State population decline affecting policies, politics

Other states are surpassing Michigan on a number measures, including economy, education and infrastructure. A May 2023 report, Michigan’s Path to a Prosperous Future, published by the Citizens Research Council, found that Michigan is currently in the bottom third of national rankings: 34th in household income, 36th in K-12 educational outcomes and 39th in health outcomes.

The report also noted that the state is also losing political influence due to outward migration, falling from 19 seats in 1970 to 13 currently in the U.S. House of Representatives, which put the state at a disadvantage with redistricting.

Michigan State University’s report, Michigan at a Crossroads, noted that state redistricting efforts have increasingly limited the number of legislative districts that are competitive for both political parties. As a result, legislators increasingly win or lose their seat during primary elections. The effect of this has been that candidates from both political parties have to increasingly move toward the stronger held beliefs of their political base, as taking a more moderate position is more likely to jeopardize a primary election bid. This political environment has made the prevalence of expertise more scarce and the incentive for bi-partisan approaches to policy challenges less likely. Redistricting is not the only issue negatively impacting Michigan.

Among the challenges and opportunities Michigan’s Path to a Prosperous Future pointed out is what it referred to as the political divisiveness that has has plagued the state for years. While there are many good ideas in Lansing regarding ways to improve many of Michigan’s shortfalls, public discourse has either kept these ideas from being implemented or caused efforts to be abandoned as the political wind shifts.

Jim Holcomb, president of Michigan Chamber of Commerce, concurs. In an article appearing in the Chaldean News, written by Paul Natinsky, Holcomb has also pointed to Michigan’s unstable political climate as a major barrier to the state improving its living and work environments.

“In Michigan, we are very polarized, and we need to move past elections, we need to get past the vitriol, we need to look at civility in our society and in politics and be willing to have real conversations about complex issues that drive passions,” Holcomb was quoted as saying. Term limits, it turns out, are part of the cause of the decisiveness.

MSU’s report examined the unintended political fallout created by the 1992 approval of legislative term limits. MSU’s report says that studies have shown that this change resulted in less opportunity or incentive to develop camaraderie between legislators, particularly those from opposing parties, resulted in a loss of expert knowledge by lawmakers instead empowering career lobbyists and unelected staff, and created an environment where lawmakers were constantly having to think about how their actions may impact their ability to be reelected or employed as their term expired.

A May 8 Citizens Research Council report, Evaluating the Effects of Term Limits on the Michigan Legislature, stated that legislative term limits have made state legislators, especially House members, view their terms as a stepping stone to another office. Term limits have failed to strengthen ties between legislators and their districts or sever cozy relationships with lobbyists. They have weakened the legislature in its relationship with the executive branch.

The report continued, saying that the chief problem rests not with term limits, but with the fact that among the 15 states with term limits, Michigan has the shortest and strictest limits. Lengthening time in office would help, as would improving the redistricting process and reforming the primary election system.

It’s not only the primary election system in Michigan that needs reform; how they are funded, and role of Super PACS and dark money have also come under increasing scrutiny.

The next installment of this series will look at special interest groups and their influence on bills that are introduced in the Michigan Legislature.


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