March 13, 2009
Even though the legislative process appears to be Byzantine in nature, in reality it comes down to simple arithmetic: 56 and 20.
If you can slap together 56 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate, you can do darn well anything you want.
For the next two years, however, and for the first time in state history, there are two other numbers that are almost as vital: 44 and 30.
The “44” represents the number of newbie lawmakers in the House. They are a force to reckon with.
The “30” are the state senators who will be tossed out of their seats on December 31, 2010, because of term limits. As lame ducks, they can’t run again for the Senate. And unless they are running for some other office, they don’t have to fear the folks back home — which frees them to vote their conscience, and who knows where that could lead?
Let’s look at the gang of “44” first.
While they are not the 56 necessary to pass legislation, they have the inherent power to block just about anything that comes down the pipe. Conversely, if they pick off only 12 votes from the more senior House members, they can pass anything they want.
The “older” House members have figured this out, but the freshmen are moving gingerly so as not to upset the leadership as the newcomers weigh their options.
To that end, the Bipartisan Freshman Caucus has been formed with 26 Democrats and 18 Republicans. They believe they were sent to Lansing to change the culture — i.e. stop all the partisan bickering and work cooperatively for the citizens and not necessarily for the two political parties.
They’ve even signed an agreement that binds them to bring back “integrity and professionalism” to the House, promote “civility and camaraderie even when we disagree,” and they want to be remembered for steering the state “away from economic calamity and unnecessary bickering.”
Oh my. Quite a tall order.
But they seem determined to just do it, and in these early days of the session it is an easy mantra to recite.
Wait until the partisan wrangling begins over how to spend the federal stimulus money, or busting up the teacher retirement system, or funding parts of the budget that are pro-labor or pro-business.
Wait until the established leaders “lean” on the freshmen to fall in line, with all sorts of threats if they don’t.
You can hear one of the veteran leaders now, “Say, Rep. Freshman, we need your vote to whack the Michigan Education Association and, by the way, if we don’t get it, you can kiss your secretary and other staffers good-bye.”
“And if that doesn’t get your attention, we can also make sure somebody runs against you in the next primary.”
It has not come to that…yet. But let’s see how civil and professional the freshmen are when the you-know-what hits the you-know-what.
As for the gang of 30 lame duckers in the Senate, they already know how to play the game and may snicker at the unbridled idealism of the new House members. Hence, they have no “member agreement.” But they possess the power and knowledge, and if they decide to wield it, they could control the agenda in the upper chamber.
44 and 30. Let’s see what that adds up to during the next two years.
Tim Skubick is Michigan’s senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series “Off the Record” since 1972.
Tim Skubick Extra Extra… (A bonus for Dome readers)
Have you heard the one about …
Chris Rock she is not, but Gov. Jennifer Granholm, for one night, would like to be — without all the foul mouth antics of the popular stand-up comic, of course.
Michigan’s governor, who has set the record for soaking up more national media face time than any other governor in state history, has added one more gig that came out of nowhere.
Get this. She’s been invited to do a comic routine at the prestigious Gridiron Club dinner sponsored by the Washington White House press corps on March 21, with the president, his spouse and all the big D.C. shooters in the audience.
While the governor considers it a huge honor, she is shivering in her high heels because she’s not funny…or at least she says so.
“I’m the most unfunny person in the world,” she laments, “and to have me speaking at the Gridiron Club…I don’t have much good material.”
Which is where you come in.
“I’m asking everybody to submit stuff,” she says in sending out a comedy SOS.
She has also ordered her Washington staff to start working the halls of Congress for other material, as she does not want to depend solely on “common citizens” for her jokes.
Ironically, the governor had a stand up comic/state police officer on her security detail who could be helping her right now. However, he was quietly reassigned to a desk job. Word was she was concerned he might say something on stage that might cause her political problems.
Apparently she is right. She doesn’t have a sense of humor.
Please, no controversy…
University presidents are an interesting lot. For one thing, they abhor controversy — which is why when the Big Three showed up at the state Capitol, they made very little news and were darn happy they didn’t.
In case you missed it, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State are locked in a little budget battle with a certain governor.
She wants them and the other 12 citadels of public higher education in the state to freeze tuition increases for next year. If they don’t, she’d like to whack them with a 3-percent cut in state assistance.
Suffice it to say, Mary Sue Coleman, Lou Anna Simon and the new guy on the block at WSU, Jay Noren, are not happy campers. But you wouldn’t know it by their rhetoric.
Everything was nicey-nice as they tap danced around the battle for bucks with Ms. Granholm as reporters tried in vain to get them to say something — anything — newsworthy.
Coleman finally opined that freezing tuition was like “price controls” and she was not a fan of that.
Simon finally conceded that the proposed 3-percent cut in state aid was really 7 or 8 percent when you factor in the rate of inflation.
Noren, who observed that it “was too early” to comment on anything, finally admitted it would be “devastating” if higher ed got cut anymore.
Pretty rough stuff, eh?
To be fair, there are delicate negotiations going on with her governorship, and taking her on in the media is probably a bad move. But even so, whatever happened to telling like it is?
University presidents have none of that in their collective DNA.