Top Stories: 8 Big Michigan Headlines from 2022

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By Isaac Constans

December 22, 2022

These top stories from 2022 will shape 2023 in Michigan.

MICHIGAN—The end of the year is a time for reflection—including on the news stories that made the biggest headlines and had the most impact on Michiganders. Here’s a quick look at some of the top news stories from 2022. 

In no particular order: 

Lead Pipe Replacement Efforts Near Completion in Benton Harbor

Benton Harbor is a top news pick for this year, but it probably should have been a far bigger story in 2018 when its water system was first discovered with lead levels higher than those in Flint. But four years later, the bad news is now a bright spot for Michigan after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive to speed up the timeline for replacing the lead lines from five years to just 18 months. And with more than 90% of the work now finished, state officials are well ahead of schedule in meeting that spring 2023 goal for fully completing the fixes.  

Much of the funding came from a new water and recreation package that was also big news in the spring. Using federal dollars, the legislation extended funding for recreation projects like a new state park in Flint, an Upper Peninsula ski jump, and trails in Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Related reading: Michigan’s New Major Deal Turns Water, Recreation Possibilities Into Realities

What’s next? The home stretch of the lead replacement efforts in Benton Harbor looks promising. With a record budget surplus, Michiganders can also expect more infrastructure fixes and upgrades to various recreational projects statewide—and likely all without a tax increase.

Democrats Sweep Elections Under Newly Redrawn District Maps 

There’s a good chance your representation changed in Lansing this year—and that’s because of new electoral districts drawn by a citizens’ redistricting commission, and approved in 2018. The new maps effectively redrew some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country, and made way for an Election Day “trifecta” for the Democratic Party—a term to describe when one party assumes control of the governor’s office, as well as both chambers of the state Legislature. 

The results also made history: Democrats haven’t controlled the House and Senate in 40 years. The Michigan Supreme Court retained its Democratic majority. Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson also won re-election against their election-denying challengers, signaling a major rebuke of Trump-fueled, right-wing extremism in Michigan

What’s next? That’s to be seen. There are good hints from Democrats that they’ll focus on gun control, labor, and public education under new leadership—but we’ll have more on that later.

Michiganders Vote to Protect Reproductive Freedoms

The US Supreme Court set up a showdown over abortion rights in Michigan when the conservative-majority court struck down Roe v. Wade, a federal decision that had protected reproductive freedoms nationwide for nearly 50 years. As a result, a near-total abortion ban from 1931 was put back into motion in Michigan—requiring Whitmer’s administration to step in and file a lawsuit alongside Planned Parenthood to prevent the archaic law from taking effect.

The legal battle gave voters enough time to decide for themselves whether reproductive rights belonged in the state Constitution—and it didn’t take them long to make up their minds. Despite right-wing misinformation about the proposal being “too confusing,” the ballot initiative petition garnered a record number of signatures, and it passed by landslide margins on Election Day.

Voters in other states largely chose to do the same.

What’s next? Not much. The language approved under Proposal 3 will be officially enshrined in the state Constitution on Dec. 24. There are one or two clauses that still might still need to be tested in a state court but Michiganders can be assured that abortion is—and will remain—legal.

Support Grows (Again) for Organized Labor in Michigan

With a rich history of labor unions, Michigan is known as the “birthplace of the modern labor movement.” But thanks to decades of mismanagement and another decade of right-to-work laws, Michigan is no longer in the top 10 states for labor union membership.

The good news: The tide is shifting—again. Last year, Kellogg’s unionized. This year, so did a number of Starbucks locations, as well as another metro Detroit coffeeshop. Notably, Lansing also became the home of the first Chipotle in the country to successfully unionize. And local UAW chapters have reported that their membership numbers are on the upswing this year.

These movements haven’t been driven by the usual suspects; many have been led by young people who are frustrated with rising economic inequality and decreasing affordability. 

What’s next: Michigan is about to move forward with its first fully Democratic government in decades. Repealing right-to-work laws was a central issue for many of these candidates—and it’s expected to stay on the front burner when the new Legislature takes office next year. 

Michigan’s Automotive Industry Goes All-In On Electric Vehicles

Michigan isn’t giving up its automotive manufacturing crown anytime soon. 

To recap: General Motors made its largest-ever investment in Michigan. The state scored a few more big battery deals for the electric vehicle revolution. Detroit scored the first wireless electrified roadway. Detroit’s auto show returned for the first time since the pandemic, and President Joe Biden stopped by for a visit to tout a massive federal infrastructure package.

In short, Michigan has gone all in on electric vehicle production in hopes that it will stoke the state’s manufacturing industry for decades to come. But we’re not alone. States across the country are also going for these big plants—leading to debate over what packages we should offer to draw Ford and GM here for their big projects, and whether these packages are worth it. 

What’s next? Michigan is expected to stay competitive in automotive manufacturing—even in a new electric future. Keep an eye out on more universities and community colleges tailoring training for these jobs as we head into 2023. They’ll likely play a big role in our state’s economy. 

Courts Rule on Minimum Wage—Enabling Possible Increase in 2023 

In the last year of Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, voters were set to decide Michigan’s new minimum wage. But the Legislature intercepted the proposal using a rare “loophole” to adopt and amend the package, so that the minimum wage wouldn’t rise quite as quickly. There were questions about the legality of that maneuver at the time, but it ultimately was allowed to stand.

That was until this year, when a judge reversed the decision. Now, as the case finishes winding its way through the legal process, Michigan could see its minimum wage jump to $12 an hour for all workers—a more than $2 bump from the current hourly minimum wage of $9.87. 

That might not immediately affect most lower-wage positions, since the going rate is above that even at fast food jobs, but it’s still a big change for Michigan workers. Perhaps most notably, the wage for tipped workers—like bartenders and servers—would also rise to that amount, representing a huge boon to workers who were hit the hardest during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s next? Business associations have decried the idea of hiking up minimum wage, arguing that it would only force them to raise their prices even higher. The new $12 figure could go into effect soon after the appeals court has a say, or courts could choose to water down the timeline or impact, and give businesses additional time to adjust to the changes. On the ruling, Whitmer recently told the Detroit Free Press: “I’m hearing concerns from employers… I understand that.”

Momentum Builds for Gun Reform After Federal Legislation 

For the first time in decades, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers—including outgoing Republicans Peter Meijer and Fred Upton—passed a gun safety reform package in Congress that impacted age requirements for assault-style weapons, cracked down on ghost guns, and encouraged states to act when someone seems at-risk. It’s since been hailed as a nationwide achievement in the uphill battle to enact long-stalled, common-sense gun reforms in the US. 

Following the school shooting in Uvalde, just months after the same happened at a Michigan high school, Democratic lawmakers in Michigan also reintroduced popular bills that would’ve allowed judges to permit the temporary seizure of firearms from someone deemed a risk to themselves or others. Those “red-flag” laws were popular, and Republican Senate Majority leader Mike Shirkey promised them a hearing—but he didn’t follow through on his promise.

What’s next? The Democrats who proposed those reforms are now in the majority in Lansing—and Shirkey is no longer standing in their way. That means gun reform could be on the way soon, and Michigan could receive some federal support for implementing red-flag laws.

Public Education Prevails in Michigan

In 2022, petitions and politicians posed a question to Michiganders: Fund public schools better, or give over more control to the loudest parents and special interest groups? Major—even chaotic—debates spread across the state as midterm elections loomed. When the dust settled, voters elected leaders committed to investing more in traditional public education. And with a Democratic trifecta now in Lansing, public schools are likely to be a bigger priority than ever before.

This comes after a year where student scores were still on the rebound from pandemic-related lags in learning. In a number of Michigan communities, political messaging targeted kids and public schools, and activated a base of nationalist and anti-inclusionary extremists who became openly hostile toward LGBTQ+ students, teachers, and books. False claims about porn and drag queens in schools led high-profile Republican campaigns, and far-right conservatives ran for local school boards—even when they didn’t have children in the district.

WATCH: Michigan Gubernatorial Candidate Defines Porn

In one community, the fervor even led to sacrificing necessary funding for a local library. But come Election Day, those who ran on book bans on charter schools lost. And a petition to set up a voucher system to indirectly move tax dollars to private schools didn’t receive the signatures it needed in time—derailing Republicans’ plans to pass the package using the same loophole that emaciated Michigan’s minimum wage law.

What’s next: Greater funding for public schools is on the way, with more programs focused on equity in school. A statewide parents’ council, which has withstood criticisms from Republicans, is likely to stand as a way to consider parents’ opinions on schools.

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