Susan J. Demas: When will Whitmer learn that the founders only intended executive power for Republicans?

October 31, 2019 4:42 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the Fiscal Year 2020 budget presentation | Casey Hull

Republicans are being really chill about Michigan’s budget process, man.

They totally did not get played by the Democratic governor, who vetoed $1 billion of their favorite things earlier this month and shifted money in departments for a few of her own after they slapped an un-negotiated budget on her desk.

And they are definitely not mad about it.

That’s why they’re not huffily declaring the “budget’s done” or demanding that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rescind all budget transfers as a “first step” in further negotiations or introducing bills to strip away her executive powers.

Lol, of course they are doing all of those things.

Basically, they don’t want any negotiations and for the governor just to agree to throw more money at GOP priorities (what happened to folks pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, guys?)

Susan J. Demas: It took a Democratic governor to ax pork-barrel spending in Michigan

Oh, and Whitmer must sign an agreement that her role as governor is now relegated to smiling and waving in parades like a royal figurehead and agree to call Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) “my governor” (though without the condescension he deploys).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was in northern California with my family last week, trying to dodge wildfires while jamming a bit of hiking in before a long Michigan winter, but it’s good to see that things in Michigan government are about as dumb as when I left.

But while it would be easy to play the “both sides” parlor game like plenty of corporate media types and lobbyists do, throwing up my (not-well-manicured) hands about the incivility and immaturity of everyone involved, that’s not what’s going on here.

This is about the Republican doctrine that executive power can only be legitimately wielded by their party, not Democrats. (That’s clearly what the founders intended, even though the GOP was founded 78 years after our country was.)

Susan J. Demas: After years of cutting Michigan to the bone, Republicans cry crocodile tears over Whitmer’s vetoes

We spend a lot time in Michigan politics pretending that we’re far removed from President Donald Trump’s self-dealing poop show in Washington, his administration’s policy of locking migrant children in cages and his decision to leave our Kurdish allies to be slaughtered in Syria — even though you’d be hard-pressed to find any GOP state lawmakers who won’t vote for the president next year.

As the impeachment case against Trump grows, his Republican allies have basically coalesced around the defense that his use (and abuse) of executive power is absolute and can’t be challenged (or prosecuted).

That conservative philosophy, of course, was never applied to his predecessor, Barack Obama, who was savaged as a dictator for wanting to ensure 20 million more people had health insurance. The GOP-controlled U.S. Senate denied him the right to appoint a Supreme Court justice and wouldn’t even hold hearings.

Whitmer: Voters elected me to have the same powers as first 48 governors

And that’s why the GOP-dominated Michigan Legislature spent most of its Lame Duck session last year trying to yank away power from newly elected Democratic statewide executives. Somehow they never thought to do that with Whitmer’s predecessor, Republican Rick Snyder, even though he presided over a major U.S. city’s water supply being poisoned.

When I interviewed Whitmer before she took office in January, she made it clear that she had no intention of relinquishing executive authority.

“Voters expect me to be a governor with all the authority that the first 48 governors of our state’s great history had. And I’m gonna fight to make sure that those powers are in the executive office,” she said.

As I’ve noted, these GOP power grabs aren’t limited to Michigan, with GOP legislatures also stripping authority from newly elected Democratic governors in North Carolina and Wisconsin. Utah and Maine Republicans ignored the will of voters who wanted Medicaid expanded. Florida Republicans essentially enacted a poll tax as revenge for voters passing a 2018 law allowing felons to vote.

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This is a party almost solely dedicated to amassing power at all costs and denying it to the opposition. For all the hand-wringing among beltway pundits about how Republicans ended up with someone as uncouth and corrupt as Trump, it’s really not terribly difficult to understand.

So back to Michigan’s budget fight. Time and time again, Whitmer has expressed willingness to compromise with GOP leaders. The supplementary budget plan she crafted with ranking Senate Appropriations member Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) was meant as an “olive branch” to Republicans and included restoring funding for autism and rural programs they’ve clamored for.

Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, May 24, 2019 | Nick Manes

This week, she sent a letter to Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) asking them to return to the table, especially since the Legislature will be taking off soon for its annual hunting break. While she wouldn’t promise to give up her executive powers, she noted there would be little need to exercise them if there were “good faith” negotiations.

“I urge you to choose a path of negotiation towards a responsible supplemental budget and forego your attempt to gut state executive authority that’s been around for 98 years and championed by [former] Governor [John] Engler,” Whitmer wrote. “We all hold office for a prescribed number of years, and I will not spend my time here diminishing the Office of the Governor for me or any of my successors, Democrat or Republican.”

Shirkey and Chatfield responded with a letter of their own, telling her the starting point in negotiations is Whitmer rescinding the $625 million in budget transfers immediately. And maybe they’ll agree to stuff later.

Another Michigan budget standoff dawns

In other words, Republicans expect Whitmer to unconditionally surrender while they give up nothing (which is what a lot of lobbyists with reporters on speed dial want, too). Democrats are always expected to be reasonable and compromise (i.e. bend to Republicans’ whims). Folks really can’t handle a liberal — and a lady to boot — who tells them to pound sand, however nicely.

So if folks are upset about the state of the budget, they might want to start with the party that’s unwilling to give an inch.

By the way, you can see the 2020 Republican budget playbook coming from a mile away. Next year, they’ll try to force Whitmer into a government shutdown a month before the election in a desperate attempt to help Trump, who’s underwater in our must-win state.

This insipid budget cycle will probably look tame in comparison.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.