News Story

'Hastert Rule' May Impact Michigan House GOP Leadership Race

Three candidates running for state House seats are pressing for the House Republican caucus to formally adopt the "Hastert rule." Under this rule, named for former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, caucus leadership agrees not to bring legislation up for a vote unless a majority of the caucus approves doing so.

The three are Cindy Gamrat in the 80th District, Todd Courser in the 82nd District, and Gary Glenn in the 98th District. Jointly the trio sent an open letter to the two candidates vying for the GOP caucus leader, Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, and Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, calling for adoption of the Hastert rule and a public pledge to abide by it.

“As I have talked with both Republican incumbents and (prospective) freshmen members, I’ve found that the overwhelming majority have said they support this,” Gamrat told Capitol Confidential. “They want leadership that promises to fight for what a majority of the caucus believes in, the principles we’ve represented in the election and that will prevent a governor’s top-down agenda from being forced on us.”

Glenn said he sees the Hastert rule as a means of trying to live up to a commitment made to the voters.

“If Michigan voters entrust Republicans with control of the House, it will be our duty to ensure that the agenda we pursue is consistent with Republican values,” Glenn said. “What we don’t want to be seeing is legislation enacted that passes with 52 Democrats voting yes along with only a small number of Republicans. The Hastert rule would prevent that from happening.

“The three of us are not the only ones who want to see the Hastert rule in place,” Glenn added. “Other caucus members may not be saying so publicly, but there is a lot of support for it.”

Capitol Confidential asked if the version of the Hastert rule that’s being talked about would allow a majority of the caucus to approve bringing legislation up for a vote on the House floor and then having less than a majority of members actually vote “yes” on it with the Democrats supplying most of the required votes for passage.

“Sure, I think that’s a possibility,” Gamrat said. “I think that is more likely to be the way it would work. What matters is that a majority of the caucus gives its approval first.”

Courser agreed, but said the only way a situation like the one described above would take place would be if the caucus agreed to temporarily suspend the Hastert rule for that particular legislation.

“If a majority of the caucus voted to suspend the Hastert rule, then leadership could move ahead with the legislation,” Courser explained. “But I think the spirit of the whole thing is about making sure we’re sticking to the platform we were elected on. The Hastert rule gives a majority of the caucus authority to make those decisions. I don’t think that’s asking too much.”

Glenn also focused on the Hastert rule as being a means of assuring that legislation would not move forward without the consent of the majority of the caucus and not necessarily being about marginal variations in final voting breakdowns.

“It’s about requiring the approval of a majority of the caucus before the Speaker could allow legislation to be brought up,” Glenn said. “I think it is really very unambiguous. The Hastert rule would prevent legislation from passing on predominately Democratic votes.”

Should the Republicans fail to hang onto control of the House, the whole Hastert rule issue would be moot and current House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, will likely be the next House Speaker.

Both Reps. Cotter and Pscholka have been sticking to the traditional approach of avoiding specific statements about caucus issues, which means that neither has publicly committed to either supporting or opposing the Hastert rule.

Capitol Confidential asked Gamrat if she understands why neither GOP leadership candidate will publicly announce his position on the Hastert rule.

“I’ve heard a few different reasons why,” Gamrat said. “I can only go by what I’ve seen, but right now I’d say that one is as likely to support the Hastert rule as the other.”

However, Courser said he has gotten a different impression.

“From what I’ve heard, I think that one of the two candidates is more sympathetic to the Hastert rule than the other one is,” Courser said. “The reason the Hastert rule has become an issue is because we’ve seen things pass, like Medicaid expansion — and there were a few other times that the caucus basically got run over.”

Medicaid expansion passed twice in the House with slightly less than a majority of the GOP caucus voting for it.

Glenn emphasized that himself, Gamrat and Courser have made it clear that they won’t base their selection of caucus leader solely on the Hastert rule issue.

“We’ve said that zero-based budgeting, in which all recipients of state funding are required to justify any continued funding each year, is important to us,” Glenn said. “We’ll also be carefully watching what the two leadership candidates do and say between now and Election Day regarding controversial legislation that we’re hearing could move before the end of this legislative session, such as changes to the state's Elliott-Larson civil rights law that threaten religious liberty and women's privacy rights, an increase in the fuel tax or other taxes, and another effort to create a state healthcare exchange, which would help implement Obamacare in Michigan now that the court has ruled that Obamacare can’t be implemented without the state exchanges.” 

Gamrat said that overall leadership qualities would also be a major factor in how she decides which leadership candidate she will back. However, she added that she believes there is something ironic about the way the Hastert rule debate will likely be decided.

“If a majority of the caucus votes in favor of adopting the Hastert rule, then we’ll have it, which is basically what the Hastert rule is all about in the first place.” Gamrat pointed out.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.