Politics & Prejudices
The new reality
Now Michigan Republicans will have no excuses - and few checks
Published: November 10, 2010
Let's start off by pointing out some new bad news for the Democrats most may not even know about yet.
One of their very few bright spots on election night was Congressman Gary Peters' narrow victory over "Rocky" Raczkowski. Peters, who represents much of Oakland County, easily beat a Republican fossil, Joe Knollenberg, two years ago, but almost lost this time to a candidate who was neither very strong nor well-funded.
What his supporters didn't realize election night is that their victory just postponed the inevitable. Michigan will lose a House seat next year, thanks to the shifting U.S. population. Lansing will redraw districts. Republicans will control the Legislature and the governor's office. Guess whose seat they'll eliminate?
They will almost certainly throw Peters into a district he has no chance of winning in the general election, or put him in the same district as fellow Democrat Sandy Levin, meaning one or the other will have to bow out, retire or lose.
Then the Legislature will draw boundaries to ensure the GOP captures as many seats in Lansing as possible over the next decade. They'll pass it; Republican Gov. Rick Snyder will sign it.
Now, if Democrats think that plan is unfair, why, they can always appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. But ... oh wait! Republicans now have control of that too.
Welcome to our new political reality. Last week was a GOP victory at every level. Democrats lost the governor's race by a landslide, as everyone knew they would. But having said that, here's something positive about Virg Bernero: Yes, he got creamed. But he did better than the last two losing Democrats for governor, Geoffrey Fieger and Howard Wolpe. That's amazing, given they had more money and ran against John Engler, closer of mental health clinics, an uncharismatic man with negatives of his own.
This time, Rick Snyder was able to run as Our Non-Political Savior, with the entire media establishment and business community serving as his public relations apparatus. He was effectively able to be all things to all people. Bernero had little money, a not-very-focused campaign and had to stand against a huge Republican tide. Not to mention the legacy of Jennifer Granholm, who rightly or wrongly had become a symbol for everything wrong.
With all that going for him, you would have thought Snyder would have done better than the 61 and 62 percent scores Engler racked up against a respected former congressman and then Michigan's best-known and most flamboyant attorney. Yet Snyder only beat Bernero 58 to 40 percent. That's significant, for this reason: During those larger Engler landslides, Democrats weren't wiped out at lower levels the way they were last week. Back then, Democrats were elected attorney general both times. They won at least some state education board seats too, and did better in the Legislature. This time, they were wiped out. This wasn't an anti-Virg vote. It was a vote against the Democrats.
They lost every statewide office. Jocelyn Benson, who may have been the best-qualified candidate ever for secretary of state, ran far ahead of the rest of the ticket, but lost by six points. Republicans gained more seats in the Legislature than in their wildest dreams. In perhaps the most significant blow, they took back control of the Michigan Supreme Court.
What does this all mean? Nobody really knows, and we won't for some time. But we do know this: First of all, Republicans — if they are united — can now do anything they want to when it comes to running the government. Democrats won't control a damned thing. In fact, their minority in the state Senate will be so small — less than one-third of the seats — they won't even be able to prevent any bills the Republicans pass from taking immediate effect.
However, there is a silver lining in all this, for either the state of Michigan, the Democrats, or both: Republicans now, finally, have to take complete responsibility for the mess we are in.
They are going to have to balance a budget with perhaps a $2 billion deficit, and do it without stimulus money. They will either have to take the responsible step of raising revenues, or wipe out what remains of social services, badly damage higher education, and ruin our state's ability to compete. Either the state wins or the Republicans will have demonstrated themselves to be a bunch of ideological fanatics, interested in only in the rich and super-rich.
Don't be surprised if our new governor finds his hands full with a lot of newly elected Tea Party know-nothings in the Legislature. It could be that he will only be able to succeed with support from some Democrats, if the Teabaggers revolt against him.
This much is clear. The voters decisively gave power to the Republicans, in Michigan as nationwide. I happen to believe they did so because President Obama and the Democrats at all levels did a piss-poor job of explaining what they really did accomplish.
They enacted a health care plan the vast majority of Americans would enthusiastically favor — if they understood it. They saved us from a Great Depression. Locally, the president saved the auto industry, and saved our state from financial collapse. But they apparently thought virtue would bring its own reward. Instead, the constant televised lies and their own inability to communicate brought us a GOP landslide.
So now it is their turn. Democrats won fewer seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than they have in any election since 1946. But take note of two other things too: The last three times the GOP made major gains in Congress in midterm elections, the Democratic president at the time was easily re-elected two years later.
And consider the big Tea Party Republican stars, the ones who were constantly on the all-news TV channels: Christine O'Donnell. Carl Paladino. Joe Miller. Sharron Angle. Think of Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, the rich women who were going to take over California.
> Email Jack Lessenberry