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President Obama speaking at U-M

Election Aftermath

As Michigan turned red, Ann Arbor stayed blue.

by James Leonard & John Hilton

From the December, 2016 issue

President Obama's appearance at a get-out-the-vote rally the day before the election was a thrill for his many Ann Arbor supporters. It was also shocking: the Hillary Clinton campaign wouldn't have sent its most valuable surrogate unless it was worried about losing the state. Clinton's daughter Chelsea accompanied the president, while the candidate herself made a stop in Grand Rapids.

With some help from the president, Ann Arbor stayed blue--Clinton rolled up huge margins in the city and Washtenaw County. But Donald Trump finished slightly ahead in Michigan--part of a last-minute surge in the Rust Belt that has him headed for victory in the Electoral College (though not the popular vote). And while there were no upsets here, Trump voters did tinge some nearby areas purple.

Dingell--and Wahlberg: When Republican state legislators redrew the boundaries of the Twelfth Congressional District after the 2000 census, they segregated as many Democrats as possible into a narrow band stretching from Detroit to Ann Arbor. Trump had no coattails here--Debbie Dingell, elected to succeed her legendary husband John two years ago, was returned with nearly two-thirds of the vote.

The Seventh, wrapping around the city on three sides, was held by Republicans from its creation in 1993 until Democrat Mark Schauer unseated Tim Wahlberg in 2010. Wahlberg took it back in 2012, but the Dems saw a chance to reclaim the district this year; a poll last spring showed former Saline mayor Gretchen Driskell leading, and she raised more than $2 million. But while Driskell won in Washtenaw County, Trump's rural surge in carried Wahlberg to a solid 55 percent to 40 percent win.

State house stasis: Democrats effortlessly held onto Ann Arbor's two seats in the state house, with Adam Zemke beating longshot challenger Bob Baird 69-31. But Baird, a cheerful and surprisingly vigorous campaigner, did far better than Sam Bissell. A placeholder candidate with no discernible campaign, Bissell was crushed by Yousef Rabhi in the very urban Fifty-Third District, 80-16.

In the partly

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rural Fifty-Second District, Democrat Donna Lasinski had a tougher time than expected, beating Republican Randy Clark by a much narrower 52-45 margin. And while the three victories preserved the local status quo, Democrats' hopes of taking control of the state house were dashed--the GOP retained its sixteen-vote majority.

August, not November: Despite well-organized opposition, Ann Arbor voted 55-45 to extend city council terms from two to four years. Though supporters justified the change by pointing to bigger turnouts in November general elections, the main effect will likely be to make the general election even less relevant. Because the amendment eliminates odd-year elections but retains party labels, it should make Democratic council candidates even more secure in November. This means the real contests will still be in the intraparty August primaries, when many voters are out of town.

What's in a name?:The massive turnout for Clinton also boosted Fifth Ward Democrat Chuck Warpehoski. Though independent David Silkworth reportedly spent $20,000 to Warpehoski's $3,000, the incumbent rolled up a crushing 74-26 margin.

In a high-turnout presidential race, however, even a small percentage represents a lot of votes. A total of 3,382 Ward Five residents marked ballots for Silkworth--958 more than did the same for Warpehoski in August's primary. So Silkworth may yet mount a serious challenge if he chooses to run in the future as a Democrat.

That may happen. "There are a lot of issues that are important to me that I do not feel are getting adequate attention or proper representation from either of my current council members in Ward 5," Silkworth emails. "Therefore, I am currently considering my options and weighing my next steps."

County challenges come up short: Ken Magee mounted the first serious Republican campaign for county office in more than a decade, running for sheriff on a pledge to do more about the heroin epidemic. The outcome confirmed why such races have become rare: Democratic incumbent Jerry Clayton won easily, 69-30 percent.

Though Democratic prosecutor Brian Mackie had no ballot opposition, he was the target of an organized write-in campaign. In an interview before the election, D'Real Graham promised to "pursue reparations for families affected by court decisions and erect headstones for people killed by law enforcement officers in Washtenaw County." But Graham, who works for a local nonprofit, is not a lawyer--which meant, Mackie pointed out, that he couldn't serve even if he won. That proved moot: Mackie got a crushing 97 percent of the vote.

Roads not rail: County voters approved all three millages on the ballot, though only two passed. With well-funded citizen support, a county tax for roads and bike paths cruised home with 71 percent of the vote. A millage supporting the county's department of veterans affairs did even better, winning 74 percent of the vote.

But while the Regional Transit Authority millage passed here with 56 percent approval, it failed narrowly in the four-county region. If it had passed, it would have funded a long list of services, including commuter trains between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The state had already spent more than $12 million to buy and refurbish a small fleet of railcars for the service, but with no other funding in sight, it looks like they may never carry passengers.

All in the families: It's no surprise that commercial real estate broker Bill Milliken Jr. topped a ten-way race to win a seat on Washtenaw Community College's Board of Trustees. The son of a former governor backed his high-profile name with a high-powered campaign; his scores of endorsers included the college's unions.

But that Angela Davis won a seat was a huge surprise. The owner of her own jewelry business, Davis ran a very low-profile campaign. Her Facebook page is all but empty and her Kickstarter fundraiser shows just one contribution of $100 towards her goal of $1,000--and that from a relative. But the daughter of current trustee Diana McKnight-Morton clearly had other advantages--including the support of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party, which also backed runner-up Anna Zinkel.

Slates succeed: Both the school and the library board slates won big. School slate founder Hunter Van Valkenburgh couldn't catch incumbent Simone Lightfoot, but fellow insurgents Jeff Gaynor and Harmony Mitchell both earned seats, ousting long-time board president Deb Mexicotte in the process.

Voters elected all four members of the library slate--Victoria Green, Colleen Sherman, Linh Song, and Jamie Vander Broek. But while the school board slate was driven by grievances with the current board, the library group strongly supports its current direction. With their election, look for renewed effort to build a new downtown library, possibly with a millage.

Weiser wins: After an unsuccessful try in 2014, Ron Weiser rode Trump's statewide coattails onto the U-M Board of Regents. On his campaign website the founder of McKinley Properties promised "to use my business experience to straighten U of M's books and reduce the burden on the taxpayers of Michigan. And I'll make sure that the laws passed by the people are respected by the University!"

Weiser is likely to be a strong voice on the board for curbing costs--if the longtime Republican Party fundraiser has time for it. George W. Bush rewarded his efforts by making him ambassador to Slovakia, and his role as one of six vice chairs of the Trump Victory Committee leaves him well positioned for an even bigger prize this time.    (end of article)

[Originally published in December, 2016.]

 

 
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