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Republicans firmly in control in Lansing, but history suggests 2018 could be good for Dems


After Tuesday’s historic election, Republicans will continue their firm control of Lansing.

Going into last week, predictions, even among Republicans, were that the GOP would lose at least some seats in the state House of Representatives. There were times, in fact, during the campaign, that some even wondered whether Democrats might take control of the House.

But, with just one seat lost to Democrats and a rather unexpected pick-up of a Democratic seat, Republicans have kept the same number of seats in their majority.

So, as it has been for the past six years, Republicans control the state House, the state Senate and, the executive branch. And, with Donald Trump’s win, and a GOP wave of the U.S. House and Senate, that Republican control is the same in D.C.

But, recent history shows that when government swings far in one party’s direction, it tends to swing back.

And, this could bode well for Democrats in Michigan, in 2018, when the Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, entire state Senate and House, the entire Congressional delegation, and a U.S. Senate seat will be up for election.

Over the past decades, the party not in the White House tends to do better during midterm elections. For example, Republican Governor Snyder won in 2010, two years into Democratic President Obama’s first term. Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm won in 2002, two years into Republican President Bush’s first term.

And, let’s not forget about the midterm blowout elections in 2006 -  a Democratic wave under Bush - and in 2010 - a Republican wave under President Obama.

Now, given, making predictions at this point seems practically hazardous after this past election but, if history is any guide, Democrats could be looking at a comeback in 2018.

But, much of that will depend on how Republicans play their hand over the next two years. Do they push hyper-partisan legislation and policies? Do they risk overextending their mandate, and overstep what voters want?

And, with a new Speaker and leadership in the state House, how will Republicans work with each other? And with Governor Snyder?

We’ve seen House Republicans knock heads with the Governor over Medicaid expansion, road funding and Detroit schools.

There’s also the difference in perspective on just what to do with a majority. Some believe majorities can be fleeting; that, you should use the power when you’ve got it. Others, however, say be cautious and let controversial wedge issues wait until your majority is less precarious.

Do you court controversy or compromise as a majority? This question can set partisans against each other.

We’ll see which ethos prevails (and when) as Republicans plot and execute their majority plans. With, or without Democrats. Who, speaking of, have their work cut out for them. Not only as a minority party trying to break-thru the Republican hegemony with their own policy ideas and legislation but, also, after Tuesday’s loss, some serious focusing on messaging, organization, and connecting with voters.

Because Democrats certainly can’t take for granted that history will repeat itself, and that the electoral pendulum will swing power back into their hands.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Radio’s Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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