Elliott Larsen: A vote that will sit well with the test of time


In today’s hyper-partisan world, it’s often hard for legislators or members of Congress to see through anything other than their red-or-blue tinted glasses.  

Independent thinkers or aggressive moderates who don’t fall in line with their political party find themselves like former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer: primaried out of a job for voting to impeach Donald Trump. Money and name recognition be damned. 

Some votes, however, age well with time, regardless of which way the partisan winds have blown in the past. 

Forward-thinking political figures can spot them a mile away and take a vote that may not have been popular among ideologues 10 years ago — but looks better 20 years down the line. 

One of these votes is expanding the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to the LGBTQ community.  

Considering this polling. This isn’t exactly the same issue, but it’s markedly close.  

About 20 years ago, Michiganders voted 59% to 41% to define marriage in our state Constitution as the union between one man and one woman. 

Michigan wasn’t an anomaly. A national Gallup poll from May 2004 had gay marriage tracking, nationally, with 42% support. 

Last year, that same poll found 71% of voters supporting gay marriage. That’s a marked change. 

Republican legislators looking toward the future recognized that. A few voted with the entire Democratic caucus this month in favor of Elliott Larsen Civil Rights expansion. 

I’ll mention two in particular: Rep. Graham Filler and Rep. Bill G. Schuette. 

Once the state representative out of DeWitt, Filler’s district was drastically moved to include more of Saginaw County than Gratiot or Clinton counties. Gay rights is not a burning issue in his small town district of Second Amendment-loving farmers. 

But as a civil libertarian who believes in individual freedoms, Filler said he wants the Republican Party to move toward arguing for the rights of people. 

Filler, 40, said he wants the Republican Party to be the “party of now and the future.” My read is that this means moving away from discrimination against a particular group of folks. 

Next, we have Schuette, the 27-year-old son of the former state attorney general and gubernatorial candidate. 

Like his father, Schuette is a skilled, upwardly mobile politician. In a few years, Schuette would be a logical choice to run for the politically competitive congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee.  

Schuette has the benefit of time on his side. He can serve in the state House for 11 more years, if he’s reelected, before making a jump in his late 30s. After that, could Bill G. make a gubernatorial run? A U.S. Senate run? His dad did. 

There’s nothing stopping this competitive marathon runner. What he doesn’t need is a bad vote from 2022 (that can easily be framed as supporting discrimination) hanging over his head.  

To give himself credibility with the religious right, Schuette sponsored a religious liberty amendment to the bill. It didn’t pass, but his amendment is on record. 

Now, so is his yes vote on Elliott Larsen’s expansion. 

Some other younger members of the GOP caucus also were yes votes: Rep. Pauline Wendzel, 34, from Southwest Michigan and Matt Bierlein, 39, from the Saginaw area. 

Most of the Republican caucus, though, were not yes votes. They’ve likely heard the tale of former state Rep. Frank Foster, a young rising star at the time, who advocated for Elliott Larsen Civil Rights expansion in 2013 and 2014. 

His Republican primary opponent successfully used this issue against Foster in his Up North district. As a result, the state got former state Rep. Lee Chatfield, who is being investigated by the attorney general for various shenanigans. 

Foster, now a lobbyist in town, watched the Elliott Larsen vote in the Senate from the gallery a couple of weeks ago. In hindsight, Foster may have been slightly before his time. 

But at least he got to see that the time when supporting gay rights as a Republican is of political benefit, not detriment, is here. 

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol News Service MIRS at melinnky@gmail.com.)


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