Last week, state Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, derailed progressive Democrats’ plan to roll back more than 40 years of assorted abortion restrictions and barriers with one massive bill package by making it clear she was a no vote. Medicaid-funded abortions, the elimination of a 24-hour waiting period for elective abortions and certain “partial-birth abortions” were in front of a state House committee, and Whitsett said no.
She claims she and six other House Democrats believe the push to roll back nearly all restrictions put in place by previous Republican governors is a bridge too far.
Yes, voters said by passing Proposal 3 last year that they wanted reproductive freedom. But Whitsett went through the 24-hour waiting period once as a rape victim. She opted to go forward with it because “it was the right decision for me.”
If there’s extra Medicaid money around, it should go toward services for the state’s growing senior population, not to fund the abortions of the poor, she said.
The Democrat’s bold positions instantly put her in the crosshairs of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, which put out an ad on social media that reads, “Rep. Karen Whitsett is threatening to keep harmful abortion restrictions in place. Tell her to vote YES on the RPA (Reproductive Health Act).”
On this week’s “MIRS Monday” episode, Whitsett questioned if Planned Parenthood was attacking her “because I’m not a sheep? Because I don’t just follow along because I’m a Democrat? Because I actually am a representative that represents my district, and they asked me to ask the tough questions?”
Apparently, Whitsett isn’t the only Democrat with concerns. Any House Democrat who represents anything close to a competitive district should be worried. As of now, though, she’s the only one willing to speak up.
Whitsett has run against the grain of her party before. She insists hydroxychloroquine saved her life when she contracted COVID and thanked Donald Trump personally for recommending it. That didn’t make her popular in her chamber.
These are the latest examples of how independent, bold policymakers are so quickly villainized when they have their own opinions.
Earlier this session, state Rep. Mike Mueller, R-Linden, needed an escort back to his vehicle after he bucked his Republican caucus and voted for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s tax reform plan so retirees would have more of their income shielded from taxes.
The reason the Democrats needed Mueller’s vote to begin with is because one of their members, state Rep. Dylan Wegela, D-Garden City, was a hard no. He steadfastly refused to vote for anything that would steer public money to a corporate incentive. He was verbally worked over for quite a while to change his mind until Mueller became the needed final vote.
Like Whitsett, Mueller and Wegela stuck to their convictions and voted how they wanted in the face of caucus pressure.
They are the independent outliers in a political climate that badgers those who stand outside of their caucus and stand firm in their positions.
It’s easier to go along to get along. It’s easier to vote the caucus position. It’s easier defend it by repeating the company line, as opposed to standing up for positions that may be in the best interests of a lawmaker’s constituency.
It’s hard, with the state House at a 56-54 split and the state Senate at a 20-18 split (both in favor of Democrats), to upset the apple cart — to force compromise, which has become a four-letter word in today’s win-at-all-cost mentality.
State Democrats have a lengthy agenda they want to complete. Most of it is repealing what the Republicans passed when Rick Snyder and John Engler were successive governors. The Republicans have no incentive to work with Democrats on their agenda. Their strategy is to derail, stall and frustrate Democrats at every turn.
Everything is geared toward the next election, whether that election is in a year or a month.
Compromise becomes something that happens when an independent-minded lawmaker breaks ranks, not the product of productive conversations between political party leaders.
It’s bad news for the rapidly shrinking political middle and independent, policy-minded thinkers.
(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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