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Control of Michigan House up for grabs

Local Detroit

Leonard N. Fleming, DETROIT NEWS STAFF WRITER

Michigan Republicans hope to score a hat trick in Tuesday's election: control of the governor's office, a larger majority in the state Senate and control of the state House.

And that has made the battle for the House and several swing districts one of importance to Democrats and Republicans. For the GOP, a majority would mean setting the political agenda when it comes to reducing taxes, budget negotiations and redistricting.

For the Democrats, losing the House would bring dark times, taking away their only position of influence, with control for the Michigan Supreme Court up for grabs and polls showing statewide offices such as attorney general and secretary of state leaning Republican.

"Everybody thinks it's going to be very close, maybe a 50-50 chance the Republicans can pull that off," Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, said of the possibility the GOP could capture the House. "I never thought it would be possible until the last two weeks, but it looks like it could happen."

If the Republicans take the House and Rick Snyder wins the gubernatorial race, as polls indicate, it would be the first time since 1998 both chambers and the governor will be in the grips of the Republicans.

That year, John Engler won re-election to a third term as governor and term-limits brought in a host of new Republican state representatives in a chamber the Democrats previously controlled. Democrats took back the House in 2006 and now hold a 64-42 majority — with four open seats — in the 110-member lower chamber.

State Rep. Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt, who would be considered by his party to become House Speaker if the GOP takes the House, said he sees promise in his party's ascension back to majority status.

"I think the chances are very, very good that the House will flip," said Opsommer, who predicts his party will win 57 or 58 seats. "I think you'll see many races that will be decided by 1,400 votes or less."

Opsommer said if the Democratic-to-Republican flip occurs, the majority will be slim and prospective leaders like him will seek to partner with Democrats — something he says has been "missing the last four years."

The priorities the House leadership would have under GOP control, Opsommer said, would be first focusing on "cost containment and bring spending in line with government revenues that will be coming in." The state faces a $1.6 billion deficit.

State Rep. Woodrow Stanley, D-Flint, called it "extremely demanding" to get Democrats elected to the House this year in part because of the vitriol aimed at Washington and how the Republicans "have absolutely savaged President Obama at the national level."

But Stanley, who is among two candidates in line to become house speaker if the Democrats maintain control since Speaker Andy Dillon of Redford Township is term-limited, said despite the GOP pulling out all the stops this year his party will emerge in control.

Democrats' 'last stand'

Maintaining the majority, Stanley said, is the Democrats' "top undertaking this election cycle."

"It's been very challenging. But I do believe we will maintain the majority," Stanley said.

Jeff Williams, senior vice president of Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants, said the Republicans' chances of taking the House "is probably a little less than it was a couple of weeks ago." That's because the Democrats have seen this as a last stand to hold on to a semblance of power, he said.

"Especially with the polls showing that (Democratic gubernatorial candidates Virg) Bernero is still down, we're seeing the Democratic Party put a lot of its money and emphasis in making sure that the Democrats don't lose the House," Williams said.

Stanley echoes other Democrats in saying that Snyder would "probably benefit better if he had a Democratic House given his own more moderate politics."

But if the Republicans take the House, Williams said the GOP's approach and agenda will be "interesting to watch" because he foresees and worries that "both chambers would try to out-conservative each other" with tax cuts and battles over redistricting.

"Politically, it's easier for the state if one of the chambers is controlled by an opposite party because it forces the political process to work," Williams said. "You have to compromise, you make deals to get things done and that's not a bad thing in a democracy."

GOP: It's good for business

A recent Detroit News-WDIV Local 4 poll shows Michigan voters support the premise of Democrats and Republicans splitting control in Lansing.

But state GOP Chairman Ron Weiser said with a presumptive Snyder as governor coupled with both chambers under his party means a "better business environment for Michigan, one in which we've sorely lacked."

"It's important for the future of this state," he said.

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