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Shifting regional political power

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"John Engler one time put a guy's desk on the front lawn when he was (Senate) Majority Leader," he said. "We aren't having that in the Senate now. With Arlan (Meekhof), it's all about respecting one's opinion.

"Some of the new members were shocked at how frank and open we are with each other. We take jabs at each other, but I haven't seen one really heated argument... I saw knockdown fights in the House, when Kwame (Kilpatrick) (D) and Rocky (Raczkowski) (R) had to pull a couple leaders off of each other."

In terms of political money influencing the legislature, Kowall said much of it relates to business interests throughout the state, rather than any one geographic region.

"There is money coming from all over, and there are large donors and economic engines from all over. The west side has been good to me," he said. "The Business Leaders of Michigan and that, their main issue is getting jobs back in the state... Michigan is such a big state, and we have to be careful what we do in a variety of places."

Citing the potential closure of a Downriver steel plant, Kowall said the closure would lead to the loss of 37,000 other jobs not directly located at the plant. He said fellow senators take those kinds of considerations into account on economic decisions, rather than focusing only on their own districts.

"The House is a different cat," he said "I think people are more protective of their districts because they are smaller."

Oakland University Professor David Dulio, who chairs the university's political science department, said leaders chosen for leadership positions are done so by their caucuses for more than ideological viewpoints.

"They are good at building a coalition of votes to get themselves into office. Leadership may shift based on backgrounds and experiences. Those kind of qualities are what allows them to rise to power to a large degree," he said. "In this case, the shift of Republicans to the west, we see a more conservative legislature, shown by the policy initiatives that are taken up, and frankly, what gets passed. It's a natural flow of elections and partisanship."

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