As Democrats prepare to take control of the state Legislature come January, Michigan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Holcomb hopes they will govern from the middle of the political spectrum in Lansing, and that legislators can move beyond political differences. Holcomb became the Michigan Chamber’s CEO in January 2022, succeeding long-time leader Rich Studley.
What are the Michigan Chamber’s priorities for 2023?
Our priority is trying to be a strong, pragmatic problem solver. We want to have a positive influence on this whole process. A lot of the same issues we’ve been dealing with in 2022 are going to be priorities again in 2023. We want to make sure we’re dealing with the talent crisis here in Michigan.
Aggregates is a really big issue — mining, sand and gravel. The aggregates we need for building our infrastructure as well as other construction materials. We were hoping it was going to get done this session, it did not, and we need to make sure we move forward with that.
I’m not sure where it’s going to land, it’s in the courts right now, but the minimum wage and paid sick leave issue is going to have to be dealt with.
Our overriding goal and our overriding priority is that we have a legislature that is willing to listen to everybody, which we’re optimistic they will be, and that everybody puts politics behind them a little bit. The elections can be rough and tumble, but at some point we need to move past the politics and we need real governing. We’re optimistic that we’re going to see that and that if everybody rolls up their sleeves, great things are ahead because a lot of good things can be done if everybody’s working together.
With the Democrats taking control of the state House and Senate on Jan, 1, do you see them going left or governing in the middle?
That’s still yet to be determined. We’re really optimistic about the leadership they’ve elected in Sen. (Winnie) Brinks (from Grand Rapids) and Speaker (Joe) Tate (from Detroit) and the people surrounding them. We have good relationships with people on the Democratic side and we’re building stronger ones as we go. Senate Majority Leader Brinks and Speaker Tate are good, credible, reasoned people who will talk to you and listen to you and actually delve into an issue. We’re optimistic. I’m not sure where the rest of the caucus is going to go. We’re going to have to get to know these members when they get to town, but what we do know is that we have leaders who are looking to govern, and that’s a positive.
Given the agreements on the budget and spending state surplus and federal stimulus money, does that give you hope that some of the roughest political battling and division might be in the rearview mirror in 2023?
Going forward, we’re definitely going to have rough issues and there’s going to be areas of disagreement. What’s important to find is the people who know how to disagree, know how to be productive in their disagreements. It’s about sharing your perspective, it’s about sharing why you have a difference of opinion and having a real conversation that takes in all of the information. What we have seen is that when people come together and they have real conversations and have public debates, we get to a good resolution. Everybody’s not on board, which is fine, everybody may not agree with the final product, but what everybody should agree with is the best process will lead to the best decisions.
What do you want the state Legislature to avoid doing next year?
What we would like to see them not do is repeal right to work. That law’s been in place since 2012 and what we don’t want … is wild swings in policy back and forth. That pendulum cannot be swinging wildly election to election or year to year. We’ve seen that for several years now. The vast majority of the public wants everybody in Lansing to work together, to govern soundly. If we can stay away from broad swings in policy, that will be beneficial. If we can focus, especially out of the gate, on areas of consensus, areas where we can make Michigan economically competitive, those issues where we can really delve in and strengthen communities all across the state, it will be a great benefit to all.
If the new Democratic House and Senate leaders were to ask for your advice, what would you tell them?
Govern from the center, govern from a place of consensus, govern from a position of inclusiveness. Get everybody’s idea on the table and have real debates and have transparency so the public knows what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and don’t be afraid to be bold, but make sure that in what you’re doing we’re making Michigan economically competitive. How do we increase talent in the state? How do we make sure communities across Michigan are benefiting and they’re being strengthened and all Michiganders are going to prosper?
What would surprise you in 2023?
What would surprise me, because so many people are talking about it, is if we don’t see an improvement in political discourse. So many people are tired of business as usual and constantly haggling back and forth on politics and not focusing on policy. We’re finally getting to a point where the public is going to demand that our elected leaders actually lead, and not that everybody agrees all of the time — that’s not realistic — but that we get back to a better process.