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What (Not Counting The No-Fault Deal) Is The Biggest Surprise of 2019 So Far?

July 16, 2019

Believe it or not, more than half of 2019 is already in the history books. 

What’s more, the past six months have been anything but ho-hum. The agreement to revamp Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system was a major development that few would have bet on happening beforehand. So, crossing that off the list of entrants, what “other” unexpected occurrence stands out as the most surprising? MIRS asked a panel of political pundits for their opinions on that question.

MIRS also asked a bit of a teaser on the budget and road funding just to make sure those somewhat consequential items don’t get forgotten. In addition, we added a couple of questions concerning the future of U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade) and the West Michigan district he currently represents.

Q – Now that we’re six months into 2019, what (aside from the no-fault insurance deal) do you consider to be the biggest surprise in state politics?”

“For me, Attorney General Dana Nessel coming out of the gate strong as she has politically and policy wise was something I did not necessarily expect,” said T.J. Bucholz president of Vanguard Public Affairs. “Clearly, she’s making her mark among Democrats who had initial doubts about her tenure as AG, especially progressives who value her positions to protect both members of the LGBTQ community and the water quality of the Great Lakes, something enviros certainly admire.”

“She’s become the standard bearer for the left of her party at the moment and in the era we live in, that’s something that can’t be easily dismissed,” Bucholz added. “I think Republicans are attacking her harder in fundraising emails than they are the Governor. I think that speaks to the danger she poses to their conservative, right wing agenda.”

David Forsmark, of Winning Strategies, maintains that the actions of both Nessel and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have surprised him, but not in a positive way.

“The Governor’s tone deafness in dealing with rural issues coming off as a complete disregard for counties she didn’t win; coupled with Dana Nessel being so aggressive on leftwing social issues that they seemed to be bent on dooming Democrats anywhere north of Saginaw, or outside of any metro areas,” Forsmark said. “They don’t seem to understand they won in a purple, not blue, state.”

According to Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consultants, he doesn’t see where there have been many surprises, not just in 2019 but over the past couple of years; but there is one exception.

“The one thing I didn’t expect was the sudden destruction of solid Republican control of the Michigan Supreme Court,” Grebner said. “Three years ago, you could count on a 5-2 Republican majority on any case with partisan overtones. But former Gov. Rick Snyder made a couple of moderate appointments, the Republican Party foolishly alienated Beth Clement, and the Democrats knocked off Kurt Wilder – and suddenly it’s a whole new day, judicially speaking.”

Dennis Darnoi, founder of Densar Consulting, said he’s been surprised by the congenial atmosphere that seems to be resonating within the legislature.

“Given the intense level of partisanship following the elections of ’16 and ’18, it is surprising that the legislative climate in Lansing is as mild as it is,” Darnoi said “There were, and are, substantive measures that either the Governor or the GOP-led legislature could have taken to make life more difficult for the other. Yet, for the most part, the rhetoric of working together has been matched by actions in kind.”

Q – Would you be surprised if the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the GOP-controlled legislature reach a budget and road-funding agreement by Sept. 1? 

“Yes,” Forsmark said. “She shows no sign of budging off the impossible 45 cents.”

However, Grebner said a deal being cemented by Sept. 1 wouldn’t necessarily come as a major surprise to him.

“It’s in everybody’s interest to locate the spot that reflects each side’s negotiating power,” Grebner pointed out. “If we look at the central players, for all of them the highest priority seems to be protecting their own public image, not damaging their opponent’s. Under that condition, as long as each side negotiates competently and isn’t blinded by emotion, they should reach deals that match the power inherent in the offices they control. At least so far, we haven’t seen the blind hatred, or smug self-assurance which would derail things. That doesn’t mean dysfunction can’t materialize, or that a deal is guaranteed.”

According to Darnoi, achieving a deal on both the budget and road funding by Sept.1, a full month before the budget deadline, is probably unrealistic.

“The passing of our state budget is of primary importance,” Darnoi said. “Linking the funding of state government to the passage of road-funding is an artificial connection that could easily be broken. When it comes to road funding there are fundamental policy differences between the negotiating parties. If any participant wants to turn their line in the sand into a trench, then there will no longer be much room for compromise. Given all of that, it would be unwise to demand the settlement of both issues by Sept. 1.”

Bucholz says it won’t surprise him a bit to see the talks grind on well beyond Labor Day. 

“I think an agreement will come very late in the game with the GOP trying to jam the Governor into taking a bad deal that will try and get her to compromise her stated priorities,” Bucholz said. “Republicans would prefer – for example – to turn the teacher pension fund into a 401k system and the Governor is stating she’s unwilling to make that move. How those priorities stay intact in the budget negotiation process is the million-dollar question. I think, at the end of the day, the Governor has a steel spine and I wouldn’t take her to the wall on the issues she says are important to her administration. She has a breaking point on her patience, and I think she’s already up against it now.” 

Q –What’s likely to be next for Justin Amash? Will he run as a Libertarian for his current Congressional seat? Will he try to be the Libertarian presidential candidate nationally? Will he decide to never run for elective office again? Or. . . what else might he do?

“If Amash is ever elected to office again, it will have to be by running for reelection as a Republican, and winning a difficult primary,” Grebner said. “Any other course involves posing as a candidate. ‘Running’ for Congress or anything else as a Libertarian is roughly equivalent to taking a selfie in front of the Capitol building. The most you can hope for is to get re-tweeted or achieve some huge number of ‘likes.’ I guess his long-term career plan is to become a Libertarian celebrity of some kind.”

Darnoi doesn’t see a lot of really promising political options opening up for Amash.

“His safest option would be to not run in ’20 and continue to rail against the two-party system,” Darnoi said. “If he wanted to return to D.C. and remain in a one-person caucus, it’s not inconceivable that he could win as an Independent/Libertarian in MI-3. If he wants to fade into irrelevance, then he should seek to become the Presidential nominee for the Libertarian party.”

Bucholz sees Amash as a top tier Libertarian.

“Amash will run as a Libertarian moving forward for the rest of his career,” Bucholz said. “He basically severed any remainder of a relationship with the GOP with his Fourth of July announcement and will work hard to become the titular head of the Libertarian Party nationally. He definitely runs for President in 2020. And that’s a gamble that could pay off for him – he has good name ID in his district and the profile he might amass by distancing himself from President Donald Trump could resonate among voters.”

“I don’t think this move is that big of a risk for him,” Bucholz added. “At the end of the day, he could end up leading a movement in this country for conservatives that don’t care for Trump. If he loses, opportunities abound for him. I think it’s interesting politics, to say the least.”

Forsmark foresees him running for President.

“He will run for President as a Libertarian,” Forsmark asserts. “His cult had basically plateaued in his current position, and since he doesn’t need the income, this will feed his ego better. He wants to be the next Ron Paul.”

Q – Now that Amash has brought so much attention Michigan’s 3rd Congressional district, will President Trump end up making an endorsement in the district’s GOP primary race?

“Given that Amash has chosen not to run as a Republican and almost all of the announced Republican candidates are pro-Trump, there is really little incentive now for the President to engage in the primary,” Darnoi observed. “Of course, incentive can take many forms and if there is a candidate, or supporters of a candidate, who can help contribute to the President’s re-election efforts then maybe he will find the time to tweet out an endorsement.”

Bucholz said Trump may or may not endorse – and either way the story behind what takes place could be fascinating.

“The GOP will put a good candidate up in the Michigan 3rd – I’d put my chips on the Peter Meijer square at the moment, but whoever the GOP candidate is will also need to grapple with a Trump endorsement,” Bucholz said. “The President loathes Amash at this point and will endorse a hair dryer if it helps guarantee a GOP hold on the seat. And that’s the tricky part here – Republicans are going to need to carefully gauge how Trump resonates in the 3rd – it may not be beneficial for a potential candidate. The answer to that question will dictate the political response. I’m not sure Dems can carry the seat in the next cycle, but these political machinations have made a ho-hum seat very interesting nationally and has turned into a canary in a coal mine moment for the President, who is struggling in polling here in Michigan.”

According to Forsmark, Trump will likely endorse in the 3rd.

“I think he won’t be able to resist,” Forsmark said.

Grebner doubts that Trump will bother to endorse in MI 3 now that Amash has left the GOP.

“Too many candidates with indistinguishable positions, and no clear enemy to oppose,” Grebner observed. “As far as I know, none of these folks have any real connection to Trump, and all of them are trying hard to create one. I guess CD3 will be one of the 400-plus races where Trump won’t make any play.”

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