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Top Michigan Democrats steer clear of contentious lame duck

Democrats who will take over Michigan's top elected posts next year are laying low as a contentious lame duc...

Posted: Dec 13, 2018 6:42 AM
Updated: Dec 13, 2018 6:42 AM

Democrats who will take over Michigan's top elected posts next year are laying low as a contentious lame duck session unfolds in the state Capitol, drawing criticism among some party officials and activists who believe they should be leading the pressure campaign against Republicans.

Republicans in the state's legislature have moved to curb the powers of incoming Democratic elected officials, while watering down some voter-approved measures. Their actions have sparked an outcry among Democrats locally and across the country.

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But incoming Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel and incoming Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson have been conspicuously silent, puzzling some within their party.

"They haven't really said anything. I've been sort of wondering, why?" one Michigan progressive activist told CNN. "If I were them, I'd be addressing the protesters. I'd be all over this."

Art Reyes, a key progressive grassroots organizer in Michigan, also noted the absence of Democratic leaders from the fray, telling CNN: "We need leadership willing to step up and fight. Grassroots organizations are the ones stepping up to lead."

A spokesperson for Whitmer declined to comment. A spokesperson for Nessel declined to comment on the record. A spokesperson for Benson declined to comment.

There have been some examples of the slate of top officials making public statements. Incoming Attorney General-elect Nessel released a press release Wednesday stating her opposition to two pieces of lame duck legislation that would affect the way the government regulates water and public health standards. Incoming Secretary of State-elect Benson released a public statement about a piece of lame duck legislation that aims to change campaign finance law and curtail her power. And Whitmer has occasionally made comments to the media.

But overall, these three top Democrats have kept to written statements and remained out of the spotlight.

The developments in Michigan have also drawn comparisons to Republican efforts in neighboring Wisconsin. Democrats there also won big in November, and Republican state lawmakers have passed controversial bills during the lame duck that either curb the incoming administration's power or take action on issues that directly contradict the incoming administration's priorities.

Incoming Gov. Tony Evers and a slew of state lawmakers have been outspoken in their opposition to the Republican-backed bills, blanketing local and national airwaves with interviews, in contrast to Michigan Democrats.

A source close to the incoming Democratic officials in Michigan told CNN they have strategically decided to remain on the sidelines, believing an aggressive posture could backfire.

"We don't need to poke the bear," the source added. "And lame duck session is something where they could still do more damage than they're already trying to do."

The insider acknowledged that the decision to go dark has come with some criticism from within the party, but "we're willing to take that criticism."

"The satisfaction of being able to send a big F-U verbal bomb to the Republicans when they're still in office when we are not, it's tempting," the source added, but "we're playing the long game" and "being very deliberate" because "it's too darn easy to make a misstep."

At the heart of Democratic concerns are measures that would water down initiatives approved last month by voters concerning sick pay and the minimum wage and proposals to weaken some executive powers under the Attorney General and Secretary of State.

The three incoming statewide Democrats "are concerned about this, of course," said State Senate Democratic leader Jim Anancich, "and I think they are working behind the scenes to see if they can find some reasonable balance here."

House Democratic Leader Sam Singh echoed that, saying it's incumbent on statehouse Democrats to lead the fight in the lame duck.

"For us to stop things, it really has to come from the people in this building," Singh told CNN.

Previous state Democratic leaders have taken a more aggressive tack in earlier power struggles. In 1999, when Republican state lawmakers sought to curb the powers of state Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, she fought fire with fire - testifying in person against the measure to a state committee, even likening the Republicans' proposal to King Henry VIII's execution of Sir Thomas More. (Granholm later went on to become governor of the state and is now a CNN contributor.)

"I recall I didn't have much choice," Granholm told CNN. "I didn't have other mechanisms to be able to regain that power once it would've been taken away, so I tried to do what I could to elevate the importance of the issue."

Democrats have more options in their current fight, said Granholm, including challenging legislation in the courts and using executive power when Gov.-elect Whitmer takes office.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder could still decide to go against his party on some of the most controversial changes - giving the Democratic leadership-in-waiting another reason to stay quiet for now.

"I'm certain they're doing it for strategic reasons," said Granholm. "...Believe me, these three women are fierce fighters. It's not like they wouldn't want to wade into the battle. But they want to do what's right for the state."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1524527

Reported Deaths: 20751
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2077652558
Lake1010411517
Allen946081024
Hamilton73638551
St. Joseph65362761
Elkhart50026632
Vanderburgh48959530
Tippecanoe44411338
Johnson38772527
Hendricks36850462
Porter34709476
Madison29301547
Clark26328328
Vigo25941346
LaPorte23600313
Monroe23478249
Howard22382381
Delaware21877370
Hancock18857220
Bartholomew18433216
Kosciusko18124203
Warrick17207215
Wayne16474303
Floyd16129257
Grant15566299
Morgan14615232
Boone13622138
Noble11983142
Shelby11877152
Dearborn11825113
Henry11771201
Marshall11444171
Dubois11418152
Jackson10772104
Cass10380143
Lawrence10308221
DeKalb10292132
Huntington10277140
Gibson9749126
Montgomery9377144
Knox9162125
Harrison9157117
Whitley886771
Steuben8739105
Jasper8325116
Putnam8306100
Clinton827596
Miami8249135
Jefferson8030127
Wabash7914139
Ripley7278116
Adams6713103
Daviess6661130
Scott663586
White624484
Greene6159112
Clay615275
Decatur6062120
Wells6001120
Jennings600081
Fayette5886122
Posey561648
LaGrange535797
Randolph5171129
Washington511470
Owen5068100
Fountain482580
Spencer457456
Sullivan449866
Starke443986
Fulton440393
Orange435083
Jay419964
Rush418839
Perry397555
Carroll384549
Franklin382850
Vermillion363562
Pike327845
Parke327338
Tipton320675
Blackford275955
Pulaski275375
Newton235461
Brown233556
Benton221521
Crawford220132
Switzerland201414
Martin191822
Warren179522
Union172619
Ohio125216
Unassigned0759

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2496243

Reported Deaths: 31987
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2696772100
Cuyahoga2600613087
Hamilton1742641756
Montgomery1162791651
Summit1084961418
Lucas929121193
Butler82981963
Stark766321431
Lorain63976809
Warren52895489
Mahoning50955930
Lake47462611
Clermont46371452
Delaware40674220
Trumbull39527790
Licking38492416
Medina38487427
Fairfield35469349
Greene33906435
Portage32283366
Clark31960453
Richland29400444
Wood29143301
Allen25702403
Miami23931408
Muskingum23316255
Columbiana22903409
Wayne21965365
Tuscarawas19512428
Erie18531224
Ashtabula18489362
Marion18456235
Scioto17888214
Ross17287260
Pickaway16251181
Hancock16004232
Geauga15456229
Lawrence14746186
Belmont14033248
Union1403384
Huron13838184
Jefferson13519261
Sandusky13180200
Athens12624107
Knox12037201
Seneca11934204
Darke11316202
Ashland11157184
Washington11009172
Auglaize10785147
Crawford10333178
Shelby10308160
Brown9972145
Fulton9661154
Highland9632151
Guernsey9612122
Defiance9486137
Logan9403147
Clinton9299132
Mercer9015112
Madison8971111
Preble8428170
Williams8263138
Putnam8024136
Champaign7974113
Ottawa7909123
Jackson7763121
Perry7415102
Coshocton7345136
Morrow723984
Fayette703292
Pike658489
Hardin6532133
Gallia634391
Adams6159127
Van Wert6025121
Henry598196
Hocking5835105
Wyandot498894
Carroll4961101
Holmes4857167
Paulding421665
Meigs397774
Monroe313868
Harrison296362
Noble295652
Morgan289448
Vinton254646
Unassigned08
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