Because things went so well last time, on Wednesday the Michigan House voted, 107-2, to keep State Rep. Jase Bolger, R – Marshall, on as House Speaker.
After the vote, House Democratic Leader Tim Griemel of Auburn Hills regaled reporters with tales of “longstanding tradition” and the “symbolic” importance of presenting a united front behind the House Speaker.
The Michigan Democratic Party tried to muddy things for Bolger by reminding readers of Bolger’s involvement in State Rep. Roy Schmidt’s ill-conceived, last-minute switch from Democrat to Republican.
But Mark Brewer’s bark must not have much bite if only two of the House Democrats he helped send to Lansing, Douglas Geiss of Taylor and Dian Slavens of Canton Township, could summon the strength to vote against Bolger. One Republican, Rep. Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, was absent from the 107-2 vote. Which means that half as many Republicans as Democrats failed to vote against Jase Bolger as House Speaker.
Many Democrats say they felt it was important Wednesday to do their part to offer up a fresh start on the first day of the 2013-14 Legislature. All but two voted in favor of re-electing House Speaker Jase Bolger for the 97th Legislature, despite their opposition to his policies and in some cases lingering concerns about his role in a political party switch involving then-Grand Rapids lawmaker Roy Schmidt.
“But we also recognize that we have an opportunity here with a new term to show our respect for the institution and for the history of this institution by abiding by longstanding practice,” Greimel said. “And hopefully by extending this olive branch of symbolic bipartisanship, we can find opportunities and occasions when the two parties can find common ground. And that’s what the people of this state deserve – for the parties to do everything we can to find common ground to move this state forward and find solutions to the very real challenges we’re all facing.”
This is one tradition worth ending. Wednesday would’ve been a great time.
When I hear the phrase “symbolic vote,” I think of a resolution honoring the Detroit Tigers on a great season or MSU on winning its bowl game. Things that any Michiganian should celebrate.
Symbolic isn’t casting a vote for the person who decides which legislation will or be brought to the House floor and which will be sentenced to committee. Symbolic doesn’t describe a job that allows a lawmaker set the House’s rules and decorum and, as Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum learned last year, can silence a member from speaking on the House floor, for any reason or no reason.
Unity isn’t needed on a vote for the person who will control both committee structure and assignments. There are things voters actually expect politicians to disagree on. Leadership, especially after the last two years, is one of them.
To put things in perspective, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, had more Republicans either vote against (10) or abstain from (2) his reelection as Speaker, or both (12), than Bolger had Democrats oppose his.
What’s wrong with this picture? Who benefits from all this symbolic bipartisanship?
Speaker of the Michigan House is kind of an important job. The events of the 96th Legislature should’ve shown everybody in Michigan just how important. If the argument is “they have the votes, might as well go along,” well, that would describe any number of laws from the last two years and bills from the next two. Doesn’t mean you don’t fight.
If tradition be our guide, a brief history lesson: Bolger won the Speaker’s chair unanimously last term and he and the Democrats still clashed on everything from the tax code to voter suppression to teacher pension reform to right-to-work to abortion rights to immediate effect. More often than not, when deal-sweetening olive branches — amendments, they call them in Lansing — were offered to House Republicans, they were shot down without serious consideration.
None of the Democrats’ deference to Bolger was enough to keep him from jamming some 282 pieces of legislation through during the lame duck session, many without committee consideration or public hearings. How soon they forget.
And yet we are told that if everyone just smiles big for the family photo, for the sake of tradition, maybe mean old Jase and his buddies will stop raiding our grandmothers’ pensions. As if we’ll be better off if Michigan’s road to Michissippi is paved with bipartisanship rather than scorched Earth.
Newsflash for House Democrats: Nobody sent you guys to Lansing to get along with Republicans. You were sent to Lansing to fight a clearly extreme agenda in whatever way you can, until 2014 comes and the cavalry arrives. To see you joining hands with the Republicans, singing kumbaya and giving Jase Bolger a coronation ceremony, without getting a thing in return — that isn’t what anyone voted for.