A Changing Political Environment

In addition to the difficulty of governing posed by a struggling economy Michigan public officials have been challenged by a changing political environment.

While the state approved legislative term limits in 1992, the first effects of the law would be felt in early 2000 when legislators in office at the time of passage began to be term-limited out of office. 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 re-elected or employed as their term expired.

In addition, the federal Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United, essentially held that the right to freedom of speech prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation. The principles articulated by the Supreme Court in the case have also been extended to for-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations. As a result, the way that election bids can be and often are financed has changed drastically since 2010 having a significant impact on our elections.

Finally, 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.