Capitol News

December 11, 2016

Exciting political month! My favorite time of year.


Sixty-five percent of Michigan’s registered voters cast a ballot in the 2016 general election. That compares to 64 percent in 2012. A total of 4.9 million voters participated in the election, compared to 4.8 million four years ago.

The initial Michigan Presidential race results were not available until the wee hours of Wednesday morning, after Hillary Clinton had already conceded the race. Trump won by a very narrow margin of 13,107 votes according to the Secretary of State Web site the next morning.

However that lead narrowed to 10,000+ as certified results started coming in. Importantly, 87,810 voters cast a ballot but did not vote for president. That compares to 49,840 under-votes for president in 2012. This raised the suspicion that there might have been some counting errors. This undervote, if accurate, might also suggest dissatisfaction with all the presidential candidates.

Recount — Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein initiated a recount in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Of course, lawsuits then ensued trying to stop it from the Trump campaign (notwithstanding his many complaints during the campaign of potential adverse voter fraud) and from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. It ended when our Supreme Court stopped the recount on a 3-2 vote, ruling that the presidential recount in Michigan could not go forward because Stein failed to show she was actually aggrieved in a way that would allow for the recount to continue under Michigan law.

According to Gongwer News Service, before the halting of the recount in the Michigan presidential vote, Democrat Hillary Clinton gained 833 votes while President-elect Donald Trump gained 731, which would have narrowed her loss by 102 votes, according to figures provided by the Department of State.

However, because the courts ordered the recount halted for lack of legal justification, Mr. Trump’s original 10,704-vote margin stands. Twenty-two of Michigan’s 83 counties began recounts, with 10 completing them. Some 2,099,576 ballots were recounted of the 4.8 million ballots cast.

Of the 3,047 precincts completed during the recount, 10.57 percent, or 322, were deemed unrecountable. Subsequently audits have been ordered and there is talk of amendments to our election laws to better organize recount situations.

Trump’s victory — Trump’s won 75 counties and 8 counties went for Clinton: Wayne, Oakland, Genesee, Washtenaw, Ingham, Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Marquette. Clinton’s greatest margin of victory was in Washtenaw, where she won 68 percent of the vote.

If Clinton had netted the same number of votes that outgoing President Barack Obama did in 2012, she would have won. Trump is the first Republican to win Michigan since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Turnout — There was a dramatic drop in Democratic turnout in Detroit and Wayne County. There was a surge of support for Trump in white working class areas like Macomb County, older industrial centers and rural areas outstate. Rural areas saw significant growth in Trump’s winning numbers compared to 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Bernie Porn of EPIC/MRA, a political polling firm, said once FBI Director Comey announced a renewed investigation of more Clinton emails made public by Wikileaks and potential Russian cybersnooping on Clinton’s campaign manager, there was a significant drop for Clinton, especially among Republican women who were considering voting for her. When the FBI then cleared her a second time, just two days before the election, Porn said there was not enough time for that to have had an effect with the voters. Many had already voted by absentee.

Virtually every public poll of the state showed Democrat Hillary Clinton leading by 3 percentage points to 7 percentage points. On Election Day morning, Nate Silver’s 538 blog had Clinton chances of winning in Michigan at 78 percent. But on Friday, November 4, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus contacted the Michigan Republican Party and informed it that RNC data modeling showed Republican Donald Trump winning Michigan by 8,000 votes, which is why the two candidates visited Michigan so many times in those last days before the election.

Congress — The 14-member Congressional delegation from Michigan will remain the same split, 9 Republicans and 5 Democrats. In the open First Congressional District in the U.P. and northern lower Michigan, Republican Jack Bergman of Watersmeet (and Louisiana) beat Democrat Lon Johnson 55 to 40 percent. U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) beat challenger Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) in the 7th U.S. House District 55 to 40 percent.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) kept his 8th U.S. House District seat against Democrat Suzanna Shkreli 56 to 39 percent.

Supreme Court — Incumbent Supreme Court Justices David Viviano and Justice Joan Larsen won re-election to the state’s top court, beating their opponents almost three-to-one.

Michigan House — Michigan House Republicans kept the same 63-47 majority in the State House they won in 2014. Democrats lost incumbent Rep. Bill LaVoy (D-Monroe). They did end up winning the 23rd House District seat with Rep.-elect Darrin Camilleri of Brownstown Township winning there. Rep. Kurt Heise (D-Plymouth) won his local government race and resigned from the House so the Dems had 46 votes through lame duck.

Because current Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) is term limited, the House Republican Caucus elected Rep. Tom Leonard III (R-DeWitt Township) to Speaker-elect of the House to serve 2017-2018. Rep. Dan Lauwers of Brockway was elected the majority floor leader.

Because the House Dems made no inroads on their minority status, House Minority Leader Tim Greimel declined to seek re-election to lead the House Dem Caucus. House Democrats elected Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) Democratic (Minority) Leader and Christine Grieg (D-Farmington) as Democratic Floor Leader.

Education Boards — Republicans won five of the eight statewide education seats.

State Board of Education — The two Republican candidates for the State Board of Education won: fiercely partisan tea partier and former Rep. Tom McMillin and Nicolette Snyder. They ousted Board President John Austin (D-Ann Arbor). The Board now is split 4 -4, not seen since 1995-96. Likely Common Core Standards adopted in 2010 and recently-adopted LGBTQ guidelines will be on the table for repeal.

University Boards — The Republican rout was not as complete among the university boards, with the parties splitting the two available seats (all currently held by Democrats) on each of the three boards.

Michigan State University Board of Trustees incumbent member Dianne Byrum held onto her seat, but came in second to Republican Daniel Kelly. Incumbent Board member Diann Woodard was third and lost her seat. The result leaves the board with a 4-4 partisan split from the current 5-3 Democratic majority.

Democratic University of Michigan Regent Denise Ilitch was able to retain her seat, but Republican Ron Weiser (former Republican Party Chair) was elected for the other seat. Long-time Regent Laurence Deitch lost as a distant fourth. The Board will move from a 6-2 Democratic majority to 5-3 in favor of Democrats.

On the Wayne State University Board of Governors there were two open seats. Democrat Mark Gaffney (former AFL-CIO Director and current professor at WSU) was first and Republican Michael Busuito took the second seat. The Board will move from a 6-2 Democratic majority to 5-3 in favor of Democrats.

Regional Transit Authority — A $3 billion, 20-year tax proposal that would have relied on a 1.2 mill property tax increase to finance a Regional Transit Authority in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties failed by 19,517 votes. The measure passed in Wayne and Washtenaw counties. It lost by 1,100 votes in Oakland County, but it was crushed by a 74,647 vote defeat in Macomb County. Under the 2012 legislation creating the authority, the RTA has to wait two years before seeking another attempt before the voters.

Macomb County — Trump helped lead Republicans to a major rout in Macomb County. U.S. Rep. Candice Miller won the public works commissioner post while two Democrats who were heavy favorites - former Reps. Fred Miller and Derek Miller - lost bids for the clerk and treasurer’s posts, respectively, in huge upsets. Trump campaigned in Macomb County several times.


Speculation about the 2018 statewide races has already begun. Lt. Governor Brian Calley, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof of West Olive and Attorney General Bill Schuette on the Republican side and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint and Ingham County Prosecutor Gretchen Whitmer on the Democratic side are most mentioned. U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow is expected to seek a fourth term for the six-year post.

Legislative News

The Michigan Legislature returned November 9 and 10 to elect leaders and have a few hearings. Both chambers returned again for more lame-duck session after Thanksgiving. Lame duck is renowned for passage of long-delayed or controversial measures that lawmakers feared to address before the election.

Public Pensions — As mentioned in last month’s Capitol News, reducing or curtailing future public employee pensions and future and current public employee retiree health benefits were expected to be a top priority in lame duck. Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) was first on the tee.

The reason the attack on the school employee pension system is important to state employees and retirees is that if the school employee pension program is closed, those employees and employers are no longer contributing to the state’s pension fund which is composed of investments for school employees, state employees, judicial employees and others.  The size of that investment clout is important to its success. Our state employee pension fund is only at 62% funded right now; with fewer contributions it will be even more difficult to bring it into fuller funding.

SB 102 introduced in early 2015 and sponsored by Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair) would move future school employees from the current hybrid program begun in 2012 to a 100 percent 401k. The school employee hybrid pension system was created in 2012 along with elimination of school employee retiree health insurance for newly hired employees.

At the same time the legislature and Governor abolished state employees’ retiree health care and replaced it with an extra 2 percent contribution to their 401k for those hired after April 30, 2012.

Because of the rumors, a Pension Action Day was called by the Coalition for a Secure Retirement for Tuesday, December 5, resulting in hundreds of visits, phone calls, and emails from concerned voters, including school and state employees and retirees. Right in the middle of that day, the Senate Appropriations Committee called a hearing on SB 102 and some associated bills for the next day, just as feared.

A 2012 study determined that if public school employees were to be provided the same defined contribution plan as state employees hired after 1997 receive, the added cost to the state budget would be $13.6 billion over 30 years. Kerrie VandenBosch, Director of the Office of Retirement Services, testified to the Senate Appropriations Committee that the school employee retiree hybrid plan is 100 percent funded today, and it’s one-third less risky than a defined benefit plan. She stated that the liabilities on the MPSERS system are related to the legacy defined benefit plan, which has already been closed. Closing the hybrid system would not address the defined benefit plan unfunded accrued liabilities.

If Governor Snyder and succeeding governors keep up the current effort to appropriate funds for paying down the pension liabilities during the state budget process, the liability should be gone by 2038 it is estimated. The major causes in the low percentage of public pension funding is the extreme economic recession of 2008 and the relatively slow recovery from it combined with an overly optimistic discount rate that has kept public employer contributions to the pension funds too low.

Nonetheless, the Senate Approps Committee reported out SB 102 and its trailer bills with 3 Republicans joining all the Dems in opposing them. However, the Republicans were not able to muster the 20 votes need to pass the bills in the full Senate after trying for two days. It appears the MPSERS reform is dead for this session of the legislature. Victory for now!

Municipal retiree health care — Meanwhile the Michigan House was busy trying to reform municipal employee retiree health care with take-aways similar to those inflicted on state and school employees several years ago. Over a dozen bills were introduced and a hearing called before any House Fiscal Agency analysis was available to the public. On behalf of SERA, I personally got a sentence in a bill at the time of the last reforms in 2012 to assure that current public employee retirees would not be affected by capping the employer share of health care premiums of current public employees. What the House planned to do would nullify that concept.

House members were deluged with concerned voter contacts, especially from police and fire personnel and retirees. That worked and the House leadership backed off from further effort to ram the matter through in lame duck.

These current victories are great but you can be sure the same concepts will be back again in 2017. We must remain vigilant and engaged with other public employees in protecting public pensions and public employee retiree health care.

Flint Update

Congress has approved a wide-ranging $10 billion bill to authorize water projects across the country, including $170 million to address lead in Flint’s drinking water. President Obama is likely going to sign the bill.

Michigan’s Congressional delegation has been working over a year to get federal help for Flint’s water crisis. $100 million will be used to replace lead service lines and other water infrastructure improvement needs. $50 million will be available for expanded health care, including the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, Healthy Start Program and money to create a lead exposure registry.

The city of Flint has also received considerable help from state government and many organizations. Test results released this month by the state and independent researchers show lead levels improving. But officials say Flint residents should still only drink their tap water if it’s filtered.

SERA Recent News — If you are a SERA member, you are eligible to receive SERA Recent News, a periodic e-mail about breaking news and links to media stories of interest to state employees and retirees. Write to, giving your name, email address, and chapter name.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail

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