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Michigan Republicans Aim To Pass Bill To Limit Powers Of State Democrats


Democrats made major gains on Election Day in several states currently under Republican control. In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers ousted two-term Republican Governor Scott Walker. And in Michigan, Democrats flipped the offices of governor and attorney general and secretary of state.


Now the Republican-controlled legislatures in both those states are trying to push through bills to limit the powers of the Democrats who take office next month. Protesters have packed both state capitols.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) We voted for blue, not for you. We voted for blue, not for you.

CHANG: We voted for blue and not for you - the words of protesters in Lansing, Mich.

KELLY: Well, one of the bills that they are upset about would let the state House and Senate intervene in state legal proceedings. That's something traditionally left to the governor or attorney general. The bill is sponsored by Michigan State Representative Robert VerHeulen. And when we reached him in Lansing, I asked why this bill is necessary now.

ROBERT VERHEULEN: Well, I think across the country, we're seeing more and more public policy issues are being addressed in the courts rather than solely in the legislative chambers. So I think it's important that the voice of the legislature as an institution be heard in some of these legal proceedings.

KELLY: Let me try to nail down your specific concerns. The incoming attorney general, a Democrat, has said she will not support certain state laws such as the one on same-sex adoption. Is that something you're trying to address here?

VERHEULEN: Well, not directly, but I suppose it's possible that if the attorney general feels that an act is unconstitutional, I think professionally it would be very challenging to ask her to defend the constitutionality of that. If the legislature thinks it is constitutional, well, then perhaps that's an example of when this would be utilized, where the legal analysis undertaken on behalf of the legislature would be different than that of the attorney general.

KELLY: But to the timing question here, Republicans have controlled the legislature for eight years. Why hasn't this been done sooner if it urgently needs to be done?

VERHEULEN: Yeah, that's - I think that's a fair question. And I think that makes it more challenging. I know as the bill's sponsor, had it been presented to me as a possibility, I think it would have been something totally appropriate any time during my six years. You know, I saw that, for example, in the state of Utah earlier this year, the legislature adopted similar legislation.

KELLY: But let me put to you the direct criticism of what's happening in Michigan because I want to allow you to respond directly. I mean, the criticism here is that this is a lame-duck legislature, sore loser and conducting some kind of power grab on your way out the door.

VERHEULEN: Well, I - my only response is to take a look at the bill itself. And I don't believe it is a power grab. And I certainly understand the optics. It's being done at lame duck or being considered in lame duck. But as the bill's sponsor, I can honestly say this is legislation that in retrospect, although it hadn't occurred to me, so - I mean, I could have introduced a year ago or two years ago or, if I were returning, two years from now because I think it's good policy. And I think it doesn't encroach on the attorney general. And I think it adds something to the judicial process by which all views are being considered, which I think results in better decision-making by the judiciary.

KELLY: Have you reached out to the incoming attorney general, tried to sell her on it?

VERHEULEN: I have not. I have not. I don't know her personally, but I'd be delighted to sit down and talk to her about it because I truly think that if we had this dialogue, I think she would see that I'm not attempting to encroach on her authority. And I have great respect for the role of the attorney general in Michigan regardless of which party holds that office.

KELLY: Well, we will look forward to hearing the results of that conversation. State Representative Robert VerHeulen of Michigan, thanks very much for taking the time.

VERHEULEN: Oh, thank you for giving me the opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.