The 97th session of the Legislature opened Wednesday at the state Capitol. The formality of swearing in new lawmakers, choosing leaders, and picking seats played out as protesters picketed outside.
They vowed to make sure people don’t forget December’s fiery “lame duck” session when Republicans muscled through legislation to make Michigan a right-to-work state.
Michigan Public Radio’s Rick Pluta was there.
(Protestors chanting) “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Right to work has got to go!”
First thing in the morning, a few hundred protesters – union members, activists – surrounded the Capitol to greet lawmakers as they walked in. Democrats got cheers.
The demonstrators also hoisted big pictures of every Republican who voted for a right-to-work law during last year’s lame duck session. Here’s what happened when Representative Bruce Rendon – one of those Republicans -- walked by.
(Protestors) “Shame! Shame!"
“Shame. It’s their walk of shame,” Rendon responded.
Lyle Birchman is an auto worker for General Motors here in Lansing.
“I’m here for working families," he says. "I’m very concerned about the future. The line of nonsense that the Republicans are peddling is not true. The things that they did last year are just plain wrong.”
Birchman says the fact that GM opened two new car plants here in the Lansing area before Michigan became a right-to-work state shows the law was not necessary, and just created tensions and hard feelings.
By noon, the action had pretty much moved.
Inside the Capitol, lawmakers went through the formalities of opening day. One of those was re-electing Republican Jase Bolger as speaker of the House. Two years ago, Bolger used his opening day address to call for a discussion on making Michigan a right-to-work state.
This year, Bolger called for fewer regulations, better schools, more access to pre-school, making it easier for families to adopt children, and coming up with a better way to pay for roads.
Bolger also said it’s time to set aside any lingering bitterness from last year.
"Throughout all of the work awaiting us this session, we should seek to build and rebuild relationships," he said. "This past year has strained relationships. However, we can and should leave that past behind us.”
House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel seconded Bolger’s nomination as speaker, but said that does not mean his caucus will ignore what happened last year.
“Today is the first opportunity to move forward and to do what this Legislature owes it the people of the state of Michigan to do and that is to do better than it did last term,” he said.
There was some concern among Republicans that Democrats would break with the traditional display of unity on opening day by denying Bolger a unanimous – or, at least, unopposed – vote for speaker. And two Democrats – Representatives Doug Geiss and Diane Slavens – could not bring themselves to vote for their nemesis, and so when the time came, they pushed the red buttons on their desks.