Here’s why progressive legislators will still be heard, even from the minority, as the balance of the Michigan Legislature remains unchanged following the Nov. 3 election.
LANSING, Mich.—Though control of the state legislature didn’t change, progressives kept the influence that they gained in 2018.
Republicans will continue to hold the majority in Michigan’s state House following the Nov. 3 election. The party holds the same 58-52 edge it did in 2019 and 2020, but it was unable to oust progressive voices in swing districts.
Voters did return progressive champions like Laurie Pohutsky and Angela Witwer to the House. Additionally, Abraham Aiyash will replace the late Isaac Robinson, his friend.
“We brought it home in a BOLD way,” tweeted state Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden (D-Southfield), Vice-Chair of the Progressive Women’s Caucus. “Thank you for your ongoing support and faith in me. I am incredibly humbled and thankful for the opportunity to serve you again!”
Pohutsky has worked on issues ranging from education to family leave, while Witwer has concentrated on food security and promoting trade schools. As for Aiyash, he laid out his agenda in an August interview with The ‘Gander where he framed himself as a champion for social, economic and environmental justice.
“I’m conscious and sensitive to the moment and what this seat had,” he told The ‘Gander. “I look forward to bringing my leadership into the state legislature and also honoring the fight that Isaac started in his short term, his tenure in the state legislature.”
More Republican Control in Lansing
Democrats had hoped to break the near-decade of single-party rule in the Michigan legislature, but failed to run the table in 2020.
Republicans have secured House leadership for six consecutive terms.
With that advantage, Rep. Jason Wentworth from Clare will take over as House speaker in 2021. The current speaker, Rep. Lee Chatfield of Levering, was unable to run for reelection due to term limits.
Wentworth told reporters Nov. 5 at the state Capitol that he looks forward to working with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose relationship with Republicans in the state legislature has been strained since she took office two years ago.
The GOP-led Senate was not up for election this November and Sen. Mike Shirkey remains the majority leader.
The nearly 200 executive orders Whitmer has issued during the coronavirus pandemic—including stringent stay-home orders and rules keeping some business closed to slow the spread of the virus across the state—have increased tensions.
On Nov. 5, Whitmer called on state lawmakers to pass a statewide mask mandate.
Wentworth dismissed this call as a “stunt.” Over the past year, major decisions have been made on public health and people’s livelihoods, he added.
Wentworth said that the most important issues Michigan currently faces are health care and access to health care, and that under his leadership as House speaker residents will get “a seat at the table.”
Prior to being elected to the House in 2016, Wentworth served in the army, law enforcement and as a regional coordinator for the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.
Progressives Hold Their Gains
Michigan’s state House Democrats also chose a new leader Thursday, Donna Lasinski of Scio Township. Lasinski will be the fourth woman—all Democrats—in state history to lead a legislative caucus. One of those women was Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
On the national stage, as pointed out by Rep Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) that swing-seat members of the Progressive Caucus won reelection. Omar, a member of the progressive women of color known as “the Squad” along with Detroit Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who handily won re-election.
“It’s long past time to open doors for people who have been systematically shut out, and provide a better option for those grappling with the costs of simply trying to participate in an economy they have every right to,” Tlaib said in a statement regarding recent legislation she and squad mate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced allowing the creation of public banks. “[The economy] has been rigged against them.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.