By Kristen M. Daum
Cordiality and compromise were the mission Wednesday when the 97th session
of the Michigan Legislature reported to work.
But don’t expect this era of good feelings to last too long. The traditionally celebratory
and ceremonial first session day was marked by not-so-subtle hints of tension carried over from 2012.
“The past year has strained relationships. However, we can and should leave that past behind us,” Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said in a renewed call for bipartisanship before the 110-member House.
Bolger and Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, each said they wanted to move past the divisiveness that marred the waning days of the 2012 session. But behind the scenes, the lawmakers appeared less congenial, sentiments stirred by private talks to secure a smooth re-election for Bolger as the chamber’s leader.
In December, the Republican-led Legislature ushered through several controversial and historic bills, including abortion restrictions and right-to-work policies. The hurried results of the session left bitter feelings among the minority Democratic lawmakers, who were reportedly prepared to vote Wednesday against Bolger’s re-election as speaker.
Members traditionally elect speakers by unanimous vote, no matter who’s in control. Republicans hold a 59-51 advantage this year, after Democrats gained five seats in the November election.
Democratic support for Bolger’s nomination was uncertain right up until the floor vote was cast. But ultimately, only two broke ranks: Reps. Douglas Geiss, D-Taylor, and Dian Slavens, D-Canton. Rep. Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, did not vote because he was absent due to a family illness.
“Today is the first day to move forward and do what we owe the people of Michigan to do: Do better than last term,” Greimel said before Bolger was re-elected.
Bolger and Greimel spoke vaguely about their private discussions leading up to Wednesday’s speaker vote, talks which Bolger described as “a lot of constructive conversations.”
Bolger said Democratic votes supporting him Wednesday “weren’t contingent” on any agreements, but he acknowledged that Republicans “did make some accommodations” in terms of the Democrats’ office budgets.
The majority party in the House has the advantage of determining office allotments.
In 2012, the average GOP legislator had $80,100 to spend, while the average Democrat had $77,620. Bolger did not go into further detail about what changes might be made to those allotments for 2013.
“We recognize that we have an opportunity here with a new term to show our respect for the institution and for the history of this institution by abiding by long-standing practice,” Greimel said, “and hopefully, by extending this olive branch of symbolic bipartisanship, we can find opportunities and occasions when the two parties can find common ground.”
Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, was cautious and skeptical.
In a column posted on the left-leaning website, DailyKos, Whitmer wrote: “I begin 2013 with a renewed hope that when I hear the talk of bipartisanship here today, that they'll actually mean it this time around. Their actions over the past two years have not inspired confidence or trust from the people of Michigan, but the next two years can be used to rebuild that.”
Although the legislative year is under way, the daily grind won’t start for another couple weeks. Republicans say funding roads, bridges and other infrastructure will be the top priority, along with creating jobs, reducing burdensome regulations and investing in K-12 education.
*Online subscription may be required.