DETROIT — Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican lawmakers spent four years enacting a sweeping agenda of business tax cuts and commerce-friendly, anti-union laws they said were designed to "reinvent" Michigan's economy. With GOP victories in the governor's and legislative races, they'll relish another four years of full control to set the state's priorities.
The election was a referendum on Snyder, a former businessman who had never held elective office before becoming governor four years ago. Democrats who made Snyder's defeat a top priority nationally were again left to dissect why they cannot win key state-level elections despite their success in presidential and U.S. Senate contests — evidenced by Gary Peters' defeat Tuesday of Terri Lynn Land to keep Michigan's Senate delegation Democratic.
Snyder, who downplays party ideology in favor of what he calls a "relentlessly positive" approach to governing, pledged to avoid "blame" and "fighting" in his second term. Democratic challenger Mark Schauer had assailed Snyder's contentious decisions to make Michigan a right-to-work state and to reduce or eliminate tax breaks for retirees, homeowners, low-wage earners, parents and others.
"We're going to build the Michigan back that we had before, but even better," Snyder told supporters. "The passion, the fire, the excitement, the conviction to do the reinvention that you've seen through this Tuesday, I'm going to have it on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and for the next four years. Let's go!"
Schauer's old-style populist appeal to rev up workers and get them to the polls to vote Democratic fell short. Snyder's win could provide fresh insight into whether the economic disruption in Michigan, as it struggles to shed old problems and diversify into new industries, has changed the political underpinning of a state important to both parties.
Snyder, who ran as the state's fix-it man, has accomplished much of what he set out to do when he was elected in 2010 — slashing and overhauling a complicated business tax, phasing out another one, eliminating business tax credits, replenishing the state's savings account and confronting many of Detroit's worsening financial problems. As early as Friday, a judge could approve Detroit's plan to get out of bankruptcy.
The governor also pumped new money into a state program to help low-income families afford preschool, expanded Medicaid under the federal health care law and embraced Common Core education standards.
Snyder is expected to immediately turn his attention to a top stalled priority — raising fuel or vehicle registration taxes to improve roads and bridges — which was stymied in the Republican-led Legislature this election year and earlier in his term. He likely will push lawmakers to act in their lame-duck session before year's end.
Snyder hinted recently at being open to making more homeowners and renters eligible for a tax break he scaled back in 2011. He wants to address the problem of companies with jobs in skilled trades but not enough qualified applicants.
Republicans also continued their dominance of other statewide offices. Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson won re-election, while the GOP maintained a 5-2 majority on the Michigan Supreme Court.
The governor's race produced a wide gender gap, with Snyder winning heavily among men while a majority of women favored Schauer, according to preliminary results of an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks. But the incumbent Republican was propelled by strong support from whites, conservatives and self-described independents. Those labeling themselves as moderate favored Schauer over Snyder, 54 percent to 44 percent.
Snyder won by a small majority among college graduates, while voters without degrees were about evenly divided. He also prevailed by 10 points among the 60 percent of voters with annual incomes exceeding $50,000, while those earning less favored Schauer by the same margin.
Michigan voters were about evenly divided on President Barack Obama's job performance — a considerably better showing than in most of the nation.
The poll of 2,243 Michigan voters found that 60 percent felt the nation was on the wrong track. A solid majority of those favored Snyder, who also drew strong backing from the majority worried about the direction of the nation's economy in the next year. Schauer won a majority among those who said the Michigan economy was not doing well.
Flesher reported from Chicago.
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