By Triston Cole | May 15, 2021
Truth is, we are all freedom-loving people here in America. Truth is, we are all fiercely independent at heart. And truth is, we have a strong streak of compassion in all of us.
Truth is, we are more similar than dissimilar and agree on a lot more than we disagree. Truth is, right now if you listen to the mainstream media and believe everything you read/see online you likely have a very negative dark and gloomy opinion and view of the political landscape right now. Truth is, we all want pretty much the same things; we just have different paths to get there.
During my time in the Michigan Legislature, I saw the best and worst of the political scene in Michigan. There is a lot to be thankful for, as the vast majority serving, past and present, are good people working on issues, desperately trying to make a difference for their communities.
Individual issues do not always impact every legislative district and become an issue for every legislator. It’s not that the issue is partisan, but often regional and, in Michigan, different regions have different political leanings and trends. Building relationships with colleagues is absolutely vital to ensure a level of trust, expand understanding, and to foster the environment necessary to work together within our system of government.
Believe it or not, meaningful relationships are still built across the aisle by most people serving. Reps and senators, especially the effective ones, have an extremely diverse list of contacts and friends because in the legislature, relationships are everything. Getting to know each other helps us understand passions, smooth discord, and allow for vigorous debates without becoming personal.
I was fortunate to build strong relationships and become friends with people who, from an outside perspective, couldn’t seem more different. Rep. Leslie Love, Minority Floor Leader Yousef Rabhi, Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, Rep. Harvey Santana — the list goes on. We conversed, broke bread, and genuinely like each other. It helped us all understand implications, results, fears, along with goals for priorities and policies.
If you only derive your opinion from the mainstream media and the nightly news, you will see fiery speeches and assume animosity abounds, and that there is complete and utter discord. Believe it or not, most legislators are not involved in vast conspiracies or nefarious activities, but rather are in it for good, with strong personal convictions and a desire to make a positive difference.
Truth is, elections have consequences for both sides. This is not a “my way or the highway” representative republic that we live in. With elections, there will be a winner and multiple losers. In the Michigan legislature, for anything to become law, it takes teamwork and three things: 56, 20, and 1. Generally referred to as the Lansing zip code, these numbers represent a majority in the House, majority in the Senate, and the governor’s signature. This is the typical pathway to success for changing Michigan law and passing a budget.
There is no place for a go-it-alone mentality in state government. By refusing to work with others, animosity is omnipresent. It is very divisive and difficult to get anything accomplished, no matter how “right” you might be. Furthermore, there are thousands of bills introduced each two-year cycle. Many see no action at all for a variety of reasons. (Insiders, please note: Before you write something on Facebook panicking about something introduced that’s “going to become law,” call and communicate with your representative or senator to see if it’s really even got a chance at moving any further than a simple introduction. That single action and communication will save a lot of stress and anxiety for everyone.)
Currently in Michigan at the state level, we have split power. We have a Democratic Governor, a Republican-led House, and a Republican-led Senate. Think of it as a three-legged stool. Without all three legs, it cannot stand; it tips over. Two legs are stronger than one, but the “one” is still needed for success.
House and Senate members are elected by district, and obviously, the governor is statewide. Within Michigan’s 110 House districts, 58 are held by Republicans — a clear majority. Within the 38 Senate districts, it’s 20 Republicans and 16 Democrats — again, a clear majority. (Currently in the Senate, there are two vacant seats that were held by Republicans who resigned to take different offices; otherwise, it would be 22–16 Republican/Democrat.) Regardless, our state government must work together and have equal respect for each of the three branches.
Truth is, Republicans hold two legs of the three-legged stool and are as equally elected as the governor. Truth is, the vast majority of votes and decisions made are not even partisan — or really all that controversial. If there are 100 votes on the floor of the House, 80 will be very bipartisan and pass by a wide margin. Ten of the votes will be close, with very little bipartisan support, and ten are going to be partisan, with the vote entirely along party lines. Truth is, we’re all in this together, and the truth is, with true mutual respect, we can work together.
Triston Cole was a member of the Michigan House of Representatives from 2015 to 2021, serving Michigan’s 105th District. He writes from Antrim County.