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Commentary

Dismal turnout on dreary day gives GOP even stronger grip in Michigan

Jack Lessenberry

Yesterday’s election was, without a doubt, a Republican landslide of truly historic proportions, both nationwide and in Michigan. Republicans won legislative races even they probably didn’t think they had much chance of winning.

To everyone’s astonishment, they actually gained a seat on the state Senate, along with four in the Michigan House. Four years from now, Republicans will have held our state Senate for an astonishing 35 years.

Democrats now hold a mere 11 Senate seats and it is hard to see them winning control, well, almost ever. But there were two very odd things about this election: Turnout, which everybody expected would be higher than four years ago, was absolutely horrible.

New Democratic chair Lon Johnson put all his energies into increasing turnout, especially among absentee voters. He was hoping for 3.5 to 3.8 million voters. He felt that would have given Mark Schauer a reasonable shot at being elected governor.

But nearly final returns indicate turnout may have been less than the 3.2 million who showed up four years ago. The weather was dreadful in Detroit all day, which seems likely to have hurt the Democrats. Yet it appeared a lot of people simply didn’t care. Were they turned off by the torrents of negative advertising?

Have they simply given up on the process? It may take a while before we know. Now here’s the other odd thing: Gov. Snyder was, indeed, re-elected. But barely.

He won by only four points, 51 to 47 percent. That’s a far cry from his 18-point victory four years ago. I haven’t seen complete county data yet. But given that Snyder did remarkably well in Oakland and Macomb counties, it would seem that he lost a lot of support in outstate Michigan.

In fact, this race might have been a cliffhanger had turnout been higher and the sun shining in Metropolitan Detroit. What we don’t know is how effective the governor will now be. He failed to get the Legislature to increase taxes by the billions needed to fix the roads in his first term, spending which every transportation expert agrees is vitally necessary for our future.

Now, he’s back. But it may be less rather than more likely that he will be able to get road funding done. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, his partner in this effort, will be gone.

Sen. Pat Colbeck, who doesn’t believe in raising taxes for the roads, is back. And three of the shrillest Tea Party voices in the state, Gary Glenn, Todd Courser, and Cindy Gamrat have won seats in the house, and are making noises about insisting on their way.

Any hope for the roads may depend on a lame-duck session. Silver linings for the Democrats are hard to find.

Gary Peters did wipe out Terri Lynn Land. Republicans have to be kicking themselves that in this year of all years, they nominated a candidate so inept she became a national embarrassment.

And there’s this: Democrats now, more than ever, have absolutely no power in state government. If Republicans don’t get it done in the next four years, they’ll have only themselves to blame.

At least, after President Obama is gone.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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