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Special elections will determine the balance of power in Michigan House

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Two special elections in Michigan today could break the tie between Democrats and Republicans in the state's House of Representatives. Here's Colin Jackson of the Michigan Public Radio Network.

COLIN JACKSON, BYLINE: This time last year, Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives were celebrating. They were in control and working through a series of major policy wins. Julie Metty Bennett is CEO of the nonpartisan think tank Public Sector Consultants.

JULIE METTY BENNETT: They really came out of the gate sprinting, but then just completely stalled out when they hit that 54-54 tie.

JACKSON: The 54-54 tie. That began late last year, when two Michigan House Democrats resigned for other offices. Despite losing their majority in numbers, House rules did allow Democrats to keep the gavel. They also still set the agenda, something Republican House Minority Leader Matt Hall tried to influence in repeated open letters calling for, quote, "shared power."

MATT HALL: In most places, they understand the reality. When you're tied, you should compromise, you know? Most people think even when you're not tied, you should compromise.

JACKSON: For Democrats, sharing the power wasn't the move. Democratic Representative Laurie Pohutsky.

LAURIE POHUTSKY: The Minority Leader's, kind of, vanity project I think has become all-encompassing, and good bipartisan policy has kind of fallen by the wayside as a byproduct.

JACKSON: Both sides of the aisle are frustrated with how things went. Hall pushed for votes on over 50 bills he described as bipartisan. He blames Democrats for only letting a few of them through.

HALL: These people don't just get together and negotiate. That's too easy. They come up with all these stupid ways to make it complicated.

JACKSON: Some of the bills that did pass concerned areas like how deaths are reported on family farms, but Pohutsky laments that other priorities, like expanding access to birth control, had to wait.

POHUTSKY: The complete unwillingness to meet us anywhere in the middle on anything was a pretty big surprise.

JACKSON: Democrats expect to win the two Metro Detroit seats up for grabs today and end the deadlock, though Metty Bennett warns not to expect too much from House lawmakers, especially during budget season.

BENNETT: They're going to have to start running for re-election, so the budget process is going to take them all the focus that they have, and then they're going to move right into getting re-elected.

JACKSON: House Republicans, who have generally outperformed at the top of the ticket in recent elections, are hoping for a comeback in November.

For NPR News, I'm Colin Jackson in Michigan.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Colin Jackson

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