After flipping both legislative chambers last fall, Michigan Democrats are embarking on an agenda that could help usher in a new era of Democratic politics at the national level.
It comes in the wake of a midterm when one of the cycle’s breakout political stars—Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow—fought back against GOP smears about her of pedophilia by channeling righteous rage rather than ducking the issue, an outdated tactic for national Democrats on social issues.
"I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard, and supported, not marginalized and targeted because they are not straight white and Christian," McMorrow said in an April speech that went viral. "We cannot let hateful people tell you otherwise to scapegoat and deflect from the fact that they are not doing anything to fix the real issues that impact people's lives."
It comes in the wake of a year when Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer—donning a T-shirt emblazoned with "My body, my decision"—made women's bodily autonomy a cornerstone of her campaign rather than just a fundraising line at a Planned Parenthood gala.
And it comes in the wake of a year when Michigan Republicans featured a slate of right-wing election deniers and fundamentalists in its executive branch lineup for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state.
These were the atmospherics—bolstered by a nonpartisan redistricting commission leveling the electoral playing field—that allowed Michigan Democrats to reelect Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, while also regaining control of both legislative chambers and handily passing a ballot measure that enshrined reproductive rights into the state constitution.
Now the Democratic-helmed government has introduced a slate of bills more in keeping with a liberal coastal state than a Midwestern battleground. The legislation seeks to add LGBTQ protections to the state's civil rights legislation, repeal a 1931 anti-abortion statue, repeal the state's anti-union right-to-work law, and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to help working families.
Part of what gives Michigan Democrats room to roll out an agenda chock full of divisive social issues once considered taboo to touch is the fact that Whitmer has proven to be an able manager of the economy while also training her sights on issues that matter to everyday people.
In 2018, Whitmer's plainspoken pledge to "fix the damn roads" became a winning issue for her both colloquially and on the merits. Under Whitmer's stewardship early in the pandemic, Michigan's economic health also improved the most in its history, separating it from the pack, according to a Bloomberg News piece in February 2022.
Among 37 states with a population greater than 2 million, Michigan is No. 1 based on equally weighted measures of employment, personal income, home prices, mortgage delinquency, state tax revenue and the stock market performance of its publicly-traded companies.
In 2021, Michigan added more energy-sector jobs than any other state, and CNBC reports that Michigan is poised to "dominate" the emerging electric vehicle battery manufacturing market by 2030, alongside Georgia and Kentucky.
In short, Whitmer has tended to the economic fundamentals amid a very challenging period that also made her the target of enraged MAGA mobs opposed to her early pandemic masking policies.
But Whitmer's chief fiscal focus isn’t actually growth alone—it’s economic fairness. When last year's GOP-led legislature approved a $2.5 billion tax cut that would have devastated state revenues, Whitmer vetoed it and countered with a more targeted plan, according to Michigan Advance.
She proposed eliminating taxes on pension income to save seniors money and increasing the EITC for working-class residents, aiming to “put nearly $3,000 in the pockets of 730,000 working families” across the state—a vision Democrats are now poised to enact.
In the runup to the midterms, Whitmer also aggressively promoted two Biden achievements—passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and student-debt relief—even as Republicans were attempting to pound her on inflation and related economic woes.
“The Inflation Reduction Act will create and protect millions of good-paying manufacturing jobs across the nation, and I am taking action today to ensure that Michigan is ready to fully harness its benefits,” Whitmer said in a September statement, as she signed a package of executive actions designed to lower prescription drug costs, create jobs, and reduce business costs.
The combination of Whitmer's unabashed socially liberal polices along with her emphasis on the economic needs of working families could be the powerful combination Democrats need to thrive in a post-Trump era. It poises Democrats to continue cementing suburban swing voters as Democratic leaners while wooing a meaningful portion of blue-collar workers lost to Trump back into the fold.
No more Clinton triangulation of the '90s on issues like reproductive freedom and the rights of LGBTQ Americans. The path to winning suburban voters has smashed right through the very wedge issues that once favored Republicans, and Whitmer undoubtedly benefitted from her high-profile efforts to keep abortion legal in the state. According to exit polls, Whitmer won over 80% of pro-choice voters—a data point that all but made her untouchable.
At the same time, forget about being slammed as a “liberal elite” while working to empower unions, boost working families, and help seniors stretch their retirement income.
As The Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted, "by fusing an attack on right-wing culture-warring with a focus on economic fairness," Whitmer "could undercut GOP efforts to cast social liberalism as contrary to 'working-class values.'”
If Michigan Democrats are successful, the state will become an example of Republicans' worst nightmare: a more even political landscape in which Democrats absolutely crushed GOP extremism on the way to building a sustainable voting coalition for the 21st century.
And it's not coming from California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has been providing a much-needed liberal counterpunch to the draconian policies fashioned by GOP hopefuls such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Instead, this vision is coming straight from the heartland, proving its viability in the very swing states Democrats must secure over the next several cycles in order to safeguard American democracy.
Markos and Kerry are joined by University of St. Andrews Professor of Strategic Studies, Phillips P. O’Brien. O’Brien, an expert in military history, explains how we got to where we are right now, what is unique about the world’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the parallels between the conservative movement’s isolationism in World War II and now.
The anti-Trump coalition not only held in 2022, it got stronger
Some Michigan Republicans aghast after Trump-picked election deniers win GOP backing for top offices
Here's why a Michigan State senator's fiery response to GOP 'groomer' smears went viral
Sen. McMorrow did something essential for Democrats—called out Republicans' politics of distraction
Pelosi is right: It's time to usher in a new era of Democratic leadership