Consider yourself lucky, Ingham County. After years of wallowing in the minority, accepting whatever scraps the majority Republicans threw its way, the Ingham County delegation in the Michigan State House is in a power position unlike its seen in decades.
Going into the 2009-2010 legislative session, all three state representatives representing Ingham County will chair House committees. And not just any ol’ committee, either. Good committees — where significant public policy is typically crafted.
On top of that, two of the three Ingham reps were given key leadership posts in the Democratic caucus. Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, was named this week House assistant leader, essentially making him the majority party’s No. 4 ranking member behind House speaker, majority floor leader and speaker pro tem.
Right behind him at No. 5 is Rep. Barb Byrum, who will be the Dems’ chairwoman. This means that whenever the huge 67-member Democratic caucus slips behind closed doors to talk strategy, Byrum will be holding the gavel.
The appointments are on top of the plum appointments both Meadows and Byrum were given two weeks ago. Meadows leveraged the support he gained by mounting a run for House majority floor leader into the House Judiciary chairmanship, one of the chamber’s most highly sought-after assignments.
After the Democrats expanded their majority by nine seats in November, Meadows attempted to replace termlimited Rep. Steve Tobocman, D-Detroit, as the chamber’s No. 2 most powerful member. He garnered some support, but he was not the preferred choice of House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Twp.
Meadows had ingratiated himself to Dillon last session by his willingness to look seriously into the on-paper deficit in the public employees’ retirement accounts, among other non-sexy issues. But Dillon liked the exceptionally competent Rep. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, for the floor leader post instead.
Rather than blaze forward with a potentially divisive longshot bid, Meadows dropped his challenge and was rewarded with the Judiciary gavel, the assistant leader moniker and a rare Capitol office. Not bad for the former East Lansing mayor.
Meanwhile, Byrum served a term last year as assistant caucus leader, where she earned a reputation for her get-it-done mentality. From what the media observed last year, nobody liked being in caucus less than Barb Byrum. Nonetheless, Byrum was a soldier about it all, and when given the opportunity to run the ship she wasted little time in getting the appropriate matters before the membership and moving things along.
This year, she was rewarded by being given the gavel full time.
“I run a tight ship, and I think the speaker realizes that I may be useful in the caucus room in getting out in a timely matter,” Byrum told me.
Byrum also scored an upgrade in the committee chairmanship front. Last year, one of Dillon’s earliest supporters led the House’s local government committee as a freshman. This year, she’ll chair the House Insurance Committee, a substantial post considering the headquarters for Blue Cross/ Blue Shield, Jackson National and Delta Dental are all in her backyard.
Also, Byrum scored a place on the House Education, Commerce and Health Policy committees, all of which she requested.
For mid-Michigan, however, the biggest win may have come when Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, was put in charge of the House’s version of the Higher Education budget.
Having watched the crafting of eight state budgets now, I can say that when it comes time to hand out money for the state 15 public universities, whichever school is in the district of the House Appropriations higher education subcommittee chairman gets taken care of.
That’s good news for Michigan State University, and it’s also good news for Lansing Community College, since Bauer will continue to serve as vice chairwoman of that subcommittee, too.
“I know this year is going to be tough, but I feel strongly that we just have to make higher education a priority if we want to get this state out of where it has been,” Bauer said.
As far as her position within the House Appropriations Committee and the posts given to Ingham County’s House members, nobody realizes the region’s good fortune more than Bauer.
“We did very well,” she beamed. “This is good news for this region.”
(Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly. Write Melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)