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Taking turns.

In Michigan, a notoriously partisan state, a tie in the House has resulted in a surprisingly successful experiment in shared leadership.

Michigan is an unlikely place for shared power to work so well.

It has a long and turbulent history of divided government, partisan rancor and deadlock at the Capitol. But in the House cooperation has replaced confrontation under a highly successful joint operating agreement conceived and implemented by "stereo speakers." The success has astonished veterans and freshmen alike.

Representatives Curtis Hertel, a Democrat, and Paul Hillegonds, a Republican, became co-speakers, alternating control each month, under a plan to deal with the 55-55 split created by the 1992 elections that ended 26 years of Democratic rule in the House.

"I'm astounded at how well it is working," Hertel said. "It's, I think, a real tribute to the membership, the way they've worked together to make sure the system works. That's especially evident at the committee level."

He also said it helps that "the personalities of the two co-speakers--Hillegonds and myself--are compatible."

As speaker on the 87th Legislature's opening day, Hillegonds said, "It's time for this chamber to look beyond the last election and address the public's concerns. Resolution of the leadership question is the first step in restoring the House to its rightful role as a forum for open debate and problem-solving. Co-speaker Curtis Hertel and I are prepared to make difficult policy decisions and also restructure the process by which those judgments are made. We will work with both caucuses to ensure that good ideas get the hearing they deserve."

After several months of shared power, Hillegonds believes "it has worked surprisingly well."

He was optimistic right from the start, he says, based on the tone and results of the negotiations and on "the mutual trust we have for each other. But there have been a number of issues since then that have cemented that bond of trust." Most of them center on what Hillegonds regards as "openness" on Hertel's part.

In committees and on the floor, "much more open debate is occurring," says Hillegonds, who is far more moderate than would be expected of a Republican from highly conservative Ottawa County--just as Hertel is not as liberal as typical Detroit Democrats.

The Senate is in the firm control of the Republicans. They began the year with a 21-17 edge, and increased it to 22-16--their largest majority since 1965--as the result of a special election in March.

In rapid-fire order early in the 1993 session, the House, Senate and governor reached agreement on issues that languished in deadlock in 1992. Most notable were agreements to put a property tax relief and school finance reform proposition on the June 2 ballot, and to pass an auto insurance reform bill. Shared power also helped unravel and clean up a glaring abuse--a House Fiscal Agency scandal that was the Michigan Capitol's worst since the 1940s when a grand jury investigation produced more than 40 convictions. (See related story.)

"I saw more progress in the first three months [of 1993] than in the previous three years," observed Representative Michelle McManus, a first-term GOP lawmaker who worked for a Democratic senator and a Republican representative before winning her seat in 1992. Her district is solidly Republican, but she had a close call in a race that was targeted by Democrats.

The shared power agreement prompted Republican Governor John Engler to begin his 1993 State of the State address: "Speaker Hillegonds and Speaker Hertel, for your historic agreement to share leadership and end gridlock--congratulations!"

Engler has been part of the Michigan Capitol's history of periodic polarization between the parties and between the executive and legislative branches, regardless of party. Conflict between "dictatorial" governors and "obstructionist" legislatures is as old as states themselves. But, as legislator and now as governor, they don't come any more combative than Engler.

As Senate majority leader, Engler feuded with Democratic Governor James J. Blanchard, who was narrowly upset by Engler in 1990. Blanchard had strained relations with the Legislature, once including fellow Democrats in an assertion that lawmakers were spending "like drunken sailors." In the first two years of his own administration, Engler warred with the Democratic House where Speaker Lewis Dodak criticized Engler's "mean-spirited" budget cuts.

There was a relatively cooperative era during the 1969-82 administration of moderate Republican William G. Milliken, Michigan's longest-serving governor. Nonetheless, the mild-mannered Milliken had some celebrated battles with the Democratic House, as well as with Engler and other conservative Republicans.

Political polarization was so bad in the 1950s that state workers had a payless payday because Democratic Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams and the Republican Senate could not agree on steps to deal with a cash crisis. As the Senate considered Williams, plan to shift funds to meet the payroll, a business lobbyist wired GOP senators, who were branded "Neanderthals" by Williams: "You have Soapy over a barrel. Keep him there till he screams Uncle."

Lansing's tradition of scream-uncle politics makes the smooth implementation of shared power in the House this year all the more remarkable. Even before reaching the historic agreement they signed Jan. 13, Hillegonds and Hertel acknowledged the difficulty of making it work.

Hillegonds noted that the parties had been "operating in a climate of confrontation." In checking with other states where power has been shared, he said he found it was difficult "even when the climate is better than it is here."

But Hertel said the message of voters in 1992 was "that they're not going to tolerate business as usual."

There was business-as-usual jockeying by both parties during the confusing first weeks after the 1992 election. Republicans, who had been in the minority 60-49 (with one vacancy) during most of 1992, prematurely claimed control on the Wednesday after the election when unofficial returns indicated they had a 56-54 edge. There were so many close races that Democrats asked for recounts in five; Republicans sought one.

The 55-55 split held. Democrats not only lost their majority, they lost Speaker Dodak. He was narrowly defeated by Michael Goschka, with big boosts from Engler and the Michigan GOP. Both parties scrambled to get an advantage.

Both had hopes of luring a turncoat. Republicans had higher hopes because they already had gained hopes of defector in each House during 1992. With GOP control of the Senate and executive office, they had a 56-54 edge. There to offer. In 1967, the last time the House elected a Republican speaker, it came when there was a 55-55 party split and a Democrat from Detroit abstained on the leadership vote.

After the 1992 election, Hillegonds said Republicans had a clear "philosophical majority." Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus called it a "working majority." But on the issue of organization, Democrats held solid.

Underscoring the solidarity of the lame-duck Democratic caucus, the House just before Thanksgiving passed a controversial rules change providing that in cases of tied partisan membership, control stays with the party previously in power unless the other party can muster 56 votes.

Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight before the vote, Hillegonds said: "Each house, the Constitution tells us, |shall choose its own officers and determine the rules of its proceedings.' There is no ambiguity here, no room for misinterpretation and, certainly, no obligation of an expiring body to help its successor find its way.

"The House is not a continuing body. We do not pass the torch.' The torch of each House is extinguished at the end of a term and a new one is freshly lit at the beginning of the next term."

After the rule was adopted, Republicans threatened a court challenge, and Democrats took a beating in the court of public opinion on that particular move. But, overall, criticism was leveled at both parties.

The Detroit Free Press said in a Nov. 10 editorial: "It's unsettling to watch the maneuvers the parties are engaging in to break the tie. Both are scouring the other side of the aisle for potential defectors who would vote with them to organize the House, reportedly citing promises of plum committee assignments and other goodies, and even the possibility of White House intervention. Such crass deal-cutting likely would do little to enhance the esteem in which Michiganians hold Lansing."

On Dec. 5, the paper said: "If you thought it was distasteful to watch laws or sausage made, hold your nose and watch your legislators fight now over control."

The fight ended when Hertel and Hillegonds, realizing they were at a standoff, signed an agreement revising existing rules (including the one passed in November that, if upheld by courts, would have provided for Democratic control) and providing that they would serve alternating months as speaker, starting in January with Hillegonds.

The agreement, readily ratified by the House, also provided for co-chairmanship of House committees with the co-chairman of one party presiding during the same month as the co-speaker of the opposite party. The co-speakers appoint equal numbers of caucus members to standing committees, and each names two House members to conference committees. The approval of three conferees is needed for conference reports to be adopted.

Along with co-speakers, co-speakers pro tem and co-associate speakers pro tem serve for alternating one-month periods. Co-clerks serve alternate one-month periods with the presiding speaker of the opposite party.

The agreement equalized legislators, staffs, the budgets of central caucus staffs and stipulated co-directors for the House business office and fiscal agency.

Hillegonds also negotiated 12 "silver bullets" or extraordinary votes each co-speaker can exercise to report bills from committee or conference committee. And it is a silver bullet that could shatter some of the early harmony of the "stereo speakers." Neither Hertel nor Hillegonds had cast an extraordinary vote as of early May. But Hillegonds said he "probably" would use one to dislodge an unemployment insurance bill from committee.

Hertel expressed hope the bullets would not be used.

"I know the provision is out there," said Hertel, who favors negotiated release of bills. "But it is like a nuclear missile. Once it's out of the ground, I don't know how you stop it"--or avoid re[urn fire.

The shared power agreement for organizing the House expires at the conclusion of the 87th Legislature Dec. 31, 1994--or upon "the election of a speaker by at least 56 votes."

In theory, either party could come up with the 56th vote in the June 29 special elections called by Engler to fill the vacancies created by the death of Representative Joseph Young Sr., a Detroit Democrat, and election of Republican Philip Hoffman to the state Senate. Each party is expected to retain the seat that it held. The Detroit district is solidly Democratic. The Hoffman seat is strongly Republican--being in the Jackson area where the GOP was founded "Under the Oaks" in 1854. (Michigan's claim to be the birthplace of the Republican Party is based on this being the first statewide meeting of Republicans in any state, and it produced the first state ticket and platform. Wisconsin claimed an earlier, more localized, meeting at Ripon for the party's birth.)

While Republicans have no hope of winning Young's seat, Democrats say they have a chance--uphill as it is--to win the Hoffman seat with Jackson County Treasurer Janet Rochefort, the only Democrate to win a countywide race here since the days of FDR.

After she was recruited by Democratic leaders, including Michingan AFL-CIO President Frank Garrison, GOP leaders, including Engler, became nervous about prospects for the two Republicans in the primary. So they recruited and united behind Clyde LeTarte, well-known Jackson Community College president.

Democrats say they still have a change of winning the Hoffman seat if Republicans are not united after the June 2 primary. That is the same date as the election for Proposal A, the tax and school finance issue that Engler got on the ballot with the help of Hillegonds--and Hertel.

The proposal allows a cut in property taxes by raising the sales tax from 4 percent to 6 percent. Hertel has "some serious philosophical questions" about raising a regressive tax.

"But," he said, "given the crisis we're in in terms of the way we finance our schools, and the inequity from district to district that we're experiencing, I think it's a real improvement ... a real step forward."

Such a proposal undoubtedl would not have been put on the ballot had there not been a change in House leadership--and a change of heart by the governor.

For the first two years of his administration, Engler insisted that there be a property tax cut without any other tax to offset the loss. He lost a ballot proposition to "cut and cap" property taxes last year in large part because of opposition from teachers.

This year, Engler, with prodding from some Republican lawmakers, compromised. Democrats, encouraged by teachers, compromised.

Compromise. Cooperation. Things that voters have forced upon their elected representatives in Lansing in 1993.

Nice Guy Gets Half a Chance to Initiate Reforms

If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely--what does shared power do? That's what many are wondering as Paul Hillegonds, the acknowledged nice-guy politician, holds the gavel every other month in the Michigan House.

The 44-year-old Republican, well-liked and respected for his integrity, candor and devotion to the politics of policy, now has half a chance to push through as legislation the ideas that so far have been academic alternatives to the wishes of the majority party.

Elected to the House in 1978, Hillegonds has been the leader of the Republican caucus since 1986. He has prepared for his new role by thinking he already was in it. Or, as he puts it, by "fighting the minority mentality."

Under Hillegonds' leadership, House Republicans were more than just the loyal opposition to the party that had been in control since 1969. Hillegonds said it would have been easy to sit back and criticize, but "my goal has been to get some very intelligent and innovative people in our caucus focusing on the positive."

Their commitment to offering practical policy alternatives, especially through the creation of several well-received task forces on major issues, has earned House Republicans the reputation as the most visionary and policy-driven caucus in the Legislature.

Hillegonds has kept the diverse caucus cohesive through open debate, respect for ideas and consensus-building--an approach he developed after observing and working for moderate Republicans such as former Michigan Congressmen Marv Esch and Phil Ruppe.

Becoming an intern for Esch during college was a turning point in Hillegonds, life. During the Vietnam era, he was on the margin of radical politics, questioning the U.S. policy and fearing the draft. He considered spending a summer cutting sugar cane in Cuba. He chose, instead, the internship.

Hillegonds was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's degree in political science, then served as legislative and administrative assistant to Ruppe from1971 to 1978.

He represents the mostly Republican farming and Lake Michigan shoreline communities south of Grand Rapids, a district influenced by the large number of conservative Dutch Reformed Church members.

Hillegonds has given some thought to running for governor or other statewide office, a prospect he said is unlikely without the visibility the role of House speaker would provide. But being co-speaker and belonging to the same party as the governor and the Senate majority leader do not provide the same kind of launching pad.

As a hedge against an uncertain political future, Hillegonds earned a law degree in 1986 and subsequently passed the Michigan bar, though he has never practiced law.

In the last couple of years as minority leader, Hillegonds became increasingly bold in standing up to the Democrats. He was frustrated by what he called their tendency to hide from controversy by sitting on bills.

"At what point do you just throw up your hands and say, |They're not going to move these bills, we're tired of waiting, we're going to just take off the gloves and try to embarrass the majority into acting on some of these things'?" he asked in 1989.

He answered that question two years later when he rallied his caucus around the issue of rejecting legislative pay raises recommended by an independent commission. Saying that symbolism was important and accepting pay hikes while cutting benefits for others was a bad symbol, Hillegonds and other Republicans shamed the House into rejecting the pay raise--the first time it had done so since the commission was created in 1968.

He did it again in January 1992. After learning that offices in the newly restored Capitol would be furnished with expensive antiques and period replicas, Hillegonds announced that he would refuse to occupy the suite of offices intended for him and his staff.

"It would cause a problem, frankly, to complain about it and then go and move in those offices with those furnishings there," he said at the time. "Given the times we're in, the sacrifices we're asking of others, symbols are extremely important."

He was not speaking for all House Republicans, but when six caucus members moved into the Capitol in 1993, a Hillegonds aide said, "Things change when you're in power."

Few believe that power, even shared power, will corrupt Paul Hillegonds. He has spoken so often in the last two years about what he would do if he were speaker, how he would bring more accountability and openness to the process, that it would be difficult for him to abandon the reforms he has demanded.

When his fellow Republicans unanimously re-elected him as their leader after the November election, he expressed confidence that the new alignment in the House would yield policy changes. He announced a legislative agenda including reforms in campaign financing, property taxes, welfare and medical malpractice.

"We will not hide from free discussion," he said. "In fact, we welcome it and will use our leadership role to prevent good ideas from being suffocated for the sake of political convenience."

Extraordinary Votes for Extraordinary Leaders

Among the most intriguing and complex aspects of the shared power agreement in Michigan are the 12 "silver bullets" or extraordinary votes given to each co-speaker. Following are the rules for firing these bullets:

* If a bill receives a favorable vote by one-half of the members of a standing committee or a majority of the Senate plus two votes by the House conferees in a conference committee, either co-speaker may cast an extraordinary vote to report the bill or the conference report. This extraordinary vote of a -co-speaker may be cast up to a maximum of 12 times per calendar year per co-speaker. The standing rules of the House may not be suspended to allow a co-speaker to cast more than a total of 12 extraordinary votes in any calendar year. An extraordinary vote may be cast by a co-speaker at any time, including when he is not presiding.

* The total of 12 extraordinary votes per calendar year per co-speaker shall not be carried forward into the next calendar year if all 12 of the votes are not cast.

* A co-speaker must give at least one day's notice of his intent to cast an extraordinary vote to report a bill from committee. In the case of a bill in a House committee, the notice shall be given to the office of the clerk of the House and to the co-chairs of the committee. In the case of a bill in conference committee, notice shall be given to the office of the clerk of the House, the secretary of the Senate and the chair of the conference committee. Notice of an intent to cast an extraordinary vote shall be printed in the House Journal.

* A co-speaker may not use his extraordinary vote more than five times per calendar year to report conference reports out of conference committees to the house of origin.

* In the event an extraordinary vote is cast by a co-speaker to report out bills which are tie-barred, each bill reported out shall be counted against the annual maximum of 12.

Consensus-builder Helps Democrats Cope With Less Power

Curtis Hertel, the 40-year-old Democratic co-speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, says his experience growing up was exactly opposite that of many youngsters today. He was taught that public service is a noble profession.

His father, a Detroit businessman, laid the groundwork for the political careers of Hertel and his brothers, former U.S. Representative Dennis Hertel and Macomb County Commissioner John Hertel, a former state senator.

"He developed a healthy respect within all three of us," Hertel said of his father. "We were taught to respect and even, in many cases, to revere people who chose public life as a career."

But more than that, he said, the times in which he grew up drew him into politics. While in high school, he was involved in Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. A year later, still in high school, he helped Richard Austin, now Michigan's secretary of state, in an unsuccessful bid to become the first black mayor of Detroit. The current mayor, Coleman Young, became the city's first black mayor four years later.

"I believed it was time for a black mayor of Detroit," Hertel said, "After that, I really decided I liked politics."

During the 1970s, he remained interested in politics and helped with campaigns of family members. He attended Wayne State University in Detroit, received a bachelor's degree in education and became a teacher and substance abuse counselor.

He was first elected to the House in 1980. A life-long resident of Detroit, Hertel represents its northeast portion, which, like the rest of the city, has steadily lost population since the late 1960s. He is the first House speaker from Detroit since 1974.

When Hertel was chosen by his colleagues late last year to head the Democratic caucus, he had some catching up to do. While Co-speaker Faul Hillegonds had been Republican leader since 1986, Hertel was new at the helm. The previous speaker, Lewis Dodak, was defeated in November. Hertel served under Dodak as associate speaker pro tem.

The catching up included some decisive and necessary moves that were criticized by some in his own caucus.

Among Hertel's responses to the House Fiscal Agency scandal (see related story) was the removal of the dean of the House, 38-year veteran Dominic Jacobetti, as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

In his first 30 days as co-speaker, Hertel also reorganized the House Democratic staff, cutting its budget and laying off 42 employees.

"What Paul [Hillegonds] and I agreed to do was to equalize staffing levels," Hertel said. "[I was] forced to cut our staff; Paul had the ability to increase his staff."

With the death of Representative Joe Young Sr. in April, Hertel bucked the unofficial seniority system when he filled Young's seat on the Appropriations Committee with a relatively junior member.

Independent of the fact that voters diminished the importance of seniority when they approved a term limitation initiative in November, Hertel believes seniority should not be a determining factor in making committee assignments. While this angers the old guard, he said it inspires the newer members.

Hertel contends that his caucus has made up any ground that may have been lost in the early stages of the power struggle, which, so far, has been surprisingly friendly now that his stormy beginning is behind him.

Not that Hertel is keeping score. "I think what's important, and what people are looking for, is cooperation and productivity, and that's what we've been able to deliver. I think that's more important than who is getting the credit for each individual issue," he said.

Hertel describes himself as a "mainstream Democrat," by which he means he is neither too liberal nor too conservative, and he has friends at both ends of the spectrum. He believes his fellow Democrats chose him as their leader in a final ballot over a more liberal rival because they recognized this ability.

Hertel draws inspiration, if not words and ideas, from the Clinton administration. The co-speaker's agenda for the next year and a half in Michigan is similar to the president's priorities for the nation: creating jobs, improving the infrastructure and ensuring adequate health care for all citizens.

Hertel, whose expertise is in transportation issues and funding mechanisms (he was chair of the House Transportation Committee for 11 years), says infrastructure is more than roads and bridges. He includes in his definition telecommunications systems and the state's natural environment.

Michigan House Democrats, accustomed to the power of numbers and the ability to set the House agenda and control the committees, will have to get used to more open debate. Hertel thinks that can be good.

"I have been critical of the former speaker myself for not allowing debate on a couple of issues that, admittedly, were controversial," Hertel said. "I think debate should have taken place. It has now on a couple of issues which I wish had [occurred] under different circumstances. When we controlled the House, for example."

The prospect of this shared power arrangement, if it holds, is an interesting one. An evenly divided House may lead to more debate and less gridlock.

Detroit News political columnist George Weeks is the author of several history and political books, including Stewards of the State: The Governors of Michigan. Don Weeks, former radio and TV journalist and legislative staffer, covers state government for the Upper Case News Bureau in Lansing, Mich.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; sharing of leadership of the House by Representatives Curtis Hertel and Paul Hillegonds
Author:Weeks, Don
Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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