by Eric Rader
Voters in Michigan will have a lot to decide this year. In addition to the top statewide executive offices, every single seat in the Michigan House of Representatives and Michigan Senate is on the ballot this year, representing a total of 148 legislative districts. While incumbents generally have strong advantages when running for re-election, a majority of the state House and Senate seats are open this year because of term limits. Michigan government is up for grabs, and the results of the 2010 elections will impact the state for many years to come.
Since 2003, the elected branches of government in Michigan have been politically divided between a Democratic governor and at least one legislative house controlled by the Republicans. From 2003-2007, the Republicans controlled both houses of the Michigan legislature. In the 2006 elections, voters gave the Democrats control of the Michigan House, and in 2008, a Democratic landslide in the state resulted in an even larger “supermajority” for the Democrats in the state House. The Democratic House has played a crucial role in helping Gov. Granholm prevent a right-wing social agenda from becoming law.
Unfortunately, the Republican Senate has made it nearly impossible for the governor or progressive legislators to advance a pro-equality agenda in our state.
One example is the proposal to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, something that Gov.Granholm supports, but is opposed by the Republican-led Senate.
Though there has been progress on anti-bullying legislation, Republicans have thrown up a number of legislative roadblocks, delaying passage of this important measure for our youth. And while the governor has banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in state employment, a comprehensive statewide law banning employment discrimination is not possible while social conservatives control the state Senate.
One of the top agenda items for next year’s Michigan legislature will be legislative redistricting. At the end of this year, the federal government will tell Michigan how many congressional seats we will have for the next 10 years. Most observers believe that our state will likely lose one or two U.S. House seats because so many people have moved out of Michigan over the past decade. In 2011, the Michigan legislature will have responsibility for deciding which district or districts to eliminate, and how to reconfigure the remaining legislative boundaries for congressional seats.
At the same time, members of the legislature will be shifting the boundaries for their own districts, ostensibly to account for population changes. However, history shows that the party in the majority often attempts to “gerrymander” legislative districts to benefit their own members politically. The districts created next year will remain in place until 2020, after many of the newly-elected legislators have been term-limited out of office.
The next governor will be actively involved in the redistricting process and will have the ability to approve or veto the plans created by the legislature. Regardless of who is governor next year, legislators in Lansing will be integral to passing a redistricting plan for the state.
It is important to get as many progressive legislative candidates elected as possible this year. These new members can be a check on the reactionary forces that would seek to turn Michigan into a solidly anti-equality state. Progressives in the legislature can work to make sure that all of our voices are heard in the redistricting process and that the new legislative districts are fair to everyone in this state, not just those who are politically connected.
The next decade promises to be one of significant change in our state, much as the last 10 years have been. We in the LGBT community have not had a great deal to celebrate in the legislative arena in recent years. Since we don’t know who will be sitting in the governor’s chair in 2011, it’s important that we elect legislators who believe in equal treatment for all of Michigan’s citizens. Maybe one of these days, we will be in a position to actually advance a pro-equality agenda in our state, and not just defend ourselves against regressive measures that limit our rights.
To find out who currently represents you in Lansing and whether they are term limited, go to one of the following sites:
Michigan House: http://house.michigan.gov/find_a_rep.asp
Michigan Senate: http://senate.michigan.gov/SenatorInfo/find-your-senator.htm