Midterm elections deliver power to Lansing as local pols rise to top leadership roles

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We have the Capitol. We have the Governor’s Residence. We have the Hall of Justice and several administrative buildings downtown. 

But starting on Jan. 1, Lansing will be the most politically powerful city in Michigan based on who will be sitting in those offices. 

We know East Lansing’s own Gretchen Whitmer will be serving her second term as governor. Another East Lansing resident, Justice Elizabeth Clement, will be the chief justice of the Supreme Court. 

Yet another East Lansing resident, Sen.-elect Sam Singh, will be the next Senate majority floor leader, giving him the power to put agenda items on the session calendar. 

Over in Lansing, Sen.-elect Sarah Anthony will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, giving her the power of the purse strings on that side of the Capitol. 

On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Angela Witwer of Delta Township will be in charge of the House Appropriations Committee, making her the lead budget person over there and among the top three or four most powerful people in the 110-member state House of Representatives. 

She isn’t in state government, but let’s not forget U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who also lives in Delta Township. With the Democrats still in control of the upper chamber in Washington D.C., she’s expected to retain her position as the Senate Agriculture Committee chair.  

If this has happened before -- where a city has been able to lay claim to having this type of political representation in all three branches of government -- Bill Ballenger of The Ballenger Report doesn’t remember it, and he goes back at least 70 years. 

Back when Detroit and Metro Detroit made up a larger share of the state’s population, it’s possible Motown legislators claimed this type of influence in legislative leadership, but it’s something that hasn’t happened in recent memory. 

The Capital City doesn’t have any especially powerful pull that created this confluence of leadership. How each appointment came about is a completely different dynamic. 

Clement worked in state government for the Senate Republicans before moving to Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, eventually becoming his chief legal counsel. Snyder moved her to the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy and, once there, she worked well with her colleagues, regardless of party affiliation. 

With Chief Justice Bridget McCormack leaving to pursue a seven-figure job, Clement emerged as a consensus pick to hold the top spot. 

Witwer has long been the righthand of incoming Speaker Joe Tate, having been the head of the campaign arm of the House Democrats. Singh is a former House minority leader and floor leader with leadership experience as a prior East Lansing mayor.  

Anthony has appropriations experience dating back to her time as a House staffer 15 years ago. With the Senate only having three Black members, Anthony’s ascension allows the Senate Democrats to present a truly diverse leadership mix that also elevates the role of first-termers. 

The Lansing area has had influential legislators in key positions in years past. Former Rep. Lynn Jondahl chaired the House Taxation Committee. Former Rep. David Hollister chaired the Social Services subcommittee. To have both Appropriations Committee chair positions is unique. 

To have Lansing legislators chair an appropriations subcommittee is a big deal. To have Lansing legislators chair both committees? It’s an historic confluence of events that likely won’t happen again.  

It shows that we have been fortunate to have good people willing to serve and we, as a community, have done a good job supporting and voting for these folks. 

First, the Democrats won all three branches of Michigan government, which hasn’t happened in 40 years. Next, we have legislators who put themselves in positions to be part of leadership. 

It’s to the good fortune of Lansing and its residents. Outgoing-Sen. Curtis Hertel always did well bringing home the bacon as the ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lansing was taken care of. To now have two Appropriations Committee chairs?  

Lansing should not be forgotten when it comes to dividing up money, let’s put it that way. 

 

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