They should not be even considering them. Unfortunately, we will be stuck with them (Republican controlled legislature and their policies) indefinitely, significantly hamstringing the legislative process for at least the next two years while they are still in the majority.

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 10:26am

Mike, you are so spot on. This is indefensible behavior by legislators who have successfully rigged the process. They have gerrymandered the districts in such a way that they enjoy a majority of safe seats at all times, even when they receive a minority of the statewide votes. They can even ignore or abrogate the vote of the people in referendums. The bill passed yesterday to make it more difficult for citizens to get proposals on the ballot is shameful and deliberately designed to polarize and divide voters along regional, racial and socio-economic lines. If the governor signs it and many of the other pieces of odious legislation being excreted from this lame duck session, it will mostly fly under the radar and be forgotten by most voters before 2030.

John Pilon
Thu, 12/13/2018 - 9:09am

As long as I can draw a breath I will never again vote for any republican at any level.

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 9:16am


I've already sent messages to the lame duck representative I've been backstabbed by. My donations to the Democratic party will be in his honor.

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 9:30am

This is pure and simply a power grab by the GOP, which undermines our democracy. It's a shame and should be a crime.

Pam Kritz
Thu, 12/13/2018 - 9:44am

Of Course republicans don't see a problem with this this power grab. Of Course they support it. Of Course they tell themselves democrats would have done the same (even though they have Never done the same.) Did we really need this article to tell us what republicans think about what they are doing?

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 10:32am

Sorry to break it to you all, but less than half of all voters can name the Vice President or their two US Senators, let along their state officials! Then there's the vast amount of ignorance about governmental facts and function from top to bottom, and then throw on the memory of a fruit fly! All this weeping and howling may make you feel better but that's about it, the public is far more interested in buying presents for the holidays and doesn't care. And assuming Gov Whitmer isn't the radical bomb thrower, as she acted in the past, she is probably happy to see these because she doesn't know what to do either and will gladly attribute any positive results to her governance. Get over it and enjoy your Christmas.

Christine Temple
Thu, 12/13/2018 - 1:54pm

Likely not getting over it, but we will prevail because your party lakes humanity.

John Hunter
Thu, 12/13/2018 - 10:57am

Republican statements like “If the Democrats were in power, they’d be doing it,” seem to this voter to be somewhat disingenuous, considering it’s been decades since Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature and governor’s office in Michigan.

Since the end of the Granholm administration in 2010 and through 2016, our Republican controlled state has attempted to pass approximately 830 bills in lame-duck sessions. They were successful 30 of these times, even going so far as to benefit the incoming Snyder administration. The Emergency Manager Law was passed and signed after lame-duck and a direct result was the Flint water crisis. Environmental concerns, women’s health, right-to-work, responsible gun/background checks, public school funding, recalling politicians and many other issues concerning the rights of and direction that Michigan voters have chosen have been overturned by these lame-duck sessions. More often than not the beneficiaries are big businesses and private interests.
Article 4 subsection 13 of the Michigan Constitution carries only an opening date for the state legislature and that is why the lame-duck exists. Attempts were made in 2015 and 2017 to end Michigan’s legislative session on the Friday before the November election in even-numbered years, thereby ending these lame-duck power grabs. They never made it out of committee.
In an honest state government, Michigan voters would have a way forward and could amend our state constitution, by popular vote, and eliminate the endless lame-duck fiascoes. Unfortunately, the Republican owned 2018 session is presently dismantling citizen led ballot initiatives and proposals that could remedy these continuing episodes of voter suppression.

Joan M McComber
Thu, 12/13/2018 - 12:16pm

It is easy for Republicans to say these bills would have been introduced had the parties been reversed, but I disagree. Today's GOP is not a party of fiscal responsibility, but rather one that wants to foist its beliefs on the whole populace of the state. While they continue to rage about increases in welfare spending, they turn around and undermine workers' ability to make livable wages by decreasing the schedule by which the minimum wage would be raised. You cannot have it both ways, and to say Democrats would use these same tactics is just plain wrong.

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 3:32pm

Speaking of having it both ways, why is it ok for your side to campaign to force a business person to jump their wage expenses but not ok for them to petition to have this expense mitigated? Just trying to understand the thinking here.
Just curious Joan, your background was as a public/non profit employee I'm guessing?

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 12:16pm

Matt, if the Republicans want to get signatures and get these items passed by the people of the state fine, but that's not what they are doing. Instead the are undermining the votes of the majority by passing them in this lame duck session. These propositions got hundreds of thousands of signatures to even get on the ballot and then got far more than 50% of the vote during the election.

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 10:28pm

Of course I don't buy the idea that what an employer pays their employees should be an issue that has any rational business of being voted on by the voters. Maybe they should vote on the price of a bushel of apples or a gallon of gas also? Why not? A completely idiotic concept.

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 12:18pm

Matt, hijacking a ballot proposal so it can be squashed by your party is NOT petitioning for redress. If your party felt so strongly about the rights of employers they should have made their case to the voters and let the chip fall where they may but no they pulled dirty tricks to protect them from a democratic process. I am also offended by your false claim that anyone is forcing employers into jumping their wage expenses. There are people who believe not ALL employers are ethical and without government oversight they will continue to harm employees.

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 4:30pm

The Dems will probably thank the Repubs for shooting themselves in the foot in the next election. What goes around comes back to haunt you.

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 10:06pm

What else can you say but what a disgusting bunch. I'm done trying to be sensible, trying to appeal to decency, done with trying to appeal to reason.
Whoever thought they would stoop so low. They don't even care about basic democracy.

Sat, 12/15/2018 - 10:43am

As Daffy Duck said to Bugs Bunny, I say to the GOP (remember the spittle flying in every direction) "You're Des(h)picable!"

Mama Tiger
Sat, 12/15/2018 - 6:04pm

The GOP are sore losers. They want to control the legislature after they have lost the support of the voters. They are greedy, inconsiderate, knuckle draggers. They have taken unfair advantage of their prior successes and used the last week of the year to undermined their constituency. Do they expect to strut down the street like emperors after behaving so badly? Make sure to boo and hiss when you see them in public. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME!