Editor's note: Vanguard President and CEO TJ Bucholz comments on the challenges Gretchen Whitmer will face as Michigan's newly elected governor.
Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, who campaigned on her ability to “get things done,” faces a challenge by needing to work with a Republican-controlled Legislature to do so.
While the former state Senate minority leader is confident in the negotiating skills she honed serving 14 years in a legislative minority, divided government will complicate Whitmer’s pledge to “fix the damn roads.” The Republicans' ability to protect their majorities in the state House and Senate likely dooms liberal plans such as repealing the state’s right-to-work law opposed by unions.
Struggles of divided government
Term-limited GOP Gov. Rick Snyder never had to work with a divided government. Most clashes he has had with the Legislature were struggles within his own party.
Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s disagreements with then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, were well documented during budget disputes and two short government shutdowns.
Granholm and Bishop “could not decide on the shape of the table, let alone which way state government should go,” said TJ Bucholz, a Democratic strategist who worked departmental communications jobs under the Engler and Granholm administrations.
Whitmer set a “very bipartisan tone” in her election night victory speech, but Republican leaders could decide to play “spoiler,” he said.
“Historically, divided government has not been great for progress despite the best intention of both parties,” Bucholz said. “Sometimes their goal is the same, but the pathway to get there is the polar opposite of each other.”
Budget negotiations next year between Whitmer and legislative leaders will be “critical” to setting the early tone in Lansing, Bucholz said.
Whitmer, who has called for $2 billion a year in new road repair and infrastructure spending, has already said she’ll write new money into her first budget proposal as a starting point for talks with the Legislature.
“Fixing the damn roads is not going to be an easy fix,” Bucholz said. “It’s going to be like untying the Gordian knot, so she’s going to need help.”
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