The second year of the millennium will be a unique year for Michigan politics. Many lawmakers are being forced out of office because of the 1992 constitutional amendment mandating term limits or as a result of last year”s congressional redistricting process.
Both parties hope to gain advantages from these changes.
“With term limits and Governor (John) Engler and (Secretary of State) Candice Miller coming to the end of their terms, the parties have a lot more races to focus on,” said David Doyle, vice president of the Republican consulting firm, Marketing Resource Group.
Miller is running for a U.S. House seat in Macomb County while Engler”s future remains unclear, although there has been much speculation that he would join President Bush”s cabinet.
The term limits seem to favor the Democratic Party. They could take control of the state Senate for the first time since 1982, the governor”s office for the first time since 1990 and the secretary of state”s office for the first time since 1994. Michigan”s constitution now limits the governor, secretary of state, attorney general and members of the Senate to two four-year terms.
“We think we”re going to have a strong top of the ticket with (U.S. Sen.) Carl Levin and whoever our gubernatorial candidate is,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer.
More than two-thirds of the 38 Senate members are forced to retire from the Legislature or seek another office because of term limits. Some are making risky political moves they probably would not be making had the term limits proposal never been ratified, such as Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek). Although considered a long shot, Schwarz is challenging Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Sen. Dale Shugars of Portage is reportedly considering a GOP congressional primary fight in western Michigan against incumbent Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph.
With this first election following legislative and congressional redistricting and the resulting shifts in the boundaries of many districts, officials from both parties are also expecting more primaries than usual.
With primaries expected in several races, Brewer said his work is more difficult. The parties usually stay out of primary fights and cannot funnel money to candidates until it is clear they will not have a challenger from the same party.
“We just can”t get involved until much later,” he said.
Although the 110-member state House first felt the effects of term limits in 1998, and only about 20 House members cannot seek reelection, many are now choosing to run for the Senate. If some representatives were to wait four years they would likely have to challenge an incumbent senator. For many, this is their only chance for political advancement.
“What is amazing is the number of House members who still have two years left and are running for the Senate and more amazing are the number of senators who are running for the House,” said Doyle.
“There are people in our (Republican) caucus who have not given us a definite answer whether they”re running for a Senate seat or a House seat,” said Rep. Gene DeRossett of Manchester, chair of the House GOP”s 2002 campaign committee.
DeRossett expects his party to retain control of the 110-seat House, in which it has held a majority for two terms. His party could increase their 57 seat hold by as many as five seats.
“I think we just have a great number of people who have stepped forward (to run) and in most situations there is more than one candidate and some may think too many candidates,” he said.
Congressional redistricting is also having a dramatic effect on Michigan”s congressional delegation in which Republicans would stand to gain several seats. Democrats currently hold nine of Michigan”s 16 seats in the U.S. House, but their adversaries are hoping to grab some of those.
The state is losing one seat after the 2000 Census showed Michigan not gaining population as fast as some other states.
The GOP, which controlled the redistricting process, was able to force four Democratic members of Congress into primary fights. In a new district comprising parts of Wayne and Washtenaw counties, 24-term Rep. John Dingell of Dearborn will likely face Ann Arbor”s Rep. Lynn Rivers. In a new district comprising most of the thumb area, Reps. James Barcia and Dale Kildee will face off in a Democratic primary. Additionally, Rep. David Bonior was redistricted out of his Macomb County district, and subsequently decided to run for governor and resign his position as House minority whip.
Democrats are currently challenging the congressional redistricting plan in both federal and state courts. They are citing Voting Rights Act violations in U.S. District Court in Detroit and state constitution violations before the Michigan Supreme Court, said Brewer.
But Democrats may have a tough time in state court, since the GOP holds a 5-2 majority on the Supreme Court.
“We can only ask that they follow the law and not their own political ideology,” Brewer said.