Following the Nov-6 midterm elections, legislative bodies across the country are in a lame-duck session: the three-month period after many incumbents are voted out of office, but before the newly elected officials assume their positions next year. Historically, both sides of the aisle use this time to push last minute legislation in favor of their own party’s agenda before the change in power halts their efforts. However, the Republican response to the election of Democrats to all three Michigan statewide offices this year is unprecedented and ultimately subversive of the will of Michigan voters. Democratic state candidates were elected to the positions of governor, attorney general and secretary of state for the first time in almost 20 years. Yet both legislative chambers remain Republican, in part due to partisan gerrymandering. Michigan state Republicans have failed to gain a majority of votes in either legislative house despite gaining a majority of seats in both, now using their power obtained through gerrymandering to pass last minute legislation in direct opposition to statewide results. They’re not just pushing an agenda; they’re proposing legislation that directly undermines Michigan voters and actively works against democratic norms.
So far, Michigan state Republicans have proposed delaying a raise in the minimum wage that would reach $12 by 2022. Instead, they have pushed this increase to only take full effect by 2030. In addition, they also pushed to decrease paid sick leave from accruing at a rate of one hour every 30 hours worked to one hour for every 40 hours worked. Essentially, paid sick leave would then be cut from 72 hours per year to 36 hours per year for the average worker. Both of these elements of the minimum wage bill undoubtedly hurt working-class citizens of Michigan, but even worse is how they directly invalidate the voice of Michigan voters.
The minimum wage initiative had enough signatures to appear on the ballot in November, but was removed when the state legislature adopted the proposal in September. Hence, the Republican legislature adopted the bill with the sole purpose of changing it after the elections, defying the will of a citizen-led effort at One Fair Wage that had garnered the support from voters across the state. The original proposal’s minimum wage increase would have had important effects, especially in areas like Wayne County where 60,000 work in jobs with a median hourly wage of fewer than $10 per hour. In essence, the GOP capitalized on the opportunity to thwart incoming officials and, in doing so, prevented a grassroots initiative that could have positively impacted thousands. If anything, this shows how entrenched power hungriness is in politics, and the GOP’s overt favoring of its position in politics, rather than the wishes of its constituents.
A third Republican proposal would limit the secretary of state’s power in campaign finance oversight while another would guarantee that the legislature — still controlled by the GOP — would have the right to intervene in any legal battles involving state laws that the attorney general doesn’t comment on or defend. Michigan voters elected their attorney general and secretary of state, yet the Republican legislature is trying to negate their elections. These proposals are gross abuses of power; the Republican legislature is manipulating the democratic process to fit its agenda, an unabashed affront to its voters. Petty partisan politics have once again impeded good governance and effectively disenfranchised Michigan voters.
These proposals aren’t just abstract procedural changes; they will have a real impact on students and the University of Michigan community. Raising the minimum wage can increase living standards as living costs rise. Paid sick leave ensures employees can stay home when they’re sick, allowing themselves to get better while not posing any risks to their colleagues. We that worry under this change, more workers will have to choose between their health and their paycheck solely because a scorned and unpopular party chose to override the will of the voters.
When State House and Senate Republicans exploit their constitutionally delegated powers for their own political goals, they defy the democratic standards to which we hold our governmental processes. A smooth transition of power is something the U.S. typically prides itself on, but the blatant power grab of the GOP is an outward disregard of such precedents.