A Detroit lawmaker abandoned the Democratic Party to become an independent on Tuesday, accusing the party's leaders of not prioritizing issues important to the city and its predominantly black population.
State Rep. John Olumba noted that only one black legislator from Detroit sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which approves the state budget, and that no Detroit lawmakers or black legislators are assigned to the House Tax Policy Committee for the two-year session that began in January.
"We've been sterilized from the two most important committees in Lansing," Olumba told reporters during a late afternoon announcement at the Capitol.
Olumba's departure from the Michigan House's Democratic caucus gives Republicans a 59-50 edge instead of a 59-51 majority, though he may still vote with Democrats on many bills. Olumba said the move allows him to independently negotiate with Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger on behalf of his constituents "without a middleman," and that he planned to form a one-man "Independent Urban Democracy Caucus."
Olumba criticized Democrats for voting against legislation that was important to Detroit in December because they were upset about Republicans' approval of right-to-work legislation. He also said Democrats abandoned him in his effort to restore money he believed was due to Detroit, and pressured him to withdraw a request for an investigation into allegations of mismanagement by Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, a Democrat.
House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, an Auburn Hills Democrat who became leader last month, said he was disappointed with Olumba's decision and that he got no heads up about it.
"Since taking over as leader, I have been available to each and every member of the Democratic caucus to listen to their concerns and ideas for how to move our caucus forward. Specifically, I have reached out to Rep. Olumba on multiple occasions and have never heard back," Greimel said in a statement.
His spokeswoman, Katie Carey, said Greimel's leadership team is the most ethnically diverse in the history of the Legislature and that Greimel has consistently advocated for central cities. She noted that the No. 2 Democratic leader, Floor Leader Rudy Hobbs of Southfield, is black. She also said Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing, the first Indian-American in the House, is the top Democrat on the Finance Committee.
Bolger said he told Olumba in recent weeks that he did not need to leave the Democratic caucus.
"I have said repeatedly, and I say again, I will work with anyone from any party who is willing to put politics aside and focus on accomplishing positive results for Michigan's hard-working taxpayers," Bolger said in a statement.
Olumba also has drawn attention for taking a vow of silence after passage of the right-to-work law and arriving late to the Jan. 9 swearing-in of lawmakers because he said he was submitting overdue campaign finance reports and paying $4,000 in fines.
Olumba is in his second two-year term in the House, where members are limited by state law to three terms.
Read more Politics headlines: