Michigan G.O.P. Starts Limiting Power of Incoming Democratic Leaders

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Republicans, following the tactics of conservative lawmakers in Wisconsin, moved on Thursday to start limiting the power of the incoming Democratic secretary of state and set the stage for additional curbs on the Democrats who will take over as governor and attorney general in January.

The G.O.P.-led State Senate in Michigan, voting largely along party lines, passed a bill that strips the incoming secretary of state of the authority to oversee campaign finance issues and hands it to a new bipartisan commission. Other bills, which are likely to be approved next week, include proposals that would weaken the ability of the governor and attorney general to control the state’s position in court cases.

Using a similar political playbook as their counterparts in Wisconsin this week, Michigan Republicans are responding to their Election Day chastening in top statewide races by trying to curb the power of leaders from the opposing party. The move has alarmed ethics watchdogs, who have called it a power grab, and has fueled protests among Democrats. But it is unclear if Republicans would pay a political price, given that many are in safe districts.

A major difference between Wisconsin and Michigan, however, may be their Republican governors.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, who was denied a third term in November, is now weighing the bills to limit his successor, Tony Evers; Mr. Walker has not indicated how he will act, but he has worked in concert for years with Republican legislative leaders there.

In Michigan, however, the outgoing governor, Rick Snyder, has long portrayed himself as a relatively pragmatic former businessman, rather than a hard-right ideologue like Mr. Walker. Michigan Democrats think their best chance of success lies with Mr. Snyder, who has, at times, broken with the most conservative members of his own party.

A spokesman for Mr. Snyder said Thursday that the governor has not taken a position on any legislation yet, nor indicated whether he would sign it.

In November, Jocelyn Benson became the first Democrat to be elected Michigan’s secretary of state in more than 20 years. Gretchen Whitmer, a former member of the state legislature, was elected governor, and Dana Nessel is the attorney general-elect.

All three are women, while the Republican legislative leaders and outgoing governor in Michigan are men — a dynamic that could be in the spotlight next week, when Democratic-led protests are expected at the State Capitol.

“I reject this incivility and discord,” Ms. Whitmer said in a statement Thursday. “This legislation needlessly divides and won’t deliver results. It won’t clean up our water. It won’t improve literacy or fix the roads.”

Wisconsin Republicans also used their postelection lame-duck session to force through several proposals that would limit the power of the incoming Democratic administration and limit early voting, which tends to benefit Democratic candidates. Republican leaders there argued that the state had allowed too much authority to shift to the executive branch, despite acting after eight years of Republican control under Mr. Walker.

In Michigan, however, the proposed bills are even more wide-ranging. In addition to the ones aimed at incoming Democratic lawmakers, there is also a host of bills about conservative legislative priorities, including limits on benefits for union workers and the reduction of some environmental protections.

State Senator Dave Robertson, a Republican from Grand Blanc, Mich., rejected the accusation that the moves were aimed at Democrats. When asked if he was trying to limit power from Democrats, Mr. Robertson laughed.

“This has been discussed for quite some time,” Mr. Robertson told local reporters Wednesday evening. “And frankly, I’m capable of inspiration at any time — including now.” Mr. Robertson, who wrote the campaign finance bill that passed the Michigan Senate Thursday, has himself been sanctioned for campaign finance violations.

The hardball political maneuvers, which critics have characterized as a subversion of democratic principles, are testing the limits of American partisanship, as lawmakers in one party try to enact 11th-hour proposals over heavy criticism. Mass protest action is being planned in Michigan for next week, when the majority of the bills will have their final votes before heading to the desk of Mr. Snyder.

“LAME DUCK WATCH,” read a T-shirt worn at the Capitol building by Sam Inglot, the deputy communications director from Progress Michigan, which is working to organize progressive groups to pressure lawmakers.

“It’s a last grasp at power,” said Christine Greig, the Democratic floor leader in the Michigan House, in an interview. “It really makes you think that they are sore losers and they just want to take their ball and go home with it.”

The challenge for Ms. Greig and groups like Progress Michigan is in getting Republican lawmakers to split from their own party. As in Wisconsin, the state legislators forging ahead with the controversial bills are not only Republicans, but deep-red conservatives who represent tightly gerrymandered districts engineered to produce conservative results.

In Wisconsin, Democrats chose to engage in protests at the State Capitol building, packing the rotunda and chanting in committee hearings to shame Republicans into different action. Michigan Democrats, however, plan to try to persuade Mr. Snyder to take their side and stop the proposed bills from becoming law.

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr. Snyder said the governor would carefully examine the coming bills and take a nonpartisan approach.

“In this case, where the authority of different branches of government is affected, he will look at the bills as if he were continuing as governor,” said the spokesman, Ari Adler. “He won’t look at the bills based on who is in the governor’s office or which party they represent.”

Democratic leaders in the state are hoping mass action could sway him to defy his party. Brandon Dillon, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said Mr. Snyder’s decision is a legacy-defining one.

“The governor is going to have to make a decision on if he wants his legacy to be the same as someone like Scott Walker — or like someone who actually walks out of office with the proper respect for the office he occupies,” Mr. Dillon said. “The legislature is going to do what the legislature is going to do. But this is his decision to make.”

Two notable bills in Michigan have already emerged out of the lame duck session and are awaiting Mr. Snyder’s final decision.

One dramatically changes the state’s paid sick time law, making it only applicable to companies with 50 or more employees and adding other exemptions. Another slows a previously planned minimum wage hike, which was set to also raise the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Both measures were supposed to head to the November ballot for voters to consider, but were removed after lawmakers passed laws identical to what the voters would approve. Then, after the election was over, Republican lawmakers reversed the bill’s original language, ensuring that both measures would be decided in their favor without voter input.

At the Michigan Capitol building Thursday, several Republicans avoided or declined requests for interviews. Democrats said what they called cynical actions by Republicans have not only left them without much political recourse, but personally stunned.

“It’s definitely disheartening,” said Nigel Tann, political director for Good Jobs Now, a Detroit-based group protesting the recent bills. “But then again, anyone who has been in this work has been feeling disheartened for a while now. We’re used to it.”

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