By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING – Thirty years ago this month, angry voters in Macomb and Oakland counties set the stage for a 30-year Republican lock on the Senate.
They recalled two Democratic senators who had voted for Gov. James Blanchard’s 38 percent temporary income tax hike. The Democratic governor had won legislative approval for the increase to balance the state budget amid deep economic problems.
Sen. Phil Mastin of Pontiac lost his job in a Nov. 22, 1983, recall election, and Sen. David Serotkin of Mount Clemens suffered the same fate on Nov. 30.
“Taxpayers revolted” — at least in those two suburban Detroit districts, according to the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance.
The recalls cost the Democrats their majority in the Senate. For a few months, the parties were tied with 18 seats each.
Then in February 1984 special elections, Serotkin’s and Mastin’s former constituents elected GOP replacements, giving the Republicans 20 seats.
Former Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, who was then a first-term senator from Alto, described the recalls as the initial evidence of a widespread conservative movement in Michigan.
Since then, the Democrats haven’t managed to regain control. Currently, they lag the Republicans with only 12 of the Senate’s 38 seats.
According to Posthumus, Republican leaders didn’t head the recall effort in Macomb and Oakland counties, preferring a low-key approach.
“There were fears by many of a backlash if Republicans did it,” said Posthumus, who is now a senior advisor to Gov. Rick Snyder. “I’m sure some local Republicans took part, but at the time, we even discouraged Republican leaders like country chairs from getting involved.
“We didn’t have any idea at that time that we’d have 30 years of consecutive control,” he said.
When that 30-year period began, the current Senate Democratic leader, Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, was only 12 and the current majority leader, Randy Richardville of Monroe, was 24.
Unlike the Senate during the past three decades, both Democrats and Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives, governorship, Supreme Court and congressional delegation.
Several factors account for the continuing Republican lockhold on the Senate. Among them was the gerrymandering of district boundaries during the every-10-year reapportionment process.
Another reason is that Senate elections take place on a different four-year cycle from presidential elections. That’s important because Democratic candidates Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama carried the state in every presidential contest since 1992.
Posthumus notes that GOP control of the Senate has been the pattern for most of the century and a half since the Civil War, with Democrats holding the majority for “maybe 25 total years” during that time.
Overall, the GOP’s present 30-year-and-counting run has lasted longer than the total, scattered years of Democratic control, he said.