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Shifting regional political power

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In 2001, former Osceola County Republican Rick Johnson was elected by his party's caucus as the 68th Speaker of the House. Located northwest of Mt. Pleasant and the city of Clare, the move was the fist time in decades that a mid-Michigan representative held the speaker position.

Of the six lawmakers who held the state's Speaker of the House position from 1965 to 1992, three were from Wayne County, with one each from Genesee, Washtenaw and Saginaw counties. Of the nine speakers who followed, just three were from districts in southeast Michigan.

Sarbaugh-Thompson said the shift away from southeast Michigan didn't occur as quickly in the Senate, where influential House speakers from the area ran for Senate seats due to the newly imposed term limits. Rochester Republican Mike Bishop, now a member of the U.S. Congress, served as the Senate Majority Leader from 2007 to 2010, followed by fellow Republican Randy Richardville from Monroe. Today, the Senate Majority Leader, Arlan Meekof, hails from West Olive in Ottawa County, on the west side of the state.

"Now, I would say both chambers have moved from any leadership control from southeast Michigan," Sarbaugh-Thompson said.

That may not be completely accurate, though. In the Senate, Ottawa County Republican Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) is the only west Michigan senator in a top leadership position, with the Majority floor leader position held by Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake); the Majority caucus chairman position held by Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc); and the Majority whip position held by Sen. Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Township).

The House is another story. Top leadership in the House is currently held by Speaker of House mid-Michigan Republican Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt Township), while East Lansing Democratic state Senator Sam Singh serves as the House Minority Leader. Northern Michigan Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) serves as Speaker pro-tempore; St. Clair County Republican Dan Lauwers (Brockway Township) holds the Majority Floor Leader position; and Kent County Majority Whip Rob VerHeulen represents leadership from west Michigan. Oakland County Democrats Christine Greig (D-Farmington) and Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) hold the minority floor leader and minority whip positions, respectively.

Those leadership positions, as well as the Senate Minority whip position held by Meridian Township Democrat Curtis Hertel Jr., and some other key committee chair seats, are particularly notable as they demonstrate a distinct shift in power to mid-Michigan lawmakers for the first time in decades.

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