MichMash: This Week’s Elections Were Huge — We’re Not Talking About the Midterms

Lawmakers’ choices to lead the Legislature next year set up some possible roadblocks for Governor-elect Whitmer.

WDET Digital

The incoming Michigan Legislature won’t start passing bills until 2019. But those lawmakers have already taken one of their most important votes.

This week, they chose the people who will lead their chambers.

Sen. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) will lead the Republicans as Senate majority leader.

Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) will be Michigan’s next state House speaker.

As part of the weekly series MichMash, hosts Cheyna Roth and Jake Neher talk about why these picks are so significant.

Click on the audio player above to hear that conversation.

These leaders have a lot of power over the legislative process

Democratic Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer is going to have a lot of power to set the agenda in Lansing for the next four years.

But so will Chatfield and Shirkey. Both conservative Republicans, they will determine which bills come up for votes in their respective chambers. And they will determine which bills will not come up for votes.

Whitmer’s biggest promise on the campaign trail was to “fix the damn roads!” But the kind of money she wants to come up with to improve infrastructure will undoubtedly require some kind of tax increase.

But that might be a non-starter for Republican leaders in the House and Senate.

Cheyna Roth/MPRN

“It’s important that every single one of us in the House whether it’s Democrat or whether it’s Republican, that we stay true and that we follow through with people on what we told them we will do,” said Chatfield in his first conversation with reporters after his election as the next speaker.

“And I will say that no one in the House Republican chamber ran on raising taxes.”

Whitmer also hopes she’ll have a chance to repeal Michigan’s controversial “Right to Work” law as governor. But that’s not going to be easy with these legislative partners, either.

Shirkey counts among his accomplishments as a lawmaker the passage of Right to Work in 2012, when he was a member of the state House and Whitmer was Senate Democratic Leader.

It’s the one thing Shirkey told reporters he’s taking off the table on Day One.

“I’m not going to categorically reject anything right now, other than — I can go on record saying that there will be no change to the Right to Work laws in Michigan,” said Shirkey.

These possible impasses illustrate the need to start paying attention now

When something is accomplished in politics, it’s easy for elected officials to take all the credit.

When something is not accomplished, it’s easy to pin blame on individual people.

But the policy making process — by design — is a collaboration of efforts that often requires a lot of compromise and deal making. 

Hate to say it, political campaigns will be starting up yet again sooner than most of us would like. When the blaming and taking credit starts up again, you’ll have been wise to follow the issues you care about closely now.

That way, you’ll know who deserves credit and who deserves blame.


  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.