By Paul Rozycki
“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
With a newly elected Congress in Washington, a new administration in Lansing, and a mayoral election in Flint, this year will be anything but tranquil politically. As has been the case for the last few years, predictions are easy to make, but often wrong. Like so many things attributed to Yogi Berra, I don’t know if he actually said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future,” but it’s obviously true. In any case, at the risk of proving Yogi correct, here are a few things to look for in politics this year.
On the national level
As we begin the year, some expect 2019 to be “the worst year of Donald Trump’s life.” That may or may not be true, but, for the first time, President Trump is facing a Democratic House, with the power and the intent to investigate his business dealings and potential ties to Russia. The nation also awaits the Mueller report on any possible Russian collusion, and at least six individuals with ties to the Trump campaign have been indicted so far. The FBI also has launched investigations over Trump’s possible ties to Russia.
During the record-breaking 35-day government shutdown, Trump took most of the blame for the layoff of 800,000 federal employees and the turmoil that followed. The shutdown had the image of a bad reality TV show as Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi traded dueling cancellations, as she blocked his State of the Union message, and he denied her military flights to Afghanistan. The recent agreement to open the government for three weeks offers an opportunity to end the shutdown for good and may give both parties a chance to work together. How that plays out and how long it lasts, remains to be seen, but 2019 looks like it may be a year of investigations, charges and countercharges and, perhaps, a move to impeach the president from the U.S. House.
The background for much of this is the fact that the 2020 campaign is already underway. At least eight Democrats have declared they are running for president, with more to come. And Trump’s campaign has been in place since his inauguration two years ago.
On the state level
For the first time in many decades Michigan Democrats have flipped the governor’s office, attorney general, and secretary of state from one party to another. Yet even with that victory, Republicans remain in control of the state House and the state Senate, as they have for a number of years. Will that mean that Michigan faces the same gridlock we have seen in Washington? Maybe, but there are at least a few signs that both parties might work together better than they have in the past.
Unlike the past two governors, Gretchen Whitmer brings legislative experience to the job. She served in the Michigan House for six years, was elected to the state Senate in 2006, and was chosen as minority leader of the Michigan state Senate in 2010, serving until 2014. That experience, which both Gov. Snyder and Gov. Granholm lacked, led Whitmer to meet with “The Quadrant,” the leaders of both parties in the Michigan House and Senate, to discuss future plans. That meeting alone doesn’t guarantee anything, but there is one issue where both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans have found common ground. So far both parties have come together on bills to limit Michigan’s asset forfeiture law, which has allowed law enforcement to seize property from individuals, even if there is no criminal conviction. In a rare instance of politics making strange bedfellows, both the liberal American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the conservative Mackinac Center have pushed to limit the practice.
The Michigan Supreme Court, where Republicans are a majority, unanimously selected Democrat Bridget McCormack as Chief Justice for the upcoming term, in hopes of raising the court’s image above the partisan bickering of the legislature and the governor. Their new slogan is “aggressive non-partisanship.”
That’s only two issues, and there will be plenty of room for partisan division in Lansing. Issues like the roads, infrastructure, K-12 school funding, gerrymandering, Enbridge Line 5, auto insurance reform, the MSU Nasser scandal, and the Flint water crisis, certainly won’t find easy agreement between the parties. But at least there are some early indications that things might be different this time around in the state capitol.
On the local level: mayoral challenges coming?
The city of Flint is about to have its first election under its new charter. Mayor Karen Weaver, having survived a recall attempt over a year ago, has already raised $250,000 for her campaign and will be a formidable candidate. Several groups already are in the process of recruiting opponents for the August primary and the November election. In the months to come we’ll hear a number of names, both well known and not, put forward as Weaver’s potential replacement.
As the mayoral contest heats up we’re likely to see the pro and anti-Weaver forces gear up for the campaign. Given the nature of recent city council meetings, (which make the worst of Washington seem positively statesmanlike), the council members may be even more divided as they take sides in the mayoral contest. However, we’ll see if the recent ouster of Eric Mays as chair of the finance committee adds even more fuel to the fire, or is the start of a council that can work together more effectively.
Still no ombudsman
There will be many issues driving the Flint mayoral campaign, but one that should be at the top of the agenda is the appointment of a city ombudsman. The new city charter was approved by the voters in 2017, and took effect over a year ago. Yet, over the past year, the mayor, and some on the council, have delayed the appointment of the Ethics and Accountability Board (EAB) which has the duty of appointing an ombudsman. The Board is finally in place, but there is still no ombudsman. Though the ombudsman’s position has been posted, disputes over funding have slowed the process. The EAB hopes to fill the position by March. If not, it will likely be key issue for the mayoral campaign, and it should be.
EVM Political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.