House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), Jan. 11, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins
Updated, 6:33 a.m., 1/15/23
Following the same vein of the often-contentious partisanship discord of the last few years, Republican House members — newly in the minority for the first time since 2010 — caught flack Wednesday for appearing to try and undercut the new Democratic majorities and leadership.
That culminated in eight House Republicans voting against House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) for his new position, which is unusual considering both chambers traditionally vote unanimously in the mostly ceremonial procedure.
Tate, who is Black, is the first person of color to serve as House speaker in Michigan.
“It’s unfortunate that when legislators, regardless of party or worldview, have an opportunity to contribute to the history of Michigan empowering people of color they vote against diversity and inclusion,” said the Rev. Horace Sheffield III of Detroit, a leading civil rights activist who heads the Detroit Association of Black Organizations.
For the first time in nearly 40 years, Democrats control both the House and the Senate and they are serving alongside Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who won reelection last year.
Although House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Marshall) voted for Tate and emphasized in a press conference later Wednesday that he looks forward to working together with the Democrat, several of his colleagues in the newly declared Freedom Caucus — state Reps. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), James DeSana (R-Carleton), Joseph Fox (R-Tecumseh), Neil Friske (R-Petoskey), Mike Hoadley (R-Au Gres), Matt Maddock (R-Milford), Angela Rigas (R-Hastings) and Josh Schriver (R-Oxford) — voted “no.”
There were also several Republican votes against state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia), who is the chamber’s first LGBTQ+ speaker pro tempore. And the caucus of far-right lawmakers issued a press release saying they didn’t support the rules for the lower chamber.
“Eight conservative Republicans voted against Joe Tate for Michigan speaker, and it took 15 tries for [U.S. House Speaker] Kevin McCarthy in Congress,” said the Rev. Charles Williams II of the National Action Network Michigan. “Republicans have turned into the party of obstruction and destruction.”
State Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Fort Gratiot) also made a move to introduce the first bill of the new session, getting his measure in before Tate, bucking longstanding tradition. Majority leaders and speakers generally introduce the first bill or defer to another key member of their caucus.
“There’s a speaker’s prerogative” to introduce the first bill, Tate told reporters afterward on Wednesday.
Hall defended Beeler to reporters when asked whether the action is predictive of contention between the parties, saying that Beeler was in the House late Tuesday and early Wednesday to push through his bill cutting the retirement tax — legislation signed by the last GOP governor, Rick Snyder.
Under Beeler’s bill, seniors 67 years and older would be able to deduct $40,000 of all income from the state income tax, or $80,000 for couples filing jointly. Seniors aged 62 to 66 would also be able to deduct retirement income — $20,000 for individuals or $40,000 for joint filers.
On whether the votes against Tate and Beeler’s line-cutting to introduce a bill before Tate are indicative of disrespect toward the new speaker and Democratic majority, Hall said that there are fractures in both parties but he supports Tate’s leadership.
“I voted for Joe Tate, and … I believe that civility is important,” Hall said. “I am coming forward in good faith, wanting to work together to govern in the middle with Joe Tate and the Democrats. But they have to stay focused on these common sense policies that are going to help working families like the ones that we propose today.”
Hall announced on Wednesday that Republicans also want to increase Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). One of Democrats’ first bills also would expand the EITC.
When asked about the eight votes against his leadership on Wednesday, Tate told reporters he is focused on working with everyone.
“My focus is working together and I want to make sure that we’re doing that, Tate said. “So I think all went well today. I know we are going to have different opinions across this entire chamber, but I’m not concerned about that.
“I’m just ready to get to work.”
Advance reporter Ken Coleman contributed to this story.
Correction: Rep. Angela Rigas’ hometown was initially incorrect.
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