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Bridge Michigan
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Michigan House special elections may put Democrats back in charge

Birds eye view of the Michigan House Chambers
The Michigan House has been split 54-54 since two Democratic lawmakers left office in November. (Dennis MacDonald /
  • Special elections in Warren and Westland will determine whether Michigan House Democrats will regain their slim majority
  • A temporary 54-54 tie has resulted in partisan gridlock 
  • Annual budget process, economic development issues top priority list for House Democrats if they win back their majority

Special elections in southeast Michigan Tuesday are expected to end a months-long tie in the state House, which has been gripped by partisan gridlock since two Democratic lawmakers stepped down last fall. 

The 13th District, covering Warren and part of Detroit, and the 25th District, which covers the cities of Wayne and Westland, were left vacant last year after former Reps. Lori Stone and Kevin Coleman resigned to take local mayoral positions. 

Both districts trend heavily Democratic, meaning Macomb County Commissioner Mai Xiong and Westland City Council member Peter Herzberg are strong favorites to fill the vacant seats. 

Their victories would restore Democrats’ 56-54 advantage in the state House, which party leaders say is critical to ending the ongoing deadlock, finalizing a state budget and advancing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s policy agenda before lawmakers shift their focus to fall campaigns. 

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

Democrats in recent months debated overhauling corporate subsidy programs and expanding hate crime laws. But those efforts have temporarily stalled amid a divided state House and disagreements within the Democratic caucuses, as have bipartisan school safety bills.


House Republicans say they’ve been frustrated by what they viewed as a lack of cooperation by Democrats during the partisan tie.

Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, had unsuccessfully pushed for a power-sharing deal during the temporary split, including proposed creation of a joint rules committee that would have determined which bills made it to the floor.

“In a House evenly split, it’s vital for Republicans and Democrats to collaborate on issues…where common ground exists,” Hall wrote in one of several letters he penned to Tate in recent months. 

In another, he accused Democrats of "trying to rush through hasty, haphazard, and in some cases harmful legislation that has not received a thorough vetting."

How the House got here

Michigan Democrats in fall 2022 won slim majorities in both legislative chambers for the first time in decades, kickstarting months of fast-paced lawmaking as Democrats set to work advancing what they called pent-up policy goals. 

In the first three months of last year, Whitmer and legislative Democrats expanded tax benefits for low-income workers and seniors, moved Michigan’s presidential primary up in the calendar and repealed GOP Right-to-Work laws limiting labor unions’ power in the workplace, among other things. 


The frenzied pace continued through the summer but ground to a halt in late fall when Stone and Coleman, the Democratic lawmakers from Warren and Westland, resigned after winning mayoral elections in their respective cities. 

Their departures created a 54-54 tie in the House, the first since the early 1990s, that prevented Democratic leadership from passing bills without at least some support from Republicans. 

Lacking a House majority, Democrats adjourned for the year in mid-November, 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.

By contrast, House lawmakers met 21 times and held 45 votes on bills from January through March 2023 — the first three months of Democratic-majority control — tackling a major spending bill and several weighty policy issues.

Democratic leaders have laid the blame for this year’s slow pace on Republicans, who in several instances blocked or threatened to stop passage of seemingly uncontroversial legislation, including a Senate GOP bill to allow emergency safety interventions in certain child care homes.

“Since we had those two vacated seats, Republicans refused to work with us,” Tate said, later adding that there were “missed opportunities” for bipartisan work. 

Republicans agree that there were missed opportunities — but they contend Democrats were unwilling to take up dozens of bipartisan bills GOP lawmakers were willing to support, including legislation to subject the Legislature to public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act. 

“We could have been more productive,” Hall, the Republican leader, told reporters in March. “I think we could have done a lot more.”

Who’s on the ballot

In the 13th District, which currently includes Warren and part of northeast Detroit, Macomb County Commissioner Mai Xiong is the Democratic nominee after defeating former state Rep. Lamar Lemmons and others in the February primary. 

Xiong, who was first elected to the county commission in 2020 and lost a bid for Warren city clerk last fall, has said her background as a refugee, mom and small business owner gives her unique insight into the needs of her constituents. 

She’ll face Republican Ronald Singer, who won the 13th District Republican primary, in the general special election. Among other things, Singer has promised to provide “adult supervision” in Lansing and focus on election integrity.

Herzberg, a Westland City Council member, defeated five other Democratic hopefuls in the February primary for the 25th District, which covers the cities of Wayne and Westland and part of Dearborn Heights. 


He beat fellow Westland City Council member Andrea Rutkowski, who along with Xiong had been endorsed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Josh Powell, of Westland, a law student who works in information technology, is the lone Republican running in the 25th District and will face Herzberg after advancing to the general election unopposed. 

Through the end of March, the Democratic candidates had each raised more than twice as much as their Republican opponents, according to campaign finance disclosure reports filed with the state. 

The winners of Tuesday’s special elections will complete partial state House terms that run through the end of the year, meaning they’ll have to run again in the August primary and the November general election if they want to stay in the Legislature for another two years. 

“Voter fatigue is very real,” Xiong acknowledged in an interview with Bridge Michigan. “I'm pacing myself because I know we have a long road ahead for the next nine months to make sure that we maintain the Democratic majority in the House.”

What’s at stake

The tied House cut into Democrats’ outright control of the Legislature for months, and despite significant partisan advantages in both districts, Democrats at the national level say they haven’t left the special elections to chance. 

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee invested $48,000 into the two races, spokesperson Abhi Rahman said. Though the seats up for grabs are considered safely Democratic, Rahman said organizers have been “all hands on deck” to ensure Democrats can once again exert their full power. 

Even if Democrats do break the tie Tuesday, time is short to pass marquee legislation before the caucus has to turn to 2024 elections and defend their majority against Republicans in competitive seats across the state. 

With former President Donald Trump holding a polling lead over President Joe Biden at the top of the ticket, Republicans believe they have a strong chance to retake the state House, where all 110 seats will be up for grabs. 

In the meantime, Tate said getting the annual budget done in a timely manner is the top priority for House Democrats, but he’s open to conversations on what else can get done before lawmakers hit the campaign trail this summer.  

“There’s a variety of areas I think that we can move the needle on at the end of the day, but primary focus is going to be on budget,” he said.

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