The ballots are counted and the final votes will soon be certified. The outcomes up and down the state ballot will have an impact on LGBTQ Michiganders and allies in the coming two years and here’s how:
Top Executive Officers
Democrats swept all four executive offices up for grabs Tuesday night. Jocelyn Benson became Michigan’s new Secretary of State, Dana Nessel became the state’s first-ever openly gay attorney general and Gretchen Whitmer and Garlin Gilchrist II become Michigan’s new governor and lieutenant governor.
All four candidates made LGBTQ equality a key issue in their campaigns with Whitmer making it clear she believes amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is a key legislative move. Nessel has promised she will shove Republican- and Trump-supported Attorney General Bill Schuette’s anti-gay, anti-Affordable Care Act, anti-climate change agenda out. Meanwhile, Benson said she will make sure that LGBTQ people, people of color and others traditionally marginalized at the polls have access to the vote.
Notable for the LGBTQ community is Nessel’s win also because it’s likely to result in the overturning of Schuette’s July anti-LGBTQ opinion. In it, he said that the state’s civil rights law does not protect LGBTQ people. Overturning that will not only uphold the independence of a Constitutional body to interpret the law it is in place to administer, but it will lay the groundwork for a possible amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing the decision by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Aimee Stephens. Stephens was fired from R.G. & G.R. Harris funeral home for being transgender. If the Supreme Court of the United States takes the case, it could realign the current legal standing for people who are transgender. It also means that should the case be overturned by a deeply conservative Supreme Court, Nessel would be in place to push hard to amend the state civil rights act.
Michigan Democrats did not pick up the necessary eight seats to create a de facto control of the chamber, with Lt. Gov. Gilchrist in place to swing tie votes to the Democratic side. However, Democrats did pick up five seats, ousting two incumbents Republicans. That breaks the GOP super-majority on this upper chamber and will likely force the GOP to find conciliation with Democrats to pass anything.
However, the GOP will still control much of the agenda coming through the Senate: Who chairs which committees, what issues get moved in committees and, ultimately, which issues get moved to the Senate for a vote. With Whitmer’s experience crossing the aisle while minority leader, watch for her to build coalitions to push her agenda.
The GOP makeup of the Senate today is 26-12. Come Jan. 1, 2019, however, that will shift to 22-16. Sen. Jim Ananich from Flint will likely remain the Senate minority leader after his re-election Tuesday night. He is unlikely to face any challenger in the minority leader vote on Thursday.
However, the Senate leadership is certainly not going to get any less anti-gay. Current Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof may be on his way out Jan. 1, but he will likely be replaced by Jackson Republican Mike Shirkey.
In July, Meekhof, along with term-limited Tom Leonard (who lost to Dana Nessel in the attorney general race), signed a letter seeking an attorney general opinion on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission interpretive statement related to sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. They wanted that decision overturned, and Schuette was happy to oblige them days before the August primary election where he faced off with even more anti-gay GOP candidate for governor, Sen. Patrick Colbeck.
In addition, despite having the backing of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Republican Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, Meekhof sent anti-LGBTQ legislation to amend Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act to include hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, off to the Government Oversight Committee. That’s the committee controlled by Meekhof and the one that has been referred to as the “place legislation is sent to die.”
Shirkey is no friend to LGBTQ Michiganders, either. He opposed the Jackson City Council’s move to create a nondiscrimination ordinance, which ultimately passed, and helped organize out-of-state opposition that bussed into a five-hour long council meeting. He also opposed the Michigan Civil Rights Commission determination, accusing the body of going “off the rails.” He will likely work hard to oppose any LGBTQ-related legislation from reaching the floor for a vote and he will whip the GOP caucus to oppose such actions.
However, the upper chamber will have the first openly gay member in Michigan history. He is state Rep. Jeremy Moss, a Southfield Democrat who is now state Senator-elect.
Democrats have been hoping to swing control of the House, which has been under GOP control since 2011. While they failed to garner enough seats to flip the 110-seat chamber’s control, they picked up enough seats to shrink the GOP’s hold on the House. Rolling into the election, the GOP had a 63-46 majority. It appears Democrats were able to pick up six seats, shrinking that to 58-52 control. The highly conservative Speaker of the House Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) lost his fight to become Attorney General and because he was term-limited, could not seek re-election. That clears the way for Lee Chatfield, a 30-year-old conservative from Levering, to take the reigns of the Speaker’s post.
Chatfield, who boasts his membership in the National Rifle Association and Right to Life on his official state biography, ran for his seat to oust former State Rep. Frank Foster. His reasoning behind that move was because Foster introduced legislation to expand The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation as a protected category. Chatfield won re-election despite a run-in with the law this summer with northern Michigan airport security. The incident began when he tried to go through a security line with a loaded unregistered handgun. The GOP prosecutor in the area, who also had donated to Chatfield, refused to bring criminal charges against the lawmaker.
It seems Chatfield will use a leadership position to push a radical anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ agenda. Democrats can expect him to become a thorn in the side of Whitmer as he leads what will in effect be a right wing resistance to the progressive agenda she and others will be driving.
On the Democratic side, state Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing who has served as minority leader is term-limited out. The caucus will end up choosing between State Rep. Christine Greig, who has served in a leadership role for the last two years, or state Rep. Brian Elder. The House Democratic Caucus will vote on their next leader Thursday morning.