Democrats Seek to Seize Control of Deadlocked Michigan House in Special Elections

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Democratic lawmakers are hoping to win back a majority in the deadlocked Michigan House and regain control of the state government in two special elections on Tuesday.

Democrat Mai Xiong is taking on Republican Ronald Singer in District 13, while Peter Herzberg, a Democrat, faces Republican Josh Powell in District 25. Both districts are located just outside Detroit and are heavily Democratic, with the previous Democratic incumbents each having won by over 25 percentage points in 2022.

The lower chamber has been tied 54-54 between Democratic and Republican lawmakers since November, when two Democratic representatives vacated their seats after winning mayoral races in their hometowns. Democrats previously held a majority in both chambers along with control of the governor's office.

"These special elections will determine who controls the House here in Michigan and set the tone for November, when we will decide whether Democrats hold on to the state House," said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes.

Democrats flipped both chambers in the 2022 midterms while maintaining control of the governor's office to win a trifecta for the first time in 40 years. They moved quickly to roll back decades of Republican measures and implement the party's agenda in their first year, including overhauling the state's gun laws.

Since the House deadlocked, Republicans have pushed to pass legislation they say is bipartisan, such as a government transparency package, which would open the Legislature and governor's office up to public record requests. But very little legislation has been passed. Democrats have been unwilling to accept a joint power-sharing agreement proposed multiple times by Republican House Leader Matt Hall over the past few months.

If both Democratic candidates win Tuesday, the party will regain control through the end of the year, with each seat in the House up for reelection in November. Either party would need to win both seats to gain a majority.

Xiong is a Macomb County commissioner who was endorsed in the primary by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Her opponent, Singer, ran for the seat in 2022 and lost to former state Rep. Lori Stone by 34 percentage points.

In the 25th, Herzberg, a Westland City Council member, will take on Powell, a veteran who has said in his campaign that he would support less government, less regulation and lower taxes. Former Rep. Kevin Coleman, a Democrat, won the district by 26 percentage points in 2022.

Michigan Republican Party Chair Pete Hoekstra said Republicans still "forced the candidates and Democrat committees to spend money to protect these seats."

"Win or lose, I'm more convinced than ever that Republicans are motivated and the Democrats are not," Hoekstra said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.

After Tuesday's special elections, lawmakers are expected to turn their focus to a state budget with a self-imposed July 1 deadline. Whitmer used her January State of the State speech to propose an $81 billion budget that would provide free community college for all high school graduates and preschool for 4-year-olds.

In recent months, Democrats have also considered expanding the state's hate crime law and enacting a comprehensive school safety package spurred by the 2021 mass shooting at Oxford High School. A majority in the House would let them more easily move those proposals.

But lawmakers will be working against the clock if the deadlock ends Tuesday. They are set to take a summer break at the end of June and representatives will soon begin campaigning for reelection this fall in their districts.