On this day in 1984: Senate Republicans seize majority

    Interim President of Michigan State University and former Michigan Gov. John Engler testifies during a hearing before the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security Subcommittee of Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee July 24, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. | Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    On this day in 1984, Senate Republicans took the majority for the first time in 10 years. They have kept their vice grip on the upper chamber to this day.

    The GOP’s 1984 majority came after winning two special elections, essentially referendums on the 1983 Gov. James Blanchard-supported income tax increase. That set up Republican state Sen. John Engler of Mt. Pleasant to become majority leader.

    To address the state budget crisis, Blanchard and his fellow legislative Democrats led a measure to increase the state income tax by 38 percent, from 4.6 percent to 6.35 percent.

    Republican activists then kicked off a spirited recall effort to oust two metro Detroit-area Democrats, Phillip Mastin of Pontiac and David Serotkin of Macomb Township, who supported the increase. They were recalled in November 1983. In a third effort, state Sen. Patrick McCollough (D-Dearborn) was also targeted for recall but petitioners failed to gather enough signatures.

    James Blanchard

    In the Jan. 31, 1984, special election, former state Rep. Kirby Holmes, a Republican from Utica and state Rep. Rudy Nicholas, a Republican from Waterford, handily defeated Democratic opponents to propel the GOP to an advantage in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

    Blanchard, a first-term Democrat, stated at the time: “Needless to say, I am disappointed that the two outstanding Democratic candidates were unsuccessful. I’m also disappointed in the low election turnout. … Many Republican legislators have expressed support for my record tight budget and for our fiscal recovery plan. I hope our new senators will do the same.”

    Engler would go on to defeat Blanchard in the 1990 gubernatorial election.

    The 1984 election results gave Senate Republicans a 20-18 voting advantage. They have served in the majority for the last 35 years.

    From 2011 through 2019, the GOP had a supermajority in the Senate. The Democrats gained seats in the 2018 election, bringing the upper chamber to its current 22-16 split.

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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