Batting Zero on Bipartisanship

By on December 15th, 2011

Tim Skubick
Tim Skubick

Batting Zero
on Bipartisanship

December 16, 2011

As this hectic and successful first year in office comes to an end, you won’t see Gov. Rick Snyder taking any personal victory laps. Nope. Not this governor.

He is not a hog when it comes to sharing the spotlight with legislators. Well…not all legislators. You see, if there is a goose egg on the new governor’s year-end scorecard, it is the lack of bipartisan cooperation with you know who.

Despite his upbeat rhetoric as a candidate and his pledge to work with Democrats as governor, there has been painfully little of that this year.

At the outset the Democratic leaders were eager to get into the governor’s office to begin this new era of bipartisanship. But it was months before they got in, and when they did, they didn’t like what they saw.

  • The pension tax on seniors; a non-starter for the Ds.
  • The Emergency Manager law, even though it was drafted by a former Democratic speaker of the House, did not open to rave reviews either.
  • Then there was the budget with its massive slashing of education in order to fund a hefty $1.8 billion tax cut for business, with no guarantee that it would create one stinking job. The Democrats had little input and therefore voted no.

And to prove the point that they were abandoned in the legislative process, they report that out of the 230 bills passed so far this year, Democrats sponsored a grand total of five.

All that despite the fact that the year began on an upbeat note for the Democrats. The governor used his State of the State Address to embrace the top priority for the Democrats in 2011, i.e. the building of the bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

As Mr. Snyder embraced the notion in front of all the lawmakers, those Democrats leaped to their feet in wild applause — and the picture is still frozen in everyone’s mind of the Republicans sitting on their collective behinds and hands wondering to themselves, is this our governor?

Well, we all know now that there was no chance for the governor to work a deal with the Democrats, because his own party stiffed him on the issue by refusing to move it for a vote.

There was a perfect opportunity for the governor to work his bipartisan magic, because all he needed to do was convince two Democrats on the Senate committee to vote the measure to the floor. He did not and they did not, and the bridge sits in limbo as a result of that failure.

Some Democrats are scratching their heads wondering what went wrong this year, given the fact that the governor has surrounded himself with seasoned inside players who understand the importance of working with the other side.

“I want to like him,” reflected one Democratic source who is still waiting for that reach across the isle.

One Democrat who did reach got rebuffed. Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, the Senate Democratic leader, wanted the governor to modify some of his cuts in the K-12 budget, and she thought she had a deal. But the governor reneged, she says. He denies her assertion, but the episode did little to foster a close working relationship between the two.

As 2011 rolls into 2012, the Ds are still prepared to work with him, especially as more conservative Republicans move on their own to push items the governor may not like.

Mr. Snyder can improve on that goose egg, but the Ds are left wondering: will he?

Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.

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Wait Is Over
Sometimes the impossible takes a little longer. Just ask former Gov. John Engler, who 16 years ago pleaded with lawmakers to lift the 150-school cap on charter schools.

Even though the aforementioned crusty and crafty GOP governor usually had his way with legislators, the education lobby stiffed poor ol’ Mr. Governor and he left office empty handed.

This week a GOP-controlled legislature under a governor who is neither crusty nor crafty finally finished the job.

By a narrow 58-49 margin, with lots of angst in the GOP ranks, the House adopted a phase in of more charters beginning with 300, then 500 and then sky’s the limit.

It was just one more insult to the Michigan Education Association and its colleagues, who have sustained hit after hit from the Rs in the House and Senate this year. What’s one more lump of coal?

For a time there were 20 Republicans who refused to join the charter crusade. Some had great public schools and did not want a charter siphoning off all those good students. Others argued for more quality controls to make sure the charters did offer a better education. And when all else failed, Democrats argued companies that run these schools are more interested in profits than teaching kids.

But in the end the GOP House leadership prevailed by twisting enough arms to pass the thing, even though a handful of Rs still voted no.

The opponents did carve out one minor victory. The new law will be delayed for another year or so instead of going on the books right now.

After waiting 16 years to get this, the charter gang can hang on for one more.

Last Laugh
Organized labor may get the last laugh as it attempts to undo one of the governor’s crowning achievements of the year, the Emergency Manager law. Or maybe not.

The unions have joined forces with those who believe the EM law is about as undemocratic as it gets; it allows the state to send in a financial czar to run a city that is headed for the financial cliff. That czar can stamp a null and void on union contracts, which would explain why the labor guys launched a petition drive to end the law.

And it looks like that will happen. Sometime early next year the Forward Michigan coalition will file, it hopes, upwards of 250,000 petition signatures When those names are certified by the state, the governor’s EM law goes on hold until November 2012. At that time Michigan voters will decide whether to kill the thing.

“I’m willing to predict success,” asserts Brandon Jessup, who is running the petition drive. The savvy young Democrat announced that on December 17 there would be signature-gathering rallies in 13 cities, aimed at reaching that quarter of a million mark.

It’s actually a fairly impressive number given they are not paying for the names, which is the normal drill for such drives.

So that is that. Well, not quite.

GOP lawmakers and the governor are positioning a new EM law that would take effect if and when the current one is on hold. In other words, lawmakers may get the last laugh and not the unions.

“Shame on them,” laments Mr. Jessup.

The Rs could care less, because they contend they are doing this to keep cities such as Detroit from going into bankruptcy. To which Mr. J. asserted on Public Television’s Off the Record, they are really doing it to bust the unions.

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Not entirely true. There was some ‘reaching out’ last night. Sadly from one Dem to another with a fist attached, but at least some passion was shown!

James Brazier
James Brazier

Bipartisanship was only needed on the Bridge-building included in Snyder’s agenda. Snyder did not need Democratic votes for anything else; and, has his hands full trying to obtain loyalty from the GOP to his leadership.The emergency financial manger law is the result of political deals that took away revenue from local governments and shifted its control to the state government. It it the poltical consequence of policies embraced at the CON-Con by both the rural and suburban factions of the GOP. The EFM perpetuates the blame game. Lcoal governments are blamed for being the victims of state policies that diminshed… Read more »



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