Michigan Democrats take control of state House, Senate in historic power shift
Democrats powered their way to control of the Michigan House and Senate on Tuesday, marking the first time the party secured a majority of seats in both legislative chambers in nearly 40 years.
The shift is perhaps the starkest sign Michigan voters rejected the “red wave” predicted by Republicans, instead opting for Democrats in more competitive races shaped largely by redistricting.
Michigan saw Democratic incumbents Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson win reelection handily on Tuesday. Democrats won competitive congressional seats as well, putting them at a 7-6 majority of the state's congressional delegation.
The state also passed three ballot initiatives on term limits, voting rights and abortion rights — the last, Proposal 3, was supported by Democratic candidates up and down the ticket.
In the legislative races, The Associated Press had not confirmed the results of each race, but current Republican leaders in both the House and Senate acknowledged they lost power and their Democratic counterparts have claimed victory.
While the margins are narrow, Tuesday's midterm election gives newly reelected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's party power in the state's upper and lower chambers. That paves the way to any number of policies Whitmer and fellow Democrats failed to make headway on during the governor's first term and for the years prior in Lansing.
“The overturn of Roe v. Wade reminded the nation that some of the most important, impactful policies come from right here in state legislatures. And when Michiganders turned to take a look at what was going on in their Capitol under long-standing Republican control, they knew it was time for a change,” said outgoing Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint.
More:Proposal 3, Catholic turnout led Whitmer to victory over Dixon, pollster says
“We now have a new majority — a majority for the people. You can trust that the new Democratic leadership will support women’s reproductive health, better pathways to good-paying jobs, clean drinking water, and safe roads."
While Democrats were confident they could win a majority of positions in the 38-seat state Senate, a clean legislative sweep was a far tougher prospect. Yet they appear poised to secure 20 seats in the upper chamber and 56 of the 110 seats in the lower chamber, per unofficial results.
"We were able to communicate our intention to protect women's bodily autonomy and make sure decisions were made with their doctor and not with a politician, to invest in strong public school systems, to ensure voting rights and protections and to ensure we were building an economy in Michigan that could compete on a global basis," said a tired but excited House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, in a phone call Wednesday morning.
In statements, House and Senate GOP leaders vowed to take back both chambers in the near future.
“The people of Michigan have spoken, and however narrowly, have chosen Democrats to control the Senate. While not the outcome I was hoping for, I offer my congratulations to my Democratic colleagues. We will do our part for a smooth transition," said outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.
House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, also congratulated his opponents.
“This election was always going to be an uphill climb, with a challenging political environment statewide, a redistricting commission that publicly admitted it helped Democrats gain seats, and special interests from all over the country targeting the Michigan House for Democrat control," he said in a statement.
The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission created new legislative maps ahead of this election. They established more competitive districts — although historical voting trends still gave Republicans a better shot at keeping the House than the Senate.
More:Michigan Democrats and Republicans focus dollars on these key Senate races
How Democrats won the Senate
Democrats last controlled the state Senate in 1983, but with redistricting are poised to at least compete for the majority in the chamber for years to come.
In addition to easily winning seats in and around Detroit, Flint and Lansing, Democrats managed to snag a handful of highly competitive races.
A group of sitting or former state representatives earned seats all over Michigan in new district lines that sometimes pitted experienced lawmakers against one another. In the southern Grand Rapids area, state Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, defeated state Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, to take the 29th District. State Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Trenton, bested Flat Rock Republican challenger Houston James in a race to represent the Downriver community. Camilleri was favored in the race, but poured millions into television ads after the GOP also pumped in cash, betting on Republican trends in some of the communities in previous elections.
State Rep. Mary Cavanagh, D-Redford, won the right to represent the 6th District handily, while former House Democratic Leader state Rep. Sam Singh overpowered Republican Daylen Howard to grab a Lansing-area Senate seat.
In perhaps the marquee race of the election cycle, state Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, appears poised to defeat state Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, to represent parts of Macomb, Wayne and St. Clair counties in the state Senate. Hertel led Hornberger by 313 votes in unofficial results reported by Macomb, Wayne and St. Clair counties, although the Associated Press has not yet called the race.
"Our campaign was focused not on problems, but on finding solutions. Together, we were able to find common-ground with one another and put people over politics," Hertel said Wednesday morning in a tweet.
A pair of freshman candidates also paved the way to the majority. In a race marked by at times personal attacks, Democrat and Bay City Commissioner Kristen McDonald Rivet defeated state Rep. Annette Glenn, R-Midland, to represent Saginaw, Bay City and the Midland area in the state Senate.
And in Macomb County, Commissioner Veronica Klinefelt beat incumbent state Sen. Mike MacDonald, R-Macomb Township. The race garnered national attention, but Klinefelt relied on her experience as a former school board member, Eastpointe City Council member and county official to run a campaign driven by local issues.
"We did it! To all who helped me by putting in the dedication and hard work we needed to achieve this victory, to my team who worked tirelessly on every aspect of our campaign, and to the voters, THANK YOU!" Klinefelt tweeted Wednesday morning.
More:Find all 2022 Michigan election results here
More:Gretchen Whitmer wins a second term as Michigan governor, defeating Tudor Dixon
It’s unclear which Democrat will take the top job in the chamber. With Ananich’s departure, state Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, state Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit and Democratic Caucus Chairperson Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, all could be in line for Senate majority leader.
“For more than a generation, Senate Republicans have held the veto power on state government, holding back solutions on real problems in Michigan. Tonight, voters affirmed that it is time for a new majority. Together, we will put an end to the tired business as usual in the Legislature and start a new chapter of bold leadership," Moss said in a statement early Wednesday.
But rising Democratic star Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, may also vie for a larger role in the caucus after she raised more than $2 million for the now-successful effort to flip the Senate.
How Democrats won the House
Heading into Tuesday's election, both parties were focused on about 10 seats in the House. They agreed it could be a tight election, but races south of Detroit, around Grand Rapids and Up North ultimately gave Democrats control of the chamber.
"We won on policies and values in the Upper Peninsula, northern Michigan, western Michigan, central Michigan, southeastern Michigan," Lasinski said.
She specifically noted a battle to represent Marquette in the U.P., along with races Downriver and in Macomb County that made the difference.
Democrats traditionally hold a seat in the U.P., but Republicans thought they had a shot to take it this year. That didn't happen — Marquette City Commissioner Jenn Hill won the seat 53% to 47%, according to unofficial results tallied by The Associated Press.
"Whether you voted for me or not, thank you for doing your civic duty and voting. I want to encourage all of you to stay involved. There is so much work still to be done," Hill said in a statement.
Democrat Betsy Coffia managed a very narrow victory over incumbent state Rep. Jack O'Malley, R-Lake Ann, for a seat near Traverse City. The pickup by the Grand Traverse County commissioner was crucial to Democrats grabbing a majority.
"I am honored that voters in the 103rd (District) have chosen a pro-choice, pro-democracy, pro-environment candidate as their next state representative. Our campaign only became possible because of a huge community groundswell of support; so many people’s tireless work and support helped secure this win," Coffia said in a statement.
In other seats vital for House Democrats, incumbent Rep. Jim Haadsma, D-Battle Creek, and Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, held onto their seats.
Lasinski said that among the initiatives Michigan residents can expect are audits and investigations of what was happening in the House under former Speaker Lee Chatfield, who she noted has been accused of operating a "criminal enterprise."
She said federal money will be invested in infrastructure and a strong public education system, among other priorities. And the 1931 law that attempts to criminalize most abortions is “coming off the books right away,” she said.
Those initiatives will come with new House leadership; Lasinski did not seek reelection, although a new constitutional amendment would allow her to run for a state House seat again in the future. State Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, is among those who could become the state's next House speaker.
“As Democrats, we are a big tent party” that needs coalitions to move forward, Tate said, arguing the party has a mandate to focus "on the basics.”
As for investigations, “we want to ensure that the people of Michigan are trusting of their institutions. and that we’re held accountable for wrongdoing,” he said.
Other Democrats poised for potential leadership roles include Koleszar and House Democratic Campaign Chair Angela Witwer, D-Lansing.
Free Press Lansing Bureau Chief Paul Egan contributed to this report.
Contact Dave Boucher: email@example.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan House, Senate to be controlled by Democrats, results show