PGMI Meeting New Legislators


January 28, 2015  

Last November’s elections created a significant turnover in the Michigan legislature. Board members of Potato Growers of Michigan, Inc. (PGMI), spent the day welcoming the new members and their staffs.

“It’s good to get to know them,” said legislative director Mike Wenkel of PGMI, a voluntary organization that deals with legislative and regulatory issues affecting the Michigan potato industry. “It’s important to build relationships with them as we have with the returning legislators. The potato industry has a good story to share about how we contribute to the state’s prosperity.”

Thanks to openings from term limits and retirements, 44 persons are serving for the first time in the legislature, 43 in the House and one in the Senate. Nine of the new Senators were previously in the House including some who were term-limited and some who were eligible for re-election but sought an open Senate seat instead.

Two of the 43 “freshmen” in the House are from agricultural backgrounds—Republican Brett Roberts, a row-crop farmer from the Charlotte area and owner-operator of the Charlotte Dairy Queen, and Republican Triston Cole of Mancelona, who grows fruits and vegetables and also was a truck driver before taking his new elected position.

The Republicans have a strong majority in both chambers, holding 63 of the 110 House seats and 27 of the 38 Senate seats.

Term limits have altered the majority leadership. The new Senate Majority Leader, elected in November to his second and last term, is Arlan Meekhof of West Olive. The new Speaker of the House is Kevin Cotter of Mt. Pleasant, now in his third and final term. Returning as the House Minority Leader is Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills, who is in his second term. The Senate Minority Leader is Jim Ananich of Flint, who after two terms in the House ran successfully for an open seat in the Senate.

Wenkel cited some of the issues this new legislature will be facing. He noted that Gov. Rick Snyder will soon announce his energy policy, which will be the subject of a legislative response including examining the role of renewable energy in electricity generation. The state has a mandate for a 10% supply from renewable resources for this year.

“There will also be continued discussions on protecting our natural resources, including water quality,” Wenkel said.

He added that a complicating factor in legislative decisions is an expected decrease in revenues versus earlier estimates. The May 5 public vote on a 1% increase in the sales tax also interjects uncertainty. The revenue that would be raised would go to road projects, but money for other programs also hinges on a positive vote. If the proposed hike is rejected, legislators will have to seek alternative funding for roads and evaluate impacts on other affected programs.

In all cases, Wenkel emphasized, PGMI will keep close tabs on developments from a potato-industry viewpoint. The strength of the organization, he explained, is that it produces reliable information and analyses of issues and has good rapport with legislators who respect the industry’s input. This relationship, he said, underscores the need to make positive contacts with the new contingent of legislators, which PGMI has set as a priority. 
 
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