Michigan lawmakers pick new leaders of Republican-controlled House, Senate

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Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, was chosen to be the next House speaker on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, at the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, Mich. Cotter, who spoke at a news conference after his selection, will serve in a House where Republicans will have a 63-47 majority. (AP Photo/David Eggert)

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, will continue as the top Democrat in the Michigan House. He speaks with reporters on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014 at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich. Democrats lost seats in Tuesday's election. The GOP will have a 63-47 edge in the House starting in January. (AP Photo/David Eggert)

Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, is seen after he was chosen to be the next Senate majority leader on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich. He will serve from 2015-18 in a Senate where Republicans have a 27-11 supermajority. (AP Photo/David Eggert)

Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, speaks to the media, Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich. Ananich was chosen to be the next Senate minority leader and will serve from 2015-18 in a Senate where Republicans have a 27-11 majority. (AP Photo/David Eggert)

LANSING, Michigan — Upbeat Republican lawmakers chose new, potentially more conservative leaders Thursday to help set their agenda in 2015 and beyond in a Legislature where the majority GOP will have an even bigger footprint.

Rep. Kevin Cotter, a 37-year-old lawyer from Mount Pleasant, will become House speaker in two months and serve for two years. Sen. Arlan Meekhof, a 54-year-old former operations director at a lock company, will be Senate majority leader for four years.

Speaker Jase Bolger and Majority Leader Randy Richardville are leaving the Republican-led Legislature because of term limits. Their successors will enjoy 63-47 and 27-11 GOP majorities, larger than before Tuesday's election.

Meekhof said it's the largest Senate majority for either party in more than 60 years.

"We come from all parts of the state and all walks of life, but we are united behind our drive to leave Michigan a better place for generations to come," he told reporters.

Meekhof, of West Olive near Holland, won election to the House in 2006 and the Senate in 2010 and is known as a sponsor of one of two right-to-work bills that Gov. Rick Snyder signed nearly two years ago amid protests from organized labor. The laws make union fees optional.

Meekhof said in an interview that while his district is the most Republican in the Senate, he knows other GOP senators come from less conservative areas.

"It's not unlike you're sitting around the dinner table with all your family at Thanksgiving. The diversity of opinion is very wide, but at some point as a family you're going to agree on something," said Meekhof, who faced no opposition for the Senate's top job. As floor leader, he has been Richardville's No. 2 for almost four years.

Cotter was selected unanimously after his opponent, Rep. Al Pscholka of Stevensville, dropped his run for the speakership in exchange for chairing the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. Cotter, first elected to the House in 2010, represents a swing seat.

"We're not just going to take up issues willy-nilly. We're going to put time and effort into laying a course, to being transparent so that we can be accountable," he said during a news conference after hours of closed-door talks with House members and newcomers elected two days ago. "As a united caucus of 63, we will set our agenda and then it will be my job to drive that agenda."

Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills will continue as House Democratic leader. Democratic Sen. Jim Ananich of Flint will succeed term-limited Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing.

"I have an ability to work across the aisle, and at the same time when I need to be strong and be a voice for ... opposing ideas, I think I've shown I can do both," said Ananich, a 39-year-old former public school teacher.

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