LANSING – In reviewing his two years leading the House, former Speaker Tom Leonard said in a recent interview he could have gone slower on the income tax cut he pushed in early 2017, which was defeated, though he does not regret putting the bill up for a vote.
In the first bill to be introduced last term, Leonard (R-DeWitt) and House Speaker-elect Lee Chatfield pushed an income tax cut that originally would have eliminated the 4.25 percent income tax over decades. In its form on the House floor – which was defeated in a recorded vote with 12 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition – it would have reduced the income tax to 3.9 percent. The bill failed 52-55, three votes short of passage.
“Probably the one thing I may have done differently right out of the gate is maybe went a little bit slower on the income tax cut,” Leonard told Gongwer News Service in a recent interview. “I don’t regret putting the bill up for a vote. But maybe … if we had taken a couple more weeks working it, it might have been better.”
The failed vote came early in the term and ended dramatically as Rep. Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance) lost his committee chair assignment. Leonard said at the time Sheppard said he would vote yes but then voted no on the bill.
Leonard said as speaker he learned if the House and Senate are divided on an issue, the executive branch “will win every time.” If the House and Senate are united, they will win out on issues, he said. Leonard appeared to apply that lesson the following year in several areas – teacher pensions, driver responsibility fees, increasing the personal exemption on the individual income tax and ending application of the sales tax on the value of vehicle trade-ins. On all four, House and Senate Republicans were united (with Democrats in support on three of them too) and Snyder had to relent.
“We worked very closely with the Senate to make sure we got driver responsibility fees (eliminated) but also on teacher pension reform,” he said. “If the House and Senate really want to get something done, if they can stand together, they will get it accomplished.”
Leonard said, though, that former Governor Rick Snyder was still an important partner.
“The things he has been able to do and accomplish for this state has been incredible,” he said.
The two had what by appearances a strained relationship in that first year of Leonard’s speakership, but by the second year, Snyder was working the phones hard to help Leonard’s attorney general bid and whatever problems there were appeared in the past. Snyder made a point of sitting on the House floor when Leonard gave his farewell speech to the chamber.
A week post lame duck and the comments former Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof made about Leonard’s abilities as speaker, Leonard remained focused on the accomplishments the Legislature made during the term.
“It’s unfortunate he had to make the comments that he made on his way out the door,” Leonard said, “but that’s on him. I am going to stand by our accomplishments.”
When asked if Senate bills that would have moved campaign finance oversight from the secretary of state (who is now a Democrat for the first time in more than two decades) and would have added implementation to the redistricting proposal put an unnecessary black eye on Michigan while national outlets covered Republican legislative action during Wisconsin’s transfer of power to Democrats, Leonard said he wouldn’t go that far.
“It’s their prerogative to work on legislation and pass legislation,” Leonard said of the Senate. “I was very clear to them that I knew it would be very, very tough to get (those bills) through the House.”
Leonard also would not say the campaign finance bill in particular was an overreach, just that he had some reservations on the proposal.
“I personally had some concerns,” he said, “but I was very clear with the Senate that if they were to pass (it) over, we would take a look and the support was just not there. There was very, very little support in the House Republican caucus.”
Leonard said his unsuccessful bid for attorney general did not distract him from being speaker and leading the House was his priority over his campaign. He noted he contributed $200,000 to the caucus, members and candidates in an effort to keep Republicans in the majority this term.
On his race for attorney general, which he lost to Attorney General Dana Nessel, Leonard said he learned how difficult it is to run for statewide office during a tough environment. Still, he said he has no regrets and he and his team left everything out on the field.
“I am very proud of the campaign we put together. When you look at the numbers, we were able to get 30,000 more votes than Rick Snyder ever got and that year he won by 19 percent,” he said. “So any other year we would have won in a landslide.”
Leonard said he has met many people who have lost elections who say they will never run again after the loss. He said he is keeping the door open.
“I was proud of the campaign we put together. I was proud of the fact that in such a tough environment we were able to get as close as we were able to get,” he said. “So certainly I am leaving the door open. I love public service. I love this state. I love the people of this state and certainly if the good Lord opens a door in the future and it’s the right fit, I’d be willing to walk through that door.”
In the meantime, Leonard said he did not have any conversations about future jobs during the lame-duck session as he didn’t think it would be appropriate. As a self-described workaholic, though, he will be back at it soon, he said.
“After the first of the year I will have some of those serious conversations and maybe an announcement soon,” Leonard said.
This story was published by Gongwer News Service.