(EDITOR’S NOTE, 9/6/18, 1:06 PM ET: This article was updated following both chambers of the GOP-controlled Michigan legislature approving the minimum wage measure.)
Things aren’t really stacking up in Michigan Republicans’ favor for the midterms. The Republican Governors Association is moving its money out of state after polling showed Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic candidate, with a strong lead over Republican Bill Schuette.
This also doesn’t bode well for Republican wins on big ballot initiatives in Michigan, like legalized recreational marijuana, redistricting reform and a minimum wage hike. But Republicans in Michigan are working to make sure wages stay low, regardless of what happens at the ballot box this November.
In what seems at first a shocking move, Michigan Republicans on Wednesday approved a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour, over opposition from state Democrats. Despite voting for it, no Republicans spoke in favor of the minimum wage increase. Both the Republican-controlled House and Senate approved the legislation Wednesday. The measure does not need a signature from Governor Rick Snyder (R) to be adopted.
Now that the legislature has adopted the initiative, it will not be on the November ballot. This trick would allow Republicans, after the midterms, to reverse course on the $12 minimum wage with a simple majority, as opposed to the three-fourths majority it would take to override a ballot initiative.
State Senator Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) called the Republican maneuver “an attack on democracy,” while State Rep. Leslie Love (D-Detroit) called it “voter suppression.”
Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Gretchen Whitmer, a former Senate Minority Leader, said this was an example of Michigan Republicans undermining the will of the people — something they’ve done fairly brazenly in the past.
If the ploy survives muster in the courts, it could be a tactic used to remove other measures from the ballot as well. But not everyone thinks the tactic is constitutionally sound.
I’m sick and tired of Republicans in the legislature undermining the will of the people. Michiganders deserve a chance to decide on ballot proposals like @MIOneFairWage and paid sick leave, because no one who works full-time should be living in poverty.https://t.co/xWHLzzpsW8
— Gretchen Whitmer (@gretchenwhitmer) September 5, 2018
Three Republicans in the state senate voted against the tactic, including Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Township) who called the measure a “procedural gimmick” to avoid the higher threshold needed to overturn the will of the people.
“That’s not how we should be doing things,” said Colbeck. “We should be debating the merits.”
Groups like Michigan One Fair Wage have opposed the adopt-and-amend tactic, and supporters contended that the approach was unconstitutional. Amendments to citizen-initiated legislation in the same two-year term is unprecedented in Michigan.
A major part of the changes to the minimum wage impacts the wage for tipped workers, which trails distantly behind the state’s standard minimum wage ($9.25/hour) at merely $3.52/hour. One Fair Wage would pay all workers a minimum of $12/hour.
What Michigan Republicans plan to do to the legislation after the midterms is unclear, as the Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) wouldn’t discuss specifics. But given the overall intention behind the tactic, some dramatic changes should be expected following the November elections.
“We’re looking at all kinds of things,” said Meekhof. “There’s a whole suite of things that we’re looking on at this point, so we haven’t settled on any one thing yet.”
But current Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) expects the worst.
“There’s no question they plan on making dramatic changes, if not repealing it altogether,” he said. “We have no idea what that’s going to be.”
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.