Can Democrats win the Michigan House?

Jan 27, 2014

The last three years haven’t been great ones to be in the legislature – if you are a Democrat. Republicans are in control, and they’ve rammed through bills whose passage would have been unimaginable five years ago. Right to work, for example.

Two years ago, Democrats hoped to win control of the state House of Representatives, to gain some leverage. They did gain five seats, thanks in part to a large turnout and President Obama winning Michigan by nearly half a million votes. But they still fell short, thanks in part to redistricting. More than 400,000 more votes were cast for Democrats, but gerrymandering meant when the dust had settled, Republicans had 59, Democrats, 51.

This year, minority leader Tim Greimel has made taking back the House a top priority. Greimel, 39, is a red-headed lawyer, who, appropriately enough, is from Auburn Hills.

A lawyer and a former school board president, he managed to become his party’s leader after less than a year in Lansing. He’s single, driven, and devoting full time to the Legislature and this campaign. Though it would take flipping only another five seats, taking the House seems like an impossible dream.

For one thing, this will be an off-year election, and more than a million fewer votes will be cast than two years ago. That always favors Republicans. Additionally, while Democratic candidate Mark Schauer could have a shot at the governor’s race, nobody thinks he could win by a margin as great as the president’s.

Tim Greimel knows all that. But he still thinks his party has a shot, for a number of reasons. For one, he told me over pancakes yesterday, this governor has been extremely polarizing. “People have been surprised by Snyder,” he said.

“When he ran, he pretended to be a moderate, but he’s governed from the far right.” That, he believes, has left Republicans vulnerable to a coordinated, issue-oriented campaign.

That approach has a certain logic. Indeed, there is one issue where even Republican polling shows the governor vulnerable: taxing senior citizens’ pensions. But Democrats think there are at least four other areas where they can separate the public from the GOP. Education is one. There has been a bipartisan effort to put more money into pre-kindergarten programs.

But beyond that, spending on education, higher ed especially, has been cut, and it has become harder than ever in modern history for students to afford college.This comes at a time when it is more necessary than ever, for anyone who wants a decent living.

Beyond that, Greimel thinks Republicans are vulnerable for eliminating the child tax credit and wiping out the Homestead Property Tax Credit to give state businesses a huge tax break.

Add to that the fact that women will now be forced to pay for a special rider to cover abortion in the case of rape or incest, and Greimel thinks Democrats may have a winning formula. That still may be a long shot. Even Greimel concedes that Republicans will have more campaign money.

But given that most people don’t know the name of their state representative, a unified campaign on an issue-oriented basis could make sense.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out.