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Irwin Most Liberal Senator Second Year In Row; Hoitenga Most Conservative

December 12, 2023

Following a review of more than 50 roll call votes in 2023, MIRS discovered that Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) was the Legislature’s most liberal senator this year, while Sen. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton) was the chamber’s most conservative member.

In contrast with the House, the Senate experienced a much different track record this year in terms of unanimous votes.

Democrats and Republicans in the chamber united on more than 90 roll call votes, including third reading items and the Senate’s earliest procedural votes, such as electing the Senate president pro tempore and the Secretary of the Senate. Meanwhile, MIRS learned that the House participated in 19 unanimous votes on the floor, equaling to the fewest unanimous votes to take place in the chamber during a regular session since 1849 – the year after the U.S.-Mexican War.

Although there was a higher tendency for agreement in the Senate, Irwin – representing one of Michigan’s most recognizable progressive hubs, Ann Arbor – had a liberal voting record of 100%.

Irwin was determined by MIRS to be the Senate’s most liberal lawmaker in December 2022, and was the most liberal House member in 2016.

“I think we’ve had this conversation once before,” Irwin said to MIRS when informed of this year’s determination. “It’s not something I’m going for or shooting for, but (I’m) certainly proud to represent a progressive perspective in the Legislature and I know that there’s a growing group of fellow members who I think feel similarly, and are excited about our opportunity to have an impact on policy.”

Some of the votes that separated Irwin from even his own Democratic colleagues involved SB 158 and SB 159, which were motivated by an agreement between leadership and Republicans to secure some GOP support on a $1.338 billion supplemental bill in early March. The supplemental bill dedicated nearly $800 million in resources to supporting Ford Motor Company’s planned battery plant in Calhoun County.

Altogether, the bills removed the sales and use tax on certain installation and delivery services, undoing the previous statute placing a sales and use tax on a delivery or installation charge that’s placed on the same invoice as a taxable good.

The state’s Department of Treasury calculated that the legislation could result in an approximately $71 million drop in anticipated tax revenue.

“At the time, I was fighting for a number of things in the budget. For instance, increased wages for direct care workers who provide critical and intimate care to elderly and disabled people in our state, and we’ve been really struggling to get their wages up,” Irwin said. “You know, $10 million or $20 million additional into that line-item would make a big difference for tens of thousands of people.”

In the previous years, when Irwin was recognized as the most liberal legislator, he served in the chamber’s minority party. This year, he was part of the Democrats’ historical 20-18 seat majority in the Senate, holding a gavel as chair of the Senate Housing and Human Services Committee.

He said the Democratic Party is not a monolith, and instead is made up of a wide range of views.

“In order for us to get things done, we need to find things that we can agree on across that wide range of views,” he said. “I’m seeing more progressive members coming along, and I think that adds to our opportunities to work together and to have sway within that broad coalition, to do more of the things that you would expect progressives to do…to invest in education and to protect the environment and to make sure that we rebuild our mental health system.”

As for Hoitenga, a Northern Michigan legislator who served in the House from 2017 through 2022, this year marked her first year as being recognized as one of the Capitol’s most conservative lawmakers through MIRS.

She had a liberal voting record of 2%, while Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) followed with 6%, as well as Sens. Jonathan Lindsey (R-Brooklyn) and Lana Theis (R-Brighton) with around 7.8%. In an interview with MIRS, Hoitenga said her two guiding principles during votes are: “Is it constitutional? And is it necessary?”

“I always ask myself those two important questions before I take a vote,” Hoitenga said, later adding “I want less government, less government intrusion, less mandates, less taxes…and so, I’m very honored to hold the (most conservative) title.”

Of the more than 50 bills MIRS reviewed, Hoitenga voted “liberally” on one of them, and was excused from voting for one other roll call vote that was evaluated. When asked what vote she received the most backlash for taking this year, she pointed to the concoction of “yes” and “no” votes she took on Senate Democrats’ 10-bill package outlawing marriage from taking place before the age of 18.

“My mom and dad have been married for 60 years, and they got married at 17, and a lot of my family have been married at a younger age,” she said, adding that she doesn’t believe “anyone should just be married at 16 and 17 years old,” and that oversight from a judge should be present to ensure nothing nefarious or perverted is happening.

A vote that separated her from some of the chamber’s other most conservative legislators was her opposition to SB 410 – which Lindsey and Runestad supported – eliminating Michigan’s 28-year-old immunity statute shielding pharmaceutical manufacturers from product-liability damages for drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

While Hoitenga says there’s a “plethora of answers” for why she opposed the bill, she ultimately said she believes pharmaceutical and insurance policies should be done at the federal level.

“You don’t always want to be the person that just votes no to vote no, right? So I get excited if there’s really good, sound policy on the board that I’m able to support,” she said, sharing that she believes her voting record “reflects the views of the good folks I represent.

“Unfortunately, these conservative beliefs run counter to the legislative agenda of the current administration. My hope is that 2024 brings about sound, bipartisan policies that benefit the people I serve and for which I can support.”

The most liberal voting Republican this year was Sen. Michael Webber (R-Rochester Hills), with a record of 78.4%, followed by Sen. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) with a record of 76.47%.

Past Most Conservative Senators: 

2022 – Theis

2021 – Sen. Tom Barrett

2020 – Runestad

2019 – Sen. Roger Victory 

2018 – Sen. Patrick Colbeck 

2017 – Colbeck

2016 – Colbeck

2015 – Sen. Phil Pavlov 

2014 – Sen. John Moolenaar 

2013 – Sen. Jack Brandenburg 

2012 – Colbeck

2011 – Brandenburg 

2010 – Sen. Cameron Brown

2009 – Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop

2008 – Sen. Alan Sanborn 

2007 – Sen. Mark Jansen

2006 – Sen. Nancy Cassis

2005 – Sanborn

2004 – Sanborn

2003 – Sanborn

Past Most Liberal Senators:

2022 – Irwin

2021 – Sen. Stephanie Chang 

2019 – Sen. Erika Geiss 

2018 – Sen. Rebekah Warren 

2017 – Sen. Morris Hood III

2016 – Warren

2015 – Sen. Vincent Gregory

2014 – Hood

2013 – Warren

2012 – Warren

2011 – Warren

2010 – Sen. Liz Brater 

2009 – Brater

2008 – Sen. Martha G. Scott

2007 – Sen. Irma Clark-Coleman

2006 – Scott

2005 – Brater

2004 – Brater

2003 – Burton Leland


Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog newsletter

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