August Legislative Report by Todd Tennis
The Primary Election is over, and due to the nature of Michigan’s legislative districts, that means that about 80% of Michigan House Seats have essentially been decided due to the fact that most seats are skewed toward one party or the other. The remainder, known as “battleground seats,” will be the races that decide which party controls the Michigan House next year. Currently, Republicans hold a 63-46 (one vacancy) advantage, so the Democrats would need to do incredibly well in these battleground seats to capture the majority next year. On the other hand, because Republicans have done so well in these competitive seats for the past two elections, they have much more ground to defend giving the Democrats more pickup opportunities.
The Legislature is still on their summer recess but the House and Senate are due to return to session on September 7. They will be in session for three weeks in September, but are currently only scheduled for the Lame Duck session will take place, where just about anything can happen.
More State Employee Indictments Relating to Flint Water
In late July, six additional state workers were charged with crimes related to the Flint water crisis. They are in addition to two other state workers and one City of Flint employee who were charged in April for their roles in the events leading up to high lead levels in Flint’s water supply. Charges are now pending against 8 current and former state employees. These employees are Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees Michael Prysby, Stephen Busch, Liane Shekter Smith, Adam Rosenthal and Patrick Cook; and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employees Nancy Peeler, Corinne Miller and Robert Scott.
The most common charges were misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty, the former being a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. All 8 state employees were suspended, save for Shekter-Smith who was fired and Miller who retired. The remaining six suspended employees were initially suspended without pay, although on August 15 the state changed their disposition to being suspended with pay.
While the Attorney General’s investigation into the events leading up to the Flint water crisis continues, it is unclear whether there will be more charges filed, or new defendants brought into court. What is clear is that the employees – and the restoration of their pay – will likely be used as fodder by proponents of constitutional changes to the Michigan Civil Service System. Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter has announced his plan to put the issue before the full House when they return from the summer recess in September.
His plan, encompassed in House Joint Resolution MM, would make it easier for Department Heads to discipline or dismiss civil service employees, essentially bypassing the Civil Service process. The resolution is accompanied by House Bill 5677 that would ostensibly create a separate appeals process for state workers fired or disciplined by the new system that would also bypass the current Civil Service
system. The Civil Service system was created to shield the bureaucracy from cronyism and political favoritism, and that goal could be undermined by this new proposal.
Key Michigan Races to Watch in 2016
While all eyes may be focused at the top of the ticket as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton vie for the presidency, policies affecting state employees will be much more impacted by the outcome of state races. Below is a list of some of the most competitive House seats and the candidates running in them:
District 23 – Trenton
Term-limited State Representative Patrick Somerville has held this tossup seat for the Republicans for six years. Republican Bob Howey hopes to keep this seat in GOP hands, while the Democrats selected Darrin Camilleri as their nominee.
District 24 – Harrison Twp.
Republican Representative Anthony Forlini is term-limited, which makes this seat that normally leans Republican more competitive this year. The Democrats have selected Dana Camphous-Peterson as their candidate. She will run against Republican Steve Marino.
District 30 – Sterling Heights
Republican Diane Farrington, spouse of current Representative Jeff Farrington, narrowly fended off a primary challenge to win the opportunity to run for her husband’s seat in November. Her close call has made Democrats more bullish on their candidate, Michael Notte, who has strong name recognition in the district through his family’s political history.
District 52 – Washtenaw County
Incumbent Democratic Representative Gretchen Driskell is foregoing her third term in the State House to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. Two Democrats waged a close race in the primary with school board member Donna Lasinski coming out on top. She will face Republican Randy Clark in one of few races where the Democrats need to play defense this year.
District 56 – Monroe County
Republican Representative Jason Sheppard is running for reelection in a rematch against the man he defeated two years ago – Democrat Tom Redmond. This is one of a handful of “rematch” races to watch in 2016.
District 71 – Eaton County
Democrat Theresa Abed was narrowly unseated two years ago by Republican newcomer Tom Barrett. Now she hopes to return the favor in a year where a higher expected voter turnout may give her an advantage. Barrett has worked hard to solidify the district in the last two years, and this race is expected once again to be a nail biter.
District 91 – Muskegon County
This race mirrors the circumstances in District 71 where a former Democratic Representative was defeated in 2014 and is running to win back her former seat. However, this grudge match between Republican incumbent Holly Hughes and Democratic challenger Colleen Lamonte goes all the way back to 2012 where Lamonte originally unseated Hughes. If Lamonte knocks off Hughes again, it will be the first time in recent memory where a Michigan House seat went back and forth between two candidates three times in a row.
District 99 – Isabella County and part of Midland County
Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter won reelection in 2014 by a surprisingly narrow margin. Term limits make him ineligible to run again, so this year the Democrats nominated the same candidate who almost unseated the House Leader – Bryan Mielke. Republican Roger Hauck won a competitive primary and hopes to hold this seat for the GOP in November.
District 101 – Northwest Lower Peninsula
This large district was won by term-limited Republican incumbent Ray Franz back in 2010 when he defeated the Democratic former incumbent Dan Scripps. After working in the private sector for the last few years, Scripps is the Democratic nominee to try to win back his old seat. The Republicans nominated Curt VanderWall to defend this lean-GOP district.
District 106 – Northeast Lower Peninsula
This seat has been held by Republican Peter Pettalia for six years, and he cannot run again due to term limits. Both parties had very competitive primaries in August, with Republican Sue Allor and Democrat Robert Kennedy emerging victorious.
District 109 – Central U.P.
Representative Ed McBroom is term-limited, and the Democrats are hopeful to win this seat away from the GOP with their nominee, County Sheriff Scott Celello. The Republicans are also high on their nominee, Beau LeFave, who won a contested primary to get on the November ballot.