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Special elections will fill two MI House vacancies

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Special elections Tuesday will determine the balance of power in the Michigan House of Representatives for the rest of this year’s session.

There’s been an even 54-54 split between Democrats and Republicans since November, when two Democrats resigned after winning local mayoral elections in Warren and Westland.

Things have been quiet in the House waiting for those seats to be filled.

Julie Metty Bennett, CEO of Public Sector Consultants, a non-partisan think tank, said the last several weeks seem to have been a missed opportunity for some bipartisan decision-making. She said that’s not entirely a surprise.

“I just think the trend has been – I’ve been working in this town for 30 years – and the trend has gotten to be very partisan where lawmakers are focused on the next election,” Metty Bennett said.

This time last year, House Democrats were in control and coming off a series of major policy wins.

“I mean they really came out of the gate sprinting … but then just completely stalled out when they hit that 54-54 tie,” Metty Bennett said.

Despite losing their majority in numbers after two of their members left to take other offices, House rules did allow Democrats to keep the gavel.

They also still set the agenda, something Republican House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp) tried to influence in repeated open letters, calling for “shared power.”

“In most places, they understand the reality when you’re tied you should compromise, you know? Most people think, even when you’re not tied, you should compromise,” Hall told reporters ahead of Legislative spring break in March.

Democrats, however, repeatedly shot down the notion of instituting a shared power agreement.

“The minority leader’s kind of vanity project, I think, has become all encompassing. And good policy, good bipartisan policy has kind of fallen away by the wayside as a byproduct,” House Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said.

Still, both sides of the aisle are frustrated with how things have gone this year. Hall pushed for votes on over 50 bills he described as bipartisan. They included legislation around school safety, fertility fraud, and other policies.

Hall blamed Democrats for only letting some of them through.

But Pohutsky said other priorities, like expanding access to birth control, also had to wait.

Democrats expect to win the two metro-Detroit seats up for grabs Tuesday and end the deadlock.

That means some policy advocates see a chance to get some priorities passed.

Quentin Turner is executive director of the group Common Cause Michigan. He said having a full House can help get through policies, like a state Voting Rights Act.

“I know this is something that’s been in the works for almost a year now. Perhaps even longer. And I know that, those working on it, they have a real strong motivation to try to get this done before recess. So, I expect that there’s going to be a lot of movement on that as well,” Turner said.

He said he hopes to see other bills like government accountability and voting access legislation move forward as well.

Metty Bennett warned not to expect too much from House lawmakers, especially during budget season.

“They’re going to have to start running for reelection. And so, the budget process is going to take all the focus that they have. And then they’re going to move right into getting reelected,” she said.

All the while, Republicans still could pick up one or both seats in the special elections Tuesday. And House Republicans, who have generally outperformed the top of the ticket in recent elections, are hoping for a comeback in November.

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