With Democrats set to take over top statewide offices next year, Michigan Republicans are considering proposals that would allow the Legislature to intervene in legal battles and shift oversight of the state’s campaign finance law to a new commission.
The lame-duck power plays would limit the power of Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Democrats have not held all three posts since 1990.
A House bill introduced Thursday by state Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, and quickly praised by Republican leaders seeks to guarantee the GOP-led Legislature could intervene in legal battles involving state laws that Democrats may be hesitant to defend.
A separate proposal from Sen. Dave Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, would shift oversight of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act from the Secretary of State’s Office to a newly proposed “fair political practices commission.”
Verheulen denied his bill would supplant the authority of the attorney general, though it likely would give the Legislature a voice in ensuring the rationales for laws the House and Senate passed get defended in court.
“More and more public policy arguments are being made in the courts rather than in the legislative chambers, and I think there may be occasions where the House or the Senate or both want to simply express their view before the court,” said VerHeulen.
Nessel, in her winning campaign for attorney general, said she may not defend state laws she views as unconstitutional, including a 2015 law that allows faith-based adoption agencies to decline working with gay residents. Same-sex couples have sued the state over the law, and the litigation remains in court.
.. “Those legislators pushing this law should be reminded that the people elect their attorneys general and their governors and such a proposal — should it pass — would have a dramatic and disastrous impact on the state of Michigan and its residents for years to come,” Rossman-McKinney said.
Benson will be the state’s first Democratic secretary of state since 1994, but Robertson’s proposal would strip her office of a key responsibility by creating a new commission to oversee campaign finance laws.
.. “Legislative Republicans are now trying to thwart the will of the voters with bills that ignore their voices, (defy) history and will make Michigan a national punch line by effectively ending enforcement of the campaign finance laws they are required to abide by,” Boyd said in a statement. “It’s shameful.”
A longstanding Michigan law gives the attorney general the authority to intervene in any civil or criminal case “when in his own judgment the interests of the state require it” but does not give special privileges to legislators, who can ask judges to intervene in cases but are not guaranteed the right.
.. Republicans have controlled the offices of secretary of state and attorney general since the 2002 election. Democrats last held the governor’s office in 2010 under Jennifer Granholm.
When Democrats Whitmer, Nessel and Jocelyn Benson take office on Jan. 1, 2019, it will mark the first time in 28 years that Democrats have controlled the offices of governor, attorney and secretary of state at the same time.