The impact of Tuesday’s election will extend far beyond who sits in the White House. The potential ripple effects in the state capitol were the talk of Lansing Wednesday.
The 2016 version of the now well-worn political phrase “Change” could include more infrastructure spending, and Michigan families with less or very different health insurance. It could lead to a further weakened governor and a more conservative legislative agenda. It could result in another change of course in how public school students are educated. And it shakes up the prospects of the next election – for governor - just two years away.
Here are six ways the rise of President Donald Trump (and those who rode his considerable coattails) may change Michigan:
Tough sledding for Snyder?
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder will again have Republican majorities in the House and Senate, but that won’t help him push his ideas through the Legislature. Not only is Snyder a lame duck -- he will be term-limited out of office in 2018 -- he will be dealing with a Legislature that is in some ways notably more conservative than him. “Policies that are anywhere near the middle (of the political spectrum), difficult anyway, will be tougher,” said Ken Sikkema, a policy consultant who previously served as majority leader in both the House and Senate. (Disclosure: Sikkema is also a consultant to The Center for Michigan, the parent organization of Bridge Magazine.)
Health insurance turmoil
One of the cornerstones of President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign was the promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. About 345,000 individuals and families in Michigan get health insurance through the ACA, with 88 percent qualifying for tax subsidies to help pay for the insurance. Through the ACA, uninsured rates have plummeted across the nation.
Marianne Udow-Phillips, executive director of the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation at the University of Michigan, said analyses of the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act show that it would increase the number of Michigan families without health insurance, and increase costs at least for those buying health insurance on the individual market.
Udow-Phillips said she anticipates that the ACA wouldn’t be repealed overnight. More likely, an ACA repeal would allow the program to operate for at least a year to allow families and insurance companies to sort things out.
“It’s important for people not to panic -- it will take awhile for this to play out,” Phillips-Udow said. “People should continue to sign up for coverage for 2017.”
More infrastructure spending
One of the few areas in which Trump agreed with Clinton, and rebuffed Republican orthodoxy, was in his call for greater infrastructure investment. Trump proposes spending $1 trillion on infrastructure improvements nationwide over 10 years.
Mike Nystrom is a member of Gov. Snyder’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, tasked with studying the state’s needs in that area and presenting a plan for modernizing Michigan’s roads, bridges, sewers, drinking-water facilities and other framework of cities and industry. He said he is cautiously optimistic about Trump’s promise of massive investment.
“Both Clinton and Trump had plans (for this). Where they come up with the money is a question mark. But the focus is still important to the general public and the electorate,” said Nystrom, executive vice president and secretary of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, a Lansing nonprofit representing construction trades.
“The unmet needs are massive, when you start talking dams, roads, bridges, sewers, drinking water,” he said. But he wouldn’t take his optimism too far.
“I have as much faith in him as in any politician,” Nystrom said.
Helen Taylor, state director of the Nature Conservancy’s Michigan chapter, is also a member of the infrastructure commission. She said she believes the commission, and its forthcoming report, is one area where a politically diminished Snyder can still have influence. Infrastructure projects can ease traffic problems and protect the environment, she said, making them safely nonpartisan areas for both Snyder and Trump to direct resources at a time when the country is still divided.
“People have more in common than they realize,” said Taylor. (Disclosure: Taylor serves on the Bridge board of advisors.)
The House of Representatives takes charge
Republicans were expected to lose seats in the House of Representatives. But their 63-47 majority stayed exactly the same, and many of the roughly 40 new members who will take office in January are “at least as conservative if not more” than those who will be leaving the House in December, said Sikkema.
That unanticipated mandate will likely “make a bolder and more aggressive majority” in the House, Sikkema said.
Because Republicans maintained their majority for the next term, the lame duck session -- the several-week period after Tuesday’s election leading into the end of the term in December - may not have the urgency to pass legislation as shown in past years. Although Democrats may look to compromise on some pending bills, fearing that reintroduced bills next term could be even more conservative than they ones they’re considering in lame duck.
Toward the bottom of the ballot were races for two seats on the State Board of Education, positions that few in the public know much about and that pay $3,000 per year. The seats were held by Democrats. Both were won Tuesday by Republicans. One of the people who lost was the State Board President John Austin.
Austin was replaced on the board by Tom McMillin, who was perhaps the fiercest legislative opponent of Common Core State Standards while serving in the House of Representatives. His stature on the board is likely to fortify efforts by conservatives to weaken the drive for more rigorous, statewide education standards in favor of more locally controlled policy, although Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the pro-charter Great Lakes Education Project, said a majority of the new board still supports Common Core.
The election changes the makeup of the board from six Democrats and two Republicans to an even 4-4 split. That change may have a bigger impact on the state Department of Education than the board itself, according to several people familiar with the workings of the board who spoke to Bridge.
Michigan Schools Superintendent Brian Whiston, who is head of the Department of Education, was hired by and answers to the board. One person said the change on the board would have a “chilling effect” on any major reform efforts that Whiston and the department might consider.
“They may not want to put their head up,” this person told Bridge.
The changed makeup of the Board of Education and the even more conservative Legislature make reform efforts unlikely. One possible exception: additional funding for early literacy efforts aimed at helping all kids read at grade level by third grade. Helping kids learn to read at an early age is big policy push for Snyder, and has bipartisan support.
“I think that’s a place where we all agree deserves investment and attention,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of Education Trust Midwest, an education reform advocacy group based in Michigan. “After this election, we need something to bring us together, like early literacy.”
A shifting political landscape for 2018?
Three separate Lansing politicos – one Democrat and two Republicans – offered the same insight Wednesday: If you’re a Democrat with eyes on the governorship, 2018 might suddenly look a lot brighter.
A Hillary Clinton presidency suggested an easier path for a Republican successor to Rick Snyder. At least that was the conventional wisdom before Tuesday night. Because Michigan has a habit of protest votes two years after a new president is elected.
Republican Snyder became governor two years after Democrat Barack Obama won the presidency. Democrat Jennifer Granholm became governor in 2002 two years after Republican George W. Bush won the presidency. Democrat Jim Blanchard became governor in 1982 two years after Republican Ronald Reagan won the presidency. The only exception to this trend in the past 40 years was Republican John Engler, who ousted Blanchard in 1990 two years after George Herbert Walker Bush became president.
Already Wednesday, potential gubernatorial candidates from both political parties were making inquiries with Lansing insiders to begin crafting strategies to tap into the disaffection so evident in Trump voters.
One new strategy? “Screw the pollsters,” one longtime Lansing political adviser said. “Polling is dead this morning. Look for candidates of all stripes to go much more with their gut in 2018 – just like Trump did.”