The Gongwer Blog

by Elena Durnbaugh, Staff Writer

Harper Calls For Four U.S. Senate Debates Against Slotkin

Posted: May 31, 2024 7:32 AM

MACKINAC ISLAND – Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Hill Harper told reporters Thursday he wants to have multiple debates with U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin ahead of the August primary.

"I am calling today for Elissa Slotkin to debate me at least four times across the state," he said.

Harper, along with Slotkin and other U.S. Senate candidates were scheduled to debate at the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference, but the debate was cancelled after front runners Mike Rogers and Slotkin opted not to participate.

"We're the only candidate, I believe, in this U.S. Senate race, Republican or Democrat that has so much energy and momentum," Harper said. "The question is: Are we going to be able to get in front of enough voters, and that's what they're trying to do by stealing oxygen by taking this debate down on this big platform."

Harper said he wanted to debate Slotkin in front of voters in four different geographical locations across the state.

"There's so many people out here across Michigan. I've been to all 83 counties, folks that don't feel represented by their federal delegation," he said. "The fact that Elissa Slotkin pulled out of this debate is yet another example of the lack of representation that folks feel."

If candidates aren't having conversations, voters can't be informed, Harper said.

"When we talk about Michiganders and what they want, this U.S. Senate seat is perhaps the most important seat that they voted on in the last 25 years," he said. "It's certainly the first competitive Democratic primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in Michigan is almost two and a half decades. That means it's incumbent upon us as candidates to go everywhere across the state and inform voters."

Harper said Slotkin's team reached out to him, but he said it felt performative.

Slotkin told Gongwer on Wednesday she still intends to participate in future debate opportunities and that her campaign has reached out to Harper to schedule a debate between the two candidates. She said if the Mackinac debate would have been evenly matched between Democrats and Republicans, she would have participated.

Harper criticized Slotkin for her votes against federal bills on legalizing cannabis, expungement and student loan debt relief.

"Elissa Slotkin is not in line with the Michigan Democratic voters' values," he said. "Michigan voters do not want, in November, a choice for the next U.S. senator somebody from the CIA and somebody from the FBI."

Harper also criticized the Detroit Regional Chamber for canceling the scheduled debate on Mackinac.

"They should have never pulled down the debate," he said. "I promise you there would have been two empty chairs … those individuals probably would have shown up because they wouldn't want us talking for an hour and a half about how they're not there."

Harper addressed the criticism over his financial disclosure, which he initially filed without a bank account, saying it was a mistake by a staffer.

"As soon as we noticed the mistake, we did a revision," he said. "I'm proud of the fact that we filed something so complete that folks can look at it and say there's a level of transparency we haven't seen before."

In November 2023, Harper filed an original disclosure lacking information including a bank account. Last month, he filed his revised report that included previously unlisted tens of millions of dollars between income from his acting career, investments and property holdings.

Harper said that President Joe Biden has his full support. He went on to say he thought the Biden administration could do more about the war in Gaza.

"Gaza is tough, and it's horrible what's happened," he said. "My personal feeling is that they could do more to call for a ceasefire … also, we need to release the hostages."

Former U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence has endorsed Harper's campaign.

"Detroit is one of the highest percentages of African Americans in the country, and I'm very proud of it," she said. "The face that I have opportunity in my legacy to say that I promoted to get one of the few African Americans ever in Congress is important to me, but it's important what he stands for."

Lawrence said that Harper was not trying to fit a mold but to stand up for issues that matter to people, like health care, education and the environment.

"We need someone that's not trying to fit a political agenda," she said. "That's not trying to fit the political prototype and fallen in line, that would have the courage to stand up and fight for things that we need in this country."

Harper said he would bring needed diversity to the Senate.

"Having someone sitting in that Senate seat that's not a career politician is critical," he said. "We need more diversity in the U.S. Senate, and I'm not just talking racial diversity, if I'm elected, I'd be only one of two parents of an elementary age child. If we want to solve issues around elementary age education, and children, and the fact that gun violence is the number one cause of death of children … we need people to represent that. I'd be the only active union member of the U.S. Senate."

Harper said his campaign was one to unify Michigan.

"We're not as divided as we are disconnected," he said. "This farmer outside of Midland that I talked to, when I asked him 'What do you want out of your U.S. Senator, what do you want me to fight for?' He said almost verbatim the exact same thing a single mom on the east side of Detroit at Mack and Drexel said to me: they want a safe place to send their kids to school. They want affordable housing and a living wage, and they want to be able to take a vacation every once in a while without going into lifelong debt. And they don't want massive amounts of student loan debt, and they want clean, healthy air and water. These are just the basics."

House Dems Eye Wholistic Economic Development Strategy

Posted: May 29, 2024 8:54 PM

MACKINAC ISLAND – Some House Democrats are ready to wrap their arms around a new approach to economic development, and they're hoping to move quickly on a proposal that would steer funds toward projects for the next decade.

"We've needed a wholistic approach," said Rep. Jason Hoskins (D-Southfield), chair of the House Economic Development and Small Business Committee. "This was the one thing that everyone was saying that we needed … a consistent, long-term economic development strategy."

Hoskins, along with Rep. Jason Morgan (D-Ann Arbor) and other House Dems announced a new economic development bill package, set to be introduced Thursday, which will make historic investments in mass transit, affordable housing and community revitalization.

"It's a long-term strategy, which is something that we have not had in quite a while here in Michigan," Morgan said. "This, in my mind, pulls together all of the things that have been shared by the population commission and the Growing Michigan Together Council and what we're hearing from economic development folks, and resident and transit providers throughout our state."

Without raising taxes, the bills would use $600 million annually in dedicated Corporate Income Tax revenue during the next 10 years for business attraction, transit, housing and community revitalization. The state's current shift of CIT revenue to economic development fund is set to sunset in 2025.

The latest proposal would split funding differently, with$250 million to attract employers and create jobs through traditional economic development incentives, $200 million for transit and mobility projects and $100 million to the Housing and Community Development Fund. The bills would also dedicate $50 million per year to the revitalization and placemaking fund program.

Currently, the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve fund can receive up to $500 million for traditional business incentives.

"This plan really is the whole package where we do it all in a comprehensive and cohesive way," Morgan said.

The legislation would work alongside existing economic development incentives, lawmakers said.

"It's all adding up to a bigger economic development strategy," Hoskins said. "It's going to help Michigan move forward and really be a leader in business."

Morgan said this plan has the ability to address not just economic growth but population growth.

"I feel like a broken record at this point with how much I've been saying that young people want transit, and they need housing," he said.

Although the bill package is new, Morgan said it's the culmination of the last year of conversations around economic development.

"What I hope will happen is a lot of robust conversation over the next few weeks to see if we can make something happen," he said. "It is a large plan, but it's big because it will have a huge impact, and it's also something that really does bring everyone together on economic development."

House Speaker Joe Tate said there was an appetite for this kind of plan.

"There's an attraction to it," he said. "It's a continuation of the work that we've been doing. We know that we have these classic tools for economic development, but what are the complimentary pieces?"

Tate said Michigan needed a "both, and" approach to economic development.

"You've got to be able to do both," he said. "You've got to be able to ride both horses at the same time."

Whitmer also expressed optimism about the plan, saying it was worth a serious look.

"There is a genuine attempt to solve a number of problems going back in our state for a long time," she said. "It's a combination of a number of needs that we have … We're still diving in and looking at it, but I would like to see the Legislature put together a real solution."

The Senate passed a similar proposal halving the funds that could move through SOAR. At the time, Whitmer said she was hopeful for more dialogue on the concept.

Hoskins said he plans to have hearings on this proposal in June, and he still hopes to move as many of the other economic development proposals currently before the House as possible.

"We are winding down, and I am very aware that we are winding down," he said. "I'm trying to get the votes out."

Tate Emphasizes Importance Of College Sports In Panel With MSU Athletics

Posted: May 28, 2024 9:55 PM

MACKINAC ISLAND – Michigan State University coaches and administrators discussed the recent changes to college athletics during a panel Tuesday afternoon at the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference.

The discussion was moderated by House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), who once played for the MSU football team.

"We know just how important athletics is, not only to individuals that play it, their families, but their communities and what it means to the fabric of this state," Tate said. "I truly believe from the bottom of my heart, I wouldn't be speaker of the House if it weren't for my time as a student athlete, if it wasn't my time playing team sports."

Tate was joined by MSU women's basketball head coach Robyn Fralick, MSU men's ice hockey head coach Adam Nightingale and MSU Vice President and Director of Athletics Alan Haller.

In 2023, Michigan began allowing collegiate athletes the right to profit from the use of their own name, image and likeness. The transfer portal and new collegiate collectives are also changing how collegiate athletics operate, from recruiting to retention.

Haller addressed last week's proposed settlement between the NCAA and the Power Five Athletic Conferences, in which the NCAA agreed to distribute about $2.75 billion to athletes who competed before July 2021, when the NCAA first allowed athletes to earn money from their name, image and likeness rights and agreed to create a future revenue-sharing model in which schools could each distribute around $20 million per year directly to athletes.

Haller said it was still unclear how the agreement would affect MSU athletics.

"Many of the details still have not come out yet," he said. "We've been working on this for the last six or seven months. … There's just a lot of details haven't come out here. It's a 10-year process for the back damages. What are the payments over 10 years. There's escalators in there at 4 percent per year. What does that look like? So, there's still a lot to be determined."

College athletes should be paid, Haller said.

"There's a lot of money that flows through college athletics, and I think it's the right time for athletes to participate in some of that revenue," Haller said.

Revenue sharing won't change the availability of sports at the college level, Haller said.

"I'm not an advocate of cutting sports," he said. "What we've done in the time that we've been in leadership at Michigan State is … we use our resources in a way that allows all of our teams and all of our student athletes to be successful. … Things are changing. The way we're going to use our budget will change in the near future, however, we still want to be equity, opportunity and excellence."

The changes to laws around NIL and the collegiate athlete transfer portal has fundamentally changed the way recruiting works, Fralick said.

"There are so many more opportunities," she said. "The really good things haven't changed, but recruiting has."

That makes it more important for coaches and schools to communicate what's important to them when seeking athletes for their programs.

"We're really clear about what were about. Our core values. And I think our core values: you either want it or you don't, and I think it can filter people," she said. "There's great reasons why people leave, I think there's terrible reasons why people leave, but a lot of that also goes to what's important to a kid and what's important to a family. And I think with the portal, the way that we've used it is we really feel strategic about it."

Fouts Running For State House

Posted: May 10, 2024 11:45 AM

Former Warren Mayor Jim Fouts filed to run for the 14th House District as a Democrat on Friday, posing a primary challenge to Rep. Mike McFall.

Fouts lost his appeal to seek a fifth term as mayor in a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision earlier this month. His name was removed from the 2023 mayoral ballot after Warren amended its city charter to disallow a sitting mayor, city council member, city clerk or treasurer from serving more than 12 years in that office (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 2, 2024).

McFall of Hazel Park won the current 8th House District seat in 2022. His seat changed to the 14th for the 2024 elections after the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission redrew Detroit-area House seats this year following a court order.

Fouts ran for the House in 1976 as a Republican and then ran again in 1978 as a Democrat. He was elected to the Warren City Council in 1981 and served for 26 years as a Democrat. He was elected mayor of the city in 2007.

Mike Radtke, a Democratic political consultant and a Sterling Heights councilmember told The Detroit News and then posted on social media that Fouts should not be running as a Democrat because his ideas were old and outdated.

Fouts could not be reached for comment.

Candidate Filing Deadline Sets Battle For House Control

Posted: April 26, 2024 9:04 AM

House races across the state are starting to take shape with the window for candidate filing closed as of 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Each of the 110 districts, from the Upper Peninsula to the Indiana and Ohio borders, has at least a Democrat and a Republican in the race. Gongwer News Service rates 25 seats as competitive with eight true toss-ups. With House Democrats holding a bare 56-54 margin now, control is up for grabs.

"I'm excited about our strong slate of candidates across the state," House Republican Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Bill Schuette (R-Midland) said. "In 110 seats, there's going to a Republican filed, which I think speaks to the sophistication of our operations."

A handful of seats on the Michigan Bureau of Elections candidate list seemed to show either the Democrats or Republicans missing at least one candidate but those were in seats where candidates file locally and where county clerks had not transmitted the latest information to the state.

Both parties appeared to have finalized candidate recruitment in the key seats long ago. There was just one surprise, and it was a doozy. Joe DeSana of South Rockwood, the son of Rep. James DeSana (R-Carleton) in the 29th House District, filed in the Republican primary for the 28th House District to take on Rep. Jamie Thompson (R-Brownstown Township). Thompson won a hotly contested race in 2022, and the potential for a bitter primary fight that splits the House Republican Caucus likely has Democrats intrigued.

Schuette said the Michigan Republican Party normally is responsible for ensuring that Republicans have a candidate in every district, but this year that was left up to the House.

In every district, Schuette said Republicans had a deep bench.

"Especially in competitive seats, we're going to be able to have battle-tested candidates who come out ready to go win in November," he said.

He noted that Republicans have several districts in which a former representative who was term-limited is coming back to challenge a Democrat.

"Former representatives who are coming back – they're going to win," Schuette said. "Especially in the instances where they match the district."

There are four such districts. Two of them appear walk-ins for the former lawmakers. Former Rep. Nancy Jenkins-Arno (R-Clayton) is running in the open 34th District Rep. Dale Zorn (R-Onsted) must vacate because of term limits though that seat is a likely Republican district and not on Gongwer's list of competitive seats. Former Rep. Tim Kelly of Saginaw is running in the 93rd House District being vacated by Rep. Graham Filler (R-Duplain Township), who is not running for reelection. It's another likely GOP seat without a primary. Former Rep. Gary Eisen is running again in the 64th House District but does face a crowded primary.

The third is not a certainty. In the 83rd House District, former Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming) is hoping to take on Rep. John Fitzgerald (D-Wyoming). He has a primary first and then a competitive general.

On the Democratic side, former Rep. Tim Sneller has filed to run against Rep. David Martin (R-Davison) in the 68th House District.

House Republicans plan to work hard in the districts Trump won going back to 2016.

"There's a lot of opportunities where Republicans can go on offense, and there were seven seats that we lost by less than 2,000 votes in the last election," Schuette said. "We're going to have a very competitive 2024 election."

Those seats are the ones currently held by Rep. Joey Andrews (D-Saint Joseph), Rep. Jaime Churches (D-Wyandotte), Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City), Rep. Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek), Rep. Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights) and Rep. Denise Mentzer (D-Mt. Clemens).

House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said in an interview he is confident Democrats can defend all their seats and listed seven currently Republican districts where Democrats will play offense.

Tate identified Rep. Jamie Thompson (R-Brownstown Township), Rep. Kathy Schmaltz (R-Jackson), Rep. Donni Steele (R-Orion Township), Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills), Rep. David Martin (R-Davison), Rep. Nancy De Boer (R-Holland) and House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township) as top targets.

De Boer and Hall are likely reaches, both in areas slowly shifting toward the Democrats but in areas where Democrats have yet to develop a bench.

"House Dems are building towards victory, I think we've been doing that," Tate said. "Doing this for the past 16 months, just in terms of making sure that we are setting up all of our members for success."

Gongwer examined the races taking shape as of Tuesday evening in 23 competitive districts as well as those in the seven seats without an incumbent running:

Breen Opponent Set: Only one Republican filed to challenge incumbent Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) in the purple but left leaning 21st House District.

Thomas Konesky is a certified residential appraiser from South Lyon. A small business owner, he's operated his own appraising company since 2012. This will be a tough get for the Republicans. Breen has hewed more to the center, and this area has quickly shifted Democratic.

Breen has filed to run for her third term in the House.

Two GOP Contenders Taking On Koleszar: Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) comfortably won the election to his third term in the House in 2022 with 54 percent of the vote, but the district could be competitive.

Two Republicans have filed to run against him.

Christian Charette, of Livonia, is a 20-year-old part-time student at Schoolcraft College. He's working toward his degree in political science and also works at the public library.

The other contender, Adam Stathakis, is the director of operations for Stathakis Inc., a carpet cleaning company.

Churches Faces Onslaught Of Republicans Downriver: In the 27th District, four Republicans have filed to run against incumbent Rep. Jaime Churches (D- Wyandotte).

The Downriver district was highly competitive in 2022, and Churches flipped the seat with just 50 percent of the vote. This seat likely looms as the most competitive in the state.

Several young Republican candidates are looking to unseat her.

Cody Dill is a member of the Gibraltar City Council and is currently attending University of Michigan-Dearborn to study mechanical engineering. He was elected to city council in 2019 and is the youngest person ever elected to serve there.

Another student, Rylee Linting, also is running to become the Republican candidate. Linting is the MIGOP youth vice chair and a student at Grand Valley State University. She's studying political science.

Maria Mendoza-Boc, city planning commissioner for Gibraltar, also filed as a Republican in the 27th District. She is a realtor at Point of Sail Realty.

The final Republican contender for the seat is Frank Tarnowski, Jr. He previously ran for mayor of Wyandotte and served on the Wyandotte Board of Education before he stepped down, citing controversy over a 5G cell tower placement outside an elementary school.

DeSana's Son Taking On Thompson In Republican Primary: Republican incumbent Rep. Jamie Thomspon (R-Brownstown Township) is facing two Republican primary challengers before she can get to the matter of defending her key seat.

Besides Joe DeSana, Beth Ann Socia, of Flat Rock, filed as a Republican. She ran for state Senate in 2022 to represent the 4th District and lost in the Republican primary.

Whoever comes out of the Republican primary will face Democrat Janise O'Neil Robinson has filed to run against Thompson in the purple Downriver seat. Robinson, also of Brownstown is a special education teacher. This is a 50/50 seat though Thompson did win it in 2022 despite a Democratic wave at the top of the ticket. Former President Donald Trump is popular here and should provide a much better environment for the Republicans than they had in 2022.

School Board Member To Take On James DeSana: In the 29th House District, Taylor School Board member Kyle Wright has filed as a Democrat to run against Rep. James DeSana (R-Carleton).

Wright has worked with local government in Taylor, including the Taylor Recreation Department and Taylor Conservator. He also interned in the House of Representatives. He's a graduate of Central Michigan University.

The district was competitive in 2022. Like the Thompson seat, Trump will help the Republicans here but how the developing situation in the Thompson seat with DeSana's son plays out will be watched for spillover effects here.

Rematch in the 31st: Rep. Reggie Miller (D-Van Buren Township) will face a rematch for her seat in November.

Dale Biniecki, of Monroe, ran against Miller in 2022 and lost with 47 percent of the vote. He is a truck owner and operator.

Whiteford vs. Lucas in 38th: Kevin Whiteford and George Lucas are going head-to-head in the Republican primary in West Michigan's 38th District.

Lucas, a realtor, lost out to Whiteford, former Rep. Mary Whiteford's husband, in the three-way 2022 primary.

The winner will take on a key race in the general election. The incumbent, Rep. Joey Andrews (D-St. Joseph) has no primary opponent. He won the general election by 51 percent.

Haadsma Gets New Republican Competition: For the first time in several election cycles, Rep. Jim Haadsma will face a new Republican opponent in the general election.

Dave Morgan, former Pennfield Township supervisor, ran as the Republican candidate in the 44th District in 2018, 2020 and 2022, but has elected to stay off the ballot this year.

Calhoun County Commissioner Steve Frisbie is one of the Republicans seeking to become the general election candidate. In addition to working in county government, Frisbie is also the vice president for Emergent Health Partners Southwest Region.

Alexander Harris, a gym owner from Albion, is also running as a Republican in the 44th, along with Just Shotts of Battle Creek, a far-right candidate who has posted videos confronting elected officials in public, including Haadsma and Frisbie.

Schmaltz Faces Dem Competition: During the 2022 election cycle, Rep. Kathy Schmaltz's (R-Jackson) Democratic competition withered away when scandal rocked the campaign of Maurice Imhoff.

This time, Jackson Mayor Daniel Mahoney has filed to run as a Democrat for the 46th District seat, which is competitive on paper. Mahoney also served on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

Two Republicans File For Left-Leaning 48th: Rep. Jennifer Conlin (D-Ann Arbor) comfortably won her seat in the 48th District with 53 percent of the vote in 2022. The seat, however, remains competitive.

Brian Ignatowski, of Pickney, is one of the Republicans who have filed for the seat. He's a small business owner and on the MIGOP 7th District Committee. Tawn Beliger, who served on the Northfield Board of Trustees between 2016 and 2020, also filed to run.

Rematch for Steele in the 54th: Rep. Donni Steele (R-Orion Township) will once again face off against Democrat Shadia Martini of Bloomfield Hills in the race for the 54th District.

Steele edged out Martini, who owns a construction company, in the 2022 general election with 51 percent of the vote.

Dems Hope To Make Purple 55th Swing Blue: Three Democrats have filed for the chance to run against Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills).

Trevis Harrold formerly worked for the U.S. State Department embassies in Jamaica, Kosovo and Mexico and served in the U.S. Army Reserves. After, he worked for Dow as their global public policy leader. He also has worked in the Michigan House of Representatives, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

Alexander Hawkins began serving in the U.S. Army in 2015. He attended Oakland Community College and earned a bachelor's degree from Central Michigan University in 2021. He's worked as an explosive ordinance disposal officer in the Army and as a congressional aide.

Neil Oza ran in 2022 but lost in the Democratic primary. He graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in supply chain management. Oza previously worked for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters.

Three Person Dem Primary in 57th: Rep. Thomas Kuhn (R-Troy) could face a rematch in the 57th House District, which he won with 52 percent of the vote in 2022.

Aisha Farooqui, who lost the general election to Kuhn in 2022, is running again. She has served on the Sterling Heights Zoning Board of Appeals. She was also a member of the Macomb County Black Caucus and the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council of Detroit.

Tyler Fox, the Troy planning commissioner and zoning board of appeal ambassador, has also filed as a Democrat to run against Kuhn. The final Democrat in the primary is Douglas Waggener, of Troy, an electrician.

Shannon Could Face Another Tight Race in 58th: Rep. Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights) was elected to his second term in office with just 51 percent of the vote. Three Republicans have filed hoping for the chance to flip the seat this cycle.

Donad Eason ran for the 13th U.S. House District in 2020 as a write-in independent. He serves as the senior minister for the Metro Church of Christ in Sterling Heights.

Ron Robinson, a member of the Utica City Council, is another contender. He is a small business owner and a former marine. Roger Goodrich, of Sterling Heights, also filed to run.

GOP Looks To Unseat Mentzer: Rep. Denise Mentzer (D-Mt. Clemens) won the 61st House District with 52 percent of the vote in 2022. Republicans are hoping they have a candidate who can flip the swing district.

Russ Cleary, caseworker for U.S. Rep. John James, is one of the Republican contenders. Cleary was the political director for James' campaign and worked for the Michigan Republicans field and volunteer operations during the 2022 midterm election. He previously worked in Rep. Shane Hernandez's office and Sen. Jon Bumstead's office.

Robert Wojtowicz, of Mt. Clemens, also hopes to run for the seat. He's served on the Chippewa Valley Schools Board of Trustees since 2018.

John Grossenbacher, of Clinton Township, also filed to run for the seat as a Republican.

Sneller Returns To Run For The 68th: Rep. David Martin (R-Davison) is running for his third term in the House, but he's set to take on an experienced opponent.

Democratic former Rep. Tim Sneller, who represented the old 50th District, is set to take on the incumbent. Sneller served in the House between 2017 and 2022.

Does Witwer Hold On To The Purple 76th?: Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township) won the solidly purple 76th District with 55 percent of the vote in 2022.

She now has two Republicans hoping to pull the district in the other direction.

Andy Shaver, founding pastor of Real Life Church in Charlotte, filed to run for the seat. The other contender is Peter Jones, owner of the Tangy Crab and Ohana Sushi restaurant.

This is a 50/50 seat that Witwer has made relatively safe for Democrats though the presence of Trump on the ballot will help drive Republican turnout in the rural part of the district.

Republican Candidate Takes On Skaggs: In the 80th House District, Bill Sage, of Kentwood, is the only Republican filed to run.

He ran in the 2016 Republican primary for a special election in the old 80th district, which has nothing in common geographically with the current version, but lost to Mary Whiteford.

This cycle, he'll take on Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids), who won in 2022 with 56 percent of the vote. This is a longshot hope for Republicans with the heavy shift of Kentwood to the Democrats and the unpopularity of Trump in this area.

Brann Returns To Run in 83rd: Incumbent Rep. John Fitzgerald (D-Wyoming) has two Republicans filed to run against him.

Former state Rep. Tommy Brann, who was elected in 2016 and term-limited plans to run again. He lives in Wyoming and is a restaurant owner.

The other Republican contender is Cindy Ramierz Amante. She's also a business owner.

This is going to be a much different seat for Brann than what he held previously. Instead of solidly Republican Byron Township, the new version attached heavily Democratic southwest Grand Rapids to purple Wyoming.

No Primaries For Either Side In 81st: Kent County Commissioner Stephen Wooden of Grand Rapids is the sole Democrat to file in the 81st House District where Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) is not seeking reelection. Wooden announced his campaign with Hood's endorsement shortly after she said she would not run again.

Wooden is set to go up against Republican Jordan Youngquist of Grand Rapids. The seat could be competitive. Youngquist has a campaign website but his background was not immediately clear. This is the one open seat in the state that has the potential to be competitive. Hood didn't win it by a huge margin in 2022, and unlike other Grand Rapids suburbs, Grand Rapids Township – a key component of this seat – isn't moving as quickly to the Democrats.

Three Republicans File Against Glanville: Three candidates have filed as Republicans for the chance to run against incumbent Rep. Carol Glanvillle (D-Grand Rapids).

Justin Rackman, of Grand Rapids, is a business owner who graduated from Grand Rapids Community College in 2020.

Ben June is also a small business owner. He previously worked as a financial advisor and web developer.

The final person to file in the 84th was John Wetzel, He's a business owner and a Michigan High School Athletic Association Basketball Official.

Glanville won this seat in a runaway in 2022.

Beson Faces Primary in 96th: Incumbent Rep. Timmy Beson (R-Bay City) faces a primary challenger in the 96th House District.

Chaz Fowler, of Bay City, is running against Beson as a Republican. He is a student affairs liaison for the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Rudy Howard Jr filed as the only Democrat in the district. He previously worked in the auto industry before becoming a teacher.

This is a longshot hope for Democrats. This area has shifted sharply toward the Republicans, and Trump is very popular in the area.

GOP Wants Back 103rd: Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) flipped the 103rd from red to blue in 2022, squeaking out a win with 49 percent of the vote against an incumbent Republican.

Three Republicans have filed to run against her.

Small business owner Katie Kniss of Traverse City ran for state representative in 2022 in a neighboring district where she lost in the primary. She's currently the Grand Traverse GOP County Chair.

Lisa Trombley of Traverse City previously worked for the Department of Defense. After 30 years in Washington D.C., she retired to Traverse City. She has served as a precinct delegate, an absentee voting election inspector and served as the Grand Traverse County Republican Party chair in 2021.

Tripp Garcia of Traverse City also filed for the district.

Coffia is a strong fundraiser, and this is an area shifting left, but given the closeness of the 2022 Coffia margin, Republicans will make a big push.

Hill vs. Everybody: Rep. Jenn Hill (D-Marquette) faces an onslaught of candidates from both sides of the aisle filing to run against her in the 109th District.

For the Democrats, there's Margaret Brumm, who serves on the Marquette Board of Lights and Power. She is a retired patent attorney.

Randy Girard, another Democrat, has also filed to run. He currently serves on the Marquette County Road Commission. His campaign announcement says he has more than 37 years of government leadership experience.

On the Republican side, former television meteorologist Karl Bohnak plans to run, as does retired business manager and Baraga County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors member Burt Mason. George Meister, a Marquette-area tree farm owner and Melody Wagner, a farmer who has fun for the state House every year since 2016, also filed.

There are several open seats to watch in the House, as well. They all lean decidedly toward one party

Two Dems To Compete For 33rd: Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Township) passed on her reelection bid to run for the Senate in 2026. Her constituent services director, Morgan Foreman, hopes to carry Brabec's baton forward. Foreman has been endorsed by both Brabec and former Rep. Yousef r Rahbi.

Another Democrat, Rima Mohammed, an at-large member of the Ann Arbor Board of Education, also has filed for the 33rd. This is a solidly Democratic seat.

Jenkins With A Clear Path To The 34th: Former Rep. Nancy Jenkins-Arno of Clayton will get through August without a primary in the 34th House District, where Rep. Dale Zorn is currently serving but cannot seek reelection. Jenkins-Arno is eligible to run again with the changes to term limits and is the favorite here. Democrat John Dahlgren of Clinton will also get through August without a primary. Dahlgren ran against Zorn in 2022. This is a likely Republican seat Democrats are unlikely to contest.

Three Republicans To Duke It Out In The 35th: Republicans Branch County Commissioner Tom Matthew of Coldwater, Hillsdale Mayor Adam Stockford and Jennifer Wortz of Quincy, the Branch County Conservation District manager, all filed to replace Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale) in the 35th House District. This is one of the most Republican districts in the state.

Once Competitive 40th Could Prove Easier For Dems: Once a competitive seat, the Kalamazoo-area 40th House District where Rep. Christine Morse (D-Texas Township) is not seeking reelection is likely a Democratic primary race to determine November control. Democrats Lisa Brayton of Portage and Matt Longjohn of Portage, who ran against former U.S. Rep. Fred Upton in 2018, both filed. Kalamazoo County Commissioner Abby Wheeler of Portage withdrew.

Brayton, a Portage City councilmember and mayoral candidate, in March pleaded guilty to an election-related crime after a residency issue caused a judge to remove her from the 2023 ballot, MLive reported earlier this month.

Kalamazoo County GOP Chair Kelly Sackett is running for the Republicans. Sackett ran in 2022 and is currently embroiled in the GOP infighting in Kalamazoo County. Last year she faced misdemeanor charges for a physical altercation that took place in a Clare hotel.

Once a competitive area, the western Kalamazoo suburbs have shifted quickly to the Democrats.

Crowded GOP Primary Headlined By Eisen In The 64th: Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron) leaves the 64th House District open for a crowded Republican primary. Five Republicans, including former Rep. Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair Township), who lost to Beeler in the primary set up by redistricting in 2022, are running.

St. Clair County Commissioner Jorja Baldwin, Joseph Pavlov of Kimball, a former teacher at Marysville Public Schools, Dan Geiersbach of Port Huron, who ran for Senate in 2022, Ryan Maxon of Smiths Creek.

Jordan Epperson, former Ottawa County aid and House Freedom Caucus staffer, withdrew.

Three Democrats filed for the seat, though it is likely to stay in Republican hands. John Anter, Mathew Castillo and Ken Heuvelman, all of Port Huron, will compete in the Democratic primary.

Kelly Another Former Rep With No Primary In 93rd: Former Rep. Tim Kelly of Saginaw is the sole Republican to file to replace Rep. Graham Filler (R-Duplain Township), who is not seeking reelection. The seat is likely to stay in Republican hands. Kevin Seamon of Saginaw Township, a Democrat, who ran for a similar seat in 2020 is the only Democrat.

Obscurity Got Schriver To The House. Will Notoriety Keep Him There?

Posted: April 22, 2024 9:52 AM

In the lead up to the 2022 general election, Josh Schriver, a virtually unknown young conservative, beat out five other Republican primary contenders before breezing through the general election in his solidly Republican district with 64 percent of the vote.

Now, Schriver (R-Oxford) in known nationally for using social media to advocate the Great Replacement Theory, which claims a conspiracy to bring people of color and other faiths to the United States to outnumber white Christians. Now, Schriver (R-Oxford) is known nationally for using social media to advocate the Great Replacement Theory, which claims a conspiracy to bring people of color and other faiths to the United States to outnumber white Christians.

He does not sit on any committees. He's been stripped of his staff and his access to House and House Republican Caucus resources. None of the 33 bills he's introduced, 30 of which belong to a Certificate of Need repeal package on which he is the lone sponsor, have ever received a committee hearing.

Given his political record, the question is, can he win a second term? With the recent endorsement of the Michigan 9th Congressional District Republican Party and incumbency on his side, the answer might be yes, though a challenger has emerged for the Republican nomination.

In a series of interviews, Gongwer spoke with politicians, local officials and Republican operatives about where Schriver came from, how he was elected and whether his conduct in the House will make it more or less likely for him to be reelected. Many spoke on background so they could speak freely.

Schriver did not return messages requesting an interview or comment for this story.

When Schriver appeared on the scene in 2022, almost no one in his district knew where he came from. Not even his opponents.

"When I ran, I did not know who Josh Schriver was," said Mary Berlingieri, who lost to Schriver in the 2022 Republican primary.

Berlingieri had tried to run for office before – the state Senate in a 2021 special election and for Washington Township treasurer in 2020. She took a little over 27 percent of the vote in 2022 to Schriver's 38 percent, but she had considerably more support than Schriver in her native Macomb County.

"Nobody's ever heard of him. They still don't know who he is," she said. "They know him as this 'gone rogue' type and they label him as a crazy, radical, right-wing, off-the-rails elected official."

Schriver came out of nowhere with little experience, professionally or personally, Berlingieri said, and cruised to the general election because he had the biggest and the brightest signs.

And to some degree, Schriver did come out of nowhere, and he came with endorsements.

He graduated from Michigan State University in 2015 with a degree in psychology. For a time, he worked at Donley Elementary School in East Lansing. Prior to serving as state representative, he worked as a kindergarten teacher in Detroit and then as a behavior analyst to support children with autism and their families, according to his biography on the House GOP website.

In 2020, Schriver wasn't even living in his district, as another lawmaker said she recalled knocking on his door while campaigning in another district.

A Republican strategist said he moved the year before the 2022 election so he would be eligible to run for the House seat in the 66th District.

When Schriver set out to run in 2022, he was extremely proactive about reaching out to people, a Republican strategist said. He wasn't particularly bombastic, and he was a fresh, young, Republican face. That played well with a lot of voters and people within the party.

"He was literally the most background, milquetoast guy," a source said. "That doesn't upset anybody."

At the time, Schriver said his motivation for running was that he wanted to see more people his age in political spaces.

"He was essentially – we see this a lot where you have people in their 20s – who think that they are destined to run for office," one source said. "That they are being 'called' to do this."

Campaign finance reports show that he put up more than $40,000 for his own election campaign.

Schriver was also endorsed by several organizations, including Americans for Prosperity, the Michigan Manufacturers Association, ABC of Michigan, the Detroit Regional Chamber PAC, the Michigan Freedom Network, Young Americans for Liberty and Right to Life Michigan. That's a swath of endorsements that typically go to electable Republicans less likely to veer into the fringe like Schriver has done.

That rack of endorsements might have sealed the deal for him, Berlingieri said.

"It's a very hard thing to fight, when you're backed by the PACs," Berlingieri said.

Americans for Prosperity, especially, went to work for Schriver in the primary.

"They were sending out mailers. I kid you not, it was every day for a week straight right before the primary," Berlingieri said. "They sent them here in Washington, Romeo. And I said, 'Who is this guy, Josh? This young guy?' No children. No experience from what I can see on anything. Came out of nowhere."

Americans for Prosperity Michigan said it considers a multitude of factors when choosing to endorse a candidate.

"AFP-MI employs a holistic approach when endorsing candidates, and a number of factors including voting record, leadership, policy priorities, and the landscape of a race all play into that," said a statement from Annie Patnaude, Michigan state director for the organization.

Americans for Prosperity Michigan has not yet announced endorsements for the 2024 cycle.

Many people, including current lawmakers, Republican political strategists and local politicians called Schriver politically naïve and easily led.

One source said Schriver was a blank canvas with energy for the ground game. He was a good communicator but not "an independent thinker."

Schriver was mentored by John Riley, the former state representative that previously held Schriver's seat, Berlingieri and other sources said. Riley is known to be to the right of the political spectrum, even by Republican standards.

"He was not willing to reach across the table," Berlingieri said of Riley. "But sometimes you have to reach across the table, if you are just adamant about, it's your way or nothing, nothing's every going to get done."

Riley did not return phone calls requesting comment.

Schriver, it seems, follows a similar philosophy, and had one of the most conservative voting record, if not the most conservative voting record, in the House last year.

Northern Oakland County is a hotbed of far-right Republicans. That constituency seems to drive Schriver, Berlingieri said.

"He meets with certain individuals, constituents, and he caters to them," Berlingieri said. "I'm not saying he doesn't believe in what he says, he's just very radically right."

Still, the broader scope of his district isn't happy with him, Oxford Township Supervisor Jack Curtis said.

"We all need to fight for what's right. Not just your individual cause. And quite frankly, that's what everybody feels he's doing. 'Look at me, I'm a great Christian. Look at me, I'm a white this. Oh, look at me,'" Curtis said. "We elected you to represent us, and quite frankly, act godly and represent us."

When Governor Gretchen Whitmer entered the House chamber to deliver her State of the State address this year, Schriver handed her a Bible. Whitmer accepted it then handed it off to a Democrat on the other side of the aisle.

The problem isn't that Schriver is religious, Curtis said.

"I am also. I use it to guide my work here in the community," he said. "I work for man and follow God. I don't work for God and follow man."

Schriver seems to be more focused on representing his religion than his district, Curtis said, which is a problem because his district needs help.

Curtis said Oxford needs state support for better mental health care and getting an urgent care center or hospital in town.

"We have resiliency centers that are going to be running out of money through Common Ground, and there are still kids traumatized every day," Curtis said. "The inability of him to work with others has gotten Oxford nothing."

Following the 2021 Oxford High School shooting, the community was united around gun control measures, and that remained true in 2022, polling data showed. But Schriver voted against every piece of gun legislation that has come before the House. There's likely been attrition around that issue since then, a political consultant said, but it will always be a sensitive topic for the community.

"It's really tough when you go out to bat for yourself instead of the whole team," Curtis said. "I wish it was Josh Schriver, District 66, instead of putting Oxford behind his name."

Schriver is not supposed to be a religious leader, Curtis said. He's an elected politician that is supposed to be working with the people in his district to accomplish what they want to get done in their community.

"He's no longer useful to Oxford," Curtis said. "He has no power. The House of Representatives doesn't listen to him. The people on the floor ignore him. We're not getting any representation there anymore that's viable and reputable… We're just sitting here with a lame duck."

The longer Schriver has been in office, the more radical he seems to have become, Curtis said.

"No one knew this dark side of him prior to the election," Curtis said. "Some of the things he's doing in public now, standing on the Capitol lawn, talking about goats and Satan and things like that?"

Schriver has made several posts online about religious freedom protections for the Church of Satan and posted about the yule goat display set up by the Satanic Temple of West Michigan in December.

Then, in February, came the tweets about the great replacement theory – a white nationalist conspiracy theory that holds Jewish elites are conspiring to increase nonwhite populations with the aim of outnumbering Europeans.

Oakland Couty Republicans were displeased to see Schriver's great replacement theory tweets, to put it lightly, with several sources saying it stoked flames of a fire they didn't need.

Some people even encouraged him to hold a press conference to walk back his comments and recenter the conversation around immigration, which Schriver said was supposed to be the point of the tweets from the start.

Schriver never held a press conference, though. The only statement he put out to the press doubled down on the theory, and he continued to endorse his original post on social media.

Elected officials should aim to represent all their constituents, Berlingieri said, and those tweets made him politically toxic.

"Other state reps don't want to work with somebody like that," she said. "And instead of apologizing… he doubled down."

Several Republicans familiar with Schriver said that they believe him when he says that he's not a racist. They do suspect that he's misguided and uninformed.

"He's a young, unexperienced legislator," one source said, speaking on background. "If it's a young person and what they said was an excited exuberance, I can understand it, and we should all be willing to forgive but watch the person's actions in the future."

But, if Schriver believes what he said now that he has the context, Republicans shouldn't support him, sources said.

Schriver is not a racist, said Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers).

"I know him well, and I think I know how he thinks," he said. "He's not a racist, and the Democrats made him out to be one. … You can see how often he voted against the Democrat speaker … and so I think the people of his district are very fortunate to have somebody who's adhered to the values he says he stands for."

Carra said it was better for a representative to stand on principle than to go along to get along.

"Representative Schriver has a mindset very similar to mine, where I want to keep more money in the pockets of the people from my district. I want them to get to decide what they want to do with their money, not compel them to give it to government run projects, which are oftentimes in other parts of the state," Carra said. "The viability of the Republican Party moving forward is to make the Democrats own that central planning scheme of corruption exclusively and to stand up for free markets, equal opportunity, less rules, regulations, fines and fees and a marketplace that works for everybody."

Principles don't mean much to a district that's hurting, though, Curtis said.

"I don't even pay attention to him anymore," he said. "He asked if I would go on a video with him, and I don't want anything to do with the guy. He's shunned in the House. What are you going to do? Just drag me down with you? No way. I still have friends, and we still have some influence up there."

Schriver does have a primary challenger.

Randy Levasseur of Oxford filed last month to run against Schriver in the primary, but he – and anyone else who may decide to run against him – is likely to face an uphill battle, a Republican strategist said.

That's not something Levasseur is worried about, though.

"It's an insiders' game," he said. "There's been concerns in the community that they simply don't have representation in Lansing – that Josh is more focused on national issues and getting out his zinger tweets and less on actually serving the constituents. He's got a terrible reputation for responding to concerns that individual constituents raise to him. He's known for not working well with local governments to address their concerns, and so there's a gap in representation."

Levasseur, who has political experience serving on the Royal Oak City Council for two terms, said he felt like he would be better capable of handling the constituent work of the job while maintaining a conservative voting record.

"Conservatives are about merit. They're about viewing people for what they bring to the table as individuals. It's not about identity politics, which is what Josh is introducing into the equation when he posts some of those tweets or on other issues," Levasseur said.

Levasseur highlighted some of Schriver's votes against setting a minimum age of 18 for marriage and laws prohibiting marital rape.

"There's something that you can have 90 percent of conservatives voting for something, and Josh is part of that 10 percent that votes against it," Levasseur said. "He's not supporting other conservatives, and he's not taking into consideration their perspective when he votes."

Schriver seems to have been co-opted by the more extremist branches of the party, falling in line with the controversial MIGOP 9th District and those who are aligned with Kristina Karamo. The group is particularly influential in the 66th District, and Schriver got a standing ovation when his name was mentioned at the North Oakland Republican Party Convention.

"There is a small group of people that defend him and support him – looking at him as a fighter not wanting to give up," Berlingieri said.

If more than one person tries to primary him, it's likely they may split the vote, which would give Schriver an easy path to the general.

"Josh will be able to play the witch hunt card very well," one source said. "We've seen President Trump be able to do it. He'll be able to say the Democratic majority is taking away all my rights and responsibilities."

Further, in a presidential election year, breaking through the noise for a down ballot race is a tall order.

"To break through that noise, you've got to say absolutely bonkers crap," one source said.

Still, the opposition is real.

"If I'm the Oxford Township supervisor or any elected official or constituent in Oxford, I'd be pretty pissed that my elected representative literally has no pull in a time when you really need it," a Republican strategist said.

Berlingieri said she hoped that people would question who they're voting for in the primary.

"When people are casting votes, it's really important they know who they're voting for," she said. "The immaturity has really been exposed. I would assume that you would see more of this type of behavior from him."

Schriver also doesn't have the same political protection as some of the other extremely conservative members of the House, a Republican strategist said. Although he typically votes with them, he sits outside the Trump Republicans and the House Freedom Caucus. He's not sent to meet with Trump when he comes to town, and he doesn't pop up on the MAGA radar.

"I really think Josh is just doing his own thing," a strategist said. "He doesn't have the protection of the more organized Trump wing of the party or the Michigan Conservative Coalition … Schriver's out in the wind."

Schriver's biggest asset is his incumbency. Republicans need the seat in the House, so it's unlikely that the party will say much against him. The overwhelmingly Republican nature of the seat means even someone like Schriver who has alienated some of his fellow Republicans would still be heavily favored to hold the district against the Democrat in November.

Additionally, politics has yet to disincentivize inflammatory and controversial figures, a Republican strategist said. That can be seen at the state level, with people like Schriver, and at the national level with former President Donald Trump.

"I'm very concerned about where we are four years down the line? Where are we in November should Trump lose? Or should he win?" the source said. "People are not rational anymore."

Universities, Colleges Debate Community College Guarantee

Posted: March 29, 2024 11:10 AM

Advocates for Michigan's community colleges and universities debated how Governor Gretchen Whitmer's proposed two years of free community college would affect post-secondary institutions during presentations before a House Appropriations subcommittee.

In February, Michigan Association of State Universities CEO Dan Hurley argued that by limiting the program to just community colleges, enrollment at four-year public universities would decrease.

Michigan Community College Association President Brandy Johnson said that the program wouldn't poach students but would reach those who aren't enrolling in any post-secondary education after high school.

The leaders of both groups testified before the House Appropriations Higher Education and Community Colleges Subcommittee .

Hurley celebrated the governor's commitment to making post-secondary education affordable and accessible but said his organization has concerns about the proposed Community College Guarantee.

"Holistically, we are not unilaterally opposed to free community college, but we do have some concerns," Hurley said.

"I can feel that dark cloud with the example of Tennessee's loss of revenue for those first two years," Rep. Nacy De Boer (R-Holland) said. "I can see why you would like both community colleges and universities to be included in this new plan. It's definitely unintended consequences that we need to think through as we approach this new idea."

Hurley suggested a universal two years of free tuition at a community college or university, as was proposed by the Growing Michigan Together Population Council. He also suggested one year of free tuition at a four-year university or community college.

The state could also maximize the Michigan Achievement Scholarship and make it a flat-dollar amount or increase scholarship awards for students enrolled at a public university.

There are currently about 256,000 students enrolled at Michigan's 15 public universities, and for the first time in 12 years, freshman enrollment was up 4 percent, Hurley said. He credited the Michigan Achievement Scholarship for making college more accessible.

Johnson pushed back against Hurley's assessment.

Johnson said that the proposed community college guarantee isn't likely to poach students who would be attending four-year universities, but rather the 53 percent who did not enroll anywhere after high school.

"Those students that did not enroll we posit that by making community college tuition free and sending a very clear and simple message to students that they will not have a tuition bill," she said. "That message will speak to … these students that did not go anywhere at all."

The Michigan Achievement Scholarship has already made public universities more accessible, Johnson said.

"It's a massive investment to help bring down the cost of those students attending four-year universities. We want those students to continue to enroll in four-year universities. That's good for them," she said. "That doesn't mean that this community college guarantee is not good for them."

Making the guarantee applicable to both two- and four-year institutions would be "astronomical," Johnson said, but the cost to guarantee two years at community college would be roughly $20 million.

Further, the guarantee creates a pipeline for four-year institutions, Johnson said.

Community college enrollment has increased, Johnson said. During the last full academic year, 280,453 students attended community college, which was a 3.7 percent increase in fall 2023.

"We as an association, and our individual colleges, have made significant commitments to improving our completion rates and our success rates for our students,' she said. "And we won't take our foot off the gas."

To strengthen the governor's recommendation, Johnson said community colleges would like to see a transfer guarantee for community college graduates who want to pursue a bachelor's degree at four-year colleges and universities in Michigan.

"Dr. Hurley talked about the potential loss of revenue for that first and second year but didn't address the possible huge gains and revenue in the third and fourth year for students that transfer," she said.

Johnson also recommended increasing the additional funds the plan makes available for low-income students from $1,000 to $2,000, and to convert students that enrolled in community colleges in 2023 to the new community college program so that the state wouldn't have to administer two sets of rules.

"Policy shouldn't be made based on potential inputs without looking at the outputs and outcomes," she said.

After Tennessee introduced its community college program, the number of people with a degree or certificate in the state increased, Johnson said.

"We should keep our eyes on the prize of attainment," she said.

Both Johnson and Hurley underscored the need for increased funding for maintenance and infrastructure at two-year and four-year schools.

Hurley praised the commitment to education reflected in the governor's budget but requested capital outlay authorization. Capital outlay project funding goes toward new construction on college and university campuses.

"We really want to have that recognition from the state that it's important to preserve our campus assets," Hurley said. "We did a survey a couple of years ago, and we had upwards of a $4.4 billion backlog of deferred maintenance needs."

Despite the historic levels of investment in education over the last several years, Hurley said the state is still behind.

"We've gone from 20th in ranking in per capita fiscal support for higher education to 41st," he said. "When you look at institutional operating support provided to the universities and you adjust for inflation, it shows in the current fiscal year, we are at the same level as we were in 1982."

He asked for consistency in when and how many capital outlay projects would be funded.

Johnson said community colleges, like public colleges and universities, are in need of funding for infrastructure and deferred maintenance.

"We are very appreciative and hope that the Legislature may consider dedicating funding to items in this budget," she said.

She highlighted that community colleges have been underfunded by the state, with contributions decreasing over the last 25 years.

"With proper state support, community colleges will have more resources to accomplish our shared goals to increase enrollment, support students through completion and reach the state's goal of getting 60 percent of our workforce able to attain a post-secondary certificate or degree by 2030," she said. "Sustainable state investment will ensure community colleges have the resources they need to keep up with rising costs while maintain affordable and high-quality programs."

Johnson said that by increasing state funding for community college operations by 10 percent for four years, the institution's funding sources would be in line with what they were originally intended to be, an equal balance between tuition dollars, property tax and state support.

Robert LaFevre, president of the Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, also testified and raised concerns about eliminating the Michigan Tuition Grant in favor of the Michigan Achievement Scholarship. He said several of the institutions within his organization have been able to create a tuition-free offering by combining both programs.

"The elimination of the tuition grants on the table, it has stopped our ability to package students in its tracks," he said. "We are just dead in the water, and this is going to have, we think, a detrimental impact … on applications and enrollment."

The subcommittee ran out of time for additional questions from lawmakers but work on the higher education budget will continue.

Whitmer Doesn't Like Siphoned SOAR Funds; Tate Talks Transparency

Posted: March 22, 2024 3:39 PM

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is hoping to iron out some details of the economic development package passed by the Senate this week once it gets to the House.

Whitmer said that she did not agree with the Senate's decision to move half of the funding designated for the Strategic Outreach Attraction Reserve program to the Michigan 360 fund (See Gongwer Michigan Report March 19, 2024) in a conversation with reporters following a separate event on Thursday.

"We had an ongoing dialogue," she said. "That was something we had not thoroughly discussed, and so I'm confident that as the bills movie into the House, we'll be able to have a little more thoughtful dialogue on that front."

The governor was pleased that the Senate voted on the package before the Legislature left on its spring break.

"I think that's real progress," she said. "Now, we've got an opportunity to make them better."

On Wednesday, the governor's office provided a statement vaguely praising the bills sent to the House, but not directly addressing the shift in SOAR funds (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 20, 2024).

House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said his chamber was ready to work with the governor and the Senate to make Michigan as competitive as possible.

"Last year, we did an R&D Tax Credit package, as well as some other economic development tools that we sent over to the Senate," he said. "I think there's a big appetite around that, because we want to be very competitive, and I know that's the governor's vision as well."

Tate also addressed the transparency bills introduced by members of his caucus last week (See Gongwer Michigan Report March 13, 2024) saying he thought there were some items in the package the House could address, but he fell short of committing to any specific aspects of the legislation.

"We're going to go through committee, it's going to be a deliberation process," he said. "There are items that we can, and we will, look at. I think this is something that has been a part of our values as House Dems, and we're going to continue to do that work."

Greene Attempts Work Around To Get A Hearing On School Safety Bills

Posted: March 8, 2024 1:04 PM

The School Safety Package wobbles on a bipartisan knife's edge as Republicans continue to push for movement on the legislation.

Last week, Rep. Jaime Greene sent a letter to fellow members of the House Education Committee attempting to work around the committee chair and call for a hearing.

"Per House rules, if seven of us agree to call for a committee hearing, we can notify the clerk of our intent to do so," Greene said in the letter. "Due to the importance of these bills, we would be asking the clerk to post the hearing for March 5th."

The move, which Greene (R-Richmond) said was born of frustration because HBs 4088-4100 aren't advancing, was met with frustration on the Democratic side.

"I find this nauseating and appalling," said Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi), one of the main sponsors on the bill package. "(Rep. Luke Meerman) and I have been working diligently together. Nobody on the right has lifted a finger in support of school safety except to vote 'no' on a school budget that will do more to help kids than ever before. Not one of them, whether on the bill package or not, has inquired on the status or contacted a stakeholder, or done a damn thing to show they care."

Greene said that other members would have helped with the legislation, but they don't know what's happening with it.

"If there have been things being worked on, I have not been aware of this, nor have any other of the committee members been made aware of this," she said. "We have complete communication breakdown, and it is unfortunate that this is happening, but this is not political. This is actually safety."

The chances of a hearing being scheduled by anyone other than Koleszar are negligible.

"I know that members on my side of the aisle were pretty put off on it," Koleszar said. "They have faith in the committee process and the way that we've been handling each issue and know that we're giving everything due diligence."

Meerman (R-Coopersville) is the main Republican working on the package. He said he was unaware that Greene sent a letter attempting to organize a committee hearing.

"I'm still 100 percent with Breen. I appreciate her heart in all of this," he said.

Still, he said he did want to see committee hearings on the legislation sooner rather than later.

"It's past time to have hearings," he said. "That's often what can really trigger momentum on these things. … That gets everyone at the table and getting their amendments in there and ready to go."

Koleszar said that the bills are still waiting on some stakeholder feedback, including school districts that he wants to have engaged in the process.

"You don't want to haphazardly put bills out there without making sure they're properly done, especially in terms of student safety and school safety," he said. "And in what I thought was a very reckless move, the minority leader decided he was just going to discharge them on the floor out of nowhere, which in my estimation, he is trying to score some political points, and it really disrupted the work that was being done."

Earlier this month, Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township) included the bill package in a list of legislation his caucus was willing to vote on while the House is split 54-54 and attempted to discharge the bills from committee for a vote.

In a letter sent to Breen, Hall called attempts to impugn his motives shocking and disappointing.

"The Republican caucus has demonstrated our willingness to advance this package of bills. That's why we included them in our initial bill requests before the term started and happily shared them with you when you weren't prepared to introduce them," he wrote. "We understood the importance of this being a bipartisan effort then, and that continues today."

Greene said she admired the work that Breen and Meerman have done on the package, but she hasn't seen evidence that it's a priority for the Education Committee.

"We've repealed 3rd grade reading. We repealed A through F. We've adjusted the pension system. Yesterday, we even had a hearing on something that is completely controlled by the school boards," she said. "What we haven't done is, if there is this workgroup that exists, and I actually have a bill on this package, why have we not worked on it for over a year and a couple months now?"

Waiting for perfection won't get anything done, Greene said.

"We've done so much other legislation that was not perfected," she said. "We haven't perfected anything that we've passed in the last year."

Greene said she was at a loss for what else to do.

"I'm just doing everything that I can to bring this to the forefront, because those Oxford kids? Some of them do live in my district. Those teachers? They live in my district," she said. "There are things that we should be able to put in place a lot sooner than later. Let's start workshopping them through the committee process, but instead, we have focused on so many other things…and it's disappointing, and I'm tired."

Koleszar said that he planned to start moving some of the bills in the package soon, and that the scheduled committee hearing on mental health, while it's not part of the school safety package, ties into the goal safer schools.

"We'll do them in chunks as they're ready," he said. "I'm not going to let political games get in the way of what's best for Michigan schools and Michigan students."

Meerman said that this legislation was the only priority he submitted to Hall and House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit).

"I think they can have some effect on making our schools safer. They're not going to make it so that nothing ever happens again, but I think they'll help," he said. "I believe in them."

Meerman said he understood why Breen and Koleszar were frustrated, and that he was frustrated, too.

"It is the political season, and it's amazing what things can get caught up in it and what can grind to a halt over frustrations, and yet at the same time, this is extremely bipartisan," he said. "I am frustrated, too, that they haven't moved already. … I just have concerns that something will happen because people are getting so mad at each other."

This package is one of the only truly bipartisan bill packages introduced in the last year, Meerman said.

"This was a huge change for Lansing, to have the trifecta of Democratic control, and I don't think Lansing was quite ready for it," he said. "It was hard, it was tough, and everything becomes political when us Republicans can say everything was the Democrats fault the whole way."

Because of that, Meerman said he and Breen have centered bipartisan work.

"But if we don't have the hearings, I think it's going to be a Republican issue all the way through the election cycle," he said. "But honestly, let's just get some hearings going, and this will really start going away."

Bezotte, Morse Won't Run For Reelection In '24

Posted: January 29, 2024 10:05 AM

Two more House members have announced they aren't seeking reelection in 2024.

Rep. Bob Bezotte (R-Howell), 73, won't run again for his seat representing the 50th House District in rural Livingston County, and Rep. Christine Morse (D-Texas Township) won't seek a third term in the 40th District in the western Kalamazoo suburbs.

Instead, Bezotte has endorsed Jason Woolford, who announced his campaign for the seat on Tuesday. Woolford ran for the 48th District in 2022 but lost to Rep. Jennifer Conlin (D-Ann Arbor). The 48th District is a highly competitive district. The 50th District is solidly Republican.

"As a United States Marine Veteran, businessman, minister and president of a non-profit organization, I believe we need to re-employ and re-engage the fundamentals that made this country great into Michigan," Woolford said in a statement. "I am a versatile candidate with a background in many areas that face the good people of the 50th District and I plan to use my experience to better our community."

Bezotte was elected to the House in 2020 and won a second term in 2022. His office did not return a request for comment prior to publication. He was the longtime Livingston County sheriff prior to serving in the House.

Earlier this month, Morse, 50, announced that she would not run in a letter sent to her supporters.

"After much deliberation, I have decided to return to the practice of law at the end of my term. I will have additional news on next steps soon, but for now please know that this was by no means an easy decision," Morse said in the letter. "It is the right one for me both personally and professionally."

Morse currently chairs the House Health and Humans Services Appropriations Subcommittee. She was first elected to the House in 2020 and flipped the seat from Republican to Democratic hands. Morse won a landslide reelection in 2022 with 58 percent of the vote as the Kalamazoo suburbs continue to shift Democratic.

Morse was the best recruit Democrats had ever fielded for the seat, having just won a seat on the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners. Although the seat is likely a tough pickup for Republicans, it's not impossible, particularly if Democrats struggle to find someone as strong as Morse to run.

Morse didn't return a request for comment prior to publication.

There are now at least four open seats in the House. Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale) previously announced he was forgoing reelection to run for the Supreme Court. And Rep. Dale Zorn (R-Onsted) cannot seek reelection because of term limits.

Tate: Redistricting Process Could Have Been Better

Posted: January 16, 2024 9:08 PM

The legislative redistricting process wasn't perfect, House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said.

"With the Independent Redistricting Commission, it was the first time that they went through it. It wasn't a perfect process," Tate said on the "MichMash" podcast, a collaboration between Gongwer News Service and WDET Detroit Public Radio. He was asked whether he agreed that the districts as drawn disenfranchised Detroiters.

Last month, a panel of federal judges ordered the commission to redraw 13 House and Senate districts because race was used as a predominant factor in drawing them, which violated the Equal Protection rights of Detroit voters. The lawsuit was brought forward by Detroit residents who argued the districts, as drawn, disenfranchised them.

The House has elections this year, and its seven districts must be redrawn before February 2.

The districts, as drawn by the commission, changed the landscape of Michigan politics, and that shouldn't be overlooked, Tate said.

"Looking at the landscape of the outcomes that came out of it, I think that's something that we should also be looking at," he said. "I'm the first Black speaker in Michigan's history, and part of that, you can argue, was because the lines were drawn by an independent redistricting commission versus a partisan legislature."

The Senate also got its first female Senate majority leaders in the state's history, Tate noted. The Democratic caucus became more diverse through the 2022 elections, Tate said, and that's because the maps were fairer.

"Through that, I think you've seen policies that will have a significant impact on diverse communities across the state, including Detroit," he said.

Tate said he didn't expect that the court-ordered redrawing would hurt the Democratic majority, nor did he see a serious problem with looping together pieces of Detroit with suburbs in Oakland and Macomb Counties.

The commission has taken criticism for districts that drew together places like Birmingham with Detroit that don't appear to match the idea of a community of interest.

Tate pointed to places like Oak Park and Southfield, which have large Black populations, as suburbs north of 8 Mile Road where it could make sense to connect to Detroit in a district.

"I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility," he said. "Prior to representing House District 10, it was House District 2 … I had the lower east side of Detroit, so the majority of the African American working-class families, and then Grosse Pointe, and that was in some ways opposite, but in some ways, there are a lot of commonalities. But if you look at the different parts of Metro Detroit, I don't think it's out of the question when you look at the historical trends and the movement of population."

Tate also discussed his hopes for the 2024 session, saying he was hopeful that there would be opportunities for bipartisan cooperation while the House is split 54-54, but that Democratic leadership hadn't gotten any indication from Republican leadership about what policy issues their caucus would be willing to tackle.

For their part, Democrats are having conversations around paid family leave, expanding access to child care and changes to the no-fault auto insurance laws, Tate said. Economic development will also be important.

"Economic development is going to play a big role," he said. "Going back to some of the work that we have done in the House last year, around the R&D tax credit and some other items that we had, including the budget."

Looking ahead to this year's elections, Tate said that the Democratic Party wasn't focused on the chaos within the MIGOP.

"For my colleagues, my caucus colleagues, I think us being able to tell our story in terms of what we've done this past year for Michigan residents and families is something that we want to continue to communicate," he said. "Our focus is going to be how are we going to continue to govern, at the end of the day."

Polls commissioned of Michigan voters by The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press in recent weeks have shown President Joe Biden trailing former President Donald Trump. Tate said he fully supported President Joe Biden when asked his confidence about Biden heading the Democratic ticket in 2024.

"In terms of what he's been able to do for this country, and the way he's shown leadership, has certainly (been) a positive," Tate said. "For our country and Michigan in particular, just in terms of the work that he's been able to do."

At the state level, Tate said people have every reason to trust that the Democratic Party is working for them.

"What we've been able to do as a House Democratic caucus and the legislation that we've been able to pass – I mean, significant pieces of legislation, whether it's around putting more money in people's pockets or gun violence reduction, something that we haven't been able to do in over a decade – really resonates with people," Tate said. "Michigan residents trust Democrats, and I think that is something that we'll see as we get closer to November."

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