Let's get ready to rumble: The races to watch in 2012
It’s one of my favorite – and most despised, paradoxically – times: Election season. It will be very long days and nights for us here at the Spinal Column Newsweekly as we work to bring you the best coverage of the races as possible, yet it’s also remarkably fun and rewarding to participate in election coverage here.
And I know that many of you are just paying attention to the presidential campaigns of President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney. But you don’t have to turn on one of the cable news channels — where you would see much talk about Romney and Donald Trump (Here’s my silly 2011 take on The Trumpster) — though to see some heated and exciting political contests; we have them right here in our own backyard.
As the person who observes this stuff in detail, here are some races in the lakes area that I think you should keep an eagle’s eye on as we wade through this experiment known as democracy:
- First and foremost, the one that just recently skyrocketed from predictable to monumental is the Republican race to represent Michigan’s new 11th Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter failed to gather enough signatures (244 were gathered out of the minimum of 1,000 needed), throwing that race into turmoil as McCotter, who is in his fifth term, announced on Tuesday that he’ll be running as a write-in candidate for the GOP nod. He faces Kerry Bentivolio, a teacher and Vietnam War veteran who some in the local and national media have (not without a fair amount of jest) noted raises reindeer. Keep an eye on this one, west Oakland. McCotter’s reelection bid will be a tough climb as he will likely have to spend uber amounts of cash to get his name out there as a write-in.
- Two sitting Congressmen, Gary Peters and Hansen Clarke, are vying to keep their seats in the U.S. Capitol as they – and four others – look to gain the Democratic nomination for the new 14th U.S. House District that was created by Republicans in Lansing during redistricting. An odd district in of itself, it contains communities both north and south of Eight Mile Road and as disparate economically as they come. Also going after the seat are Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, former state Rep. Mary Waters, John Hauler and Bob Costello. With six Democrats, many of whom have some serious political clout, it’ll be a fight.
- The race for Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds. There’s already been some tension in the race, with both sides coming out firing. I’ve described this privately as one that could be a political bloodbath, and I’m now saying it publicly. Republican Bill Bullard, Jr. was appointed to the job after Ruth Johnson was elected as Michigan Secretary of State in 2010; state Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Commerce, Wolverine Lake) was effectively redistricted out of her seat. Definitely one to watch as November approaches.
- Don’t forget the race for Oakland County Prosecutor, a job that’s held by Democrat Jessica Cooper. Former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, a Rochester Republican, wants to oust her. They’ve already traded barbs, so I’d expect the same when the general election rolls around. Both are unopposed in the primary.
- Water Resources Commissioner John P. McCulloch stayed in the U.S. Senate race last year for about six seconds. He faces Oakland County Commissioner Jim Nash (D-Farmington Hills). This could get testy because Nash was effectively forced out of his county commission seat during the whole redistricting battle that’s died down a bit, but people are still pretty sore over it. Nash was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the new state law that stripped redistricting power away from the Dems – the reason why, Democrats say, Nash was targeted for ouster during the redrawing of district lines by Republicans. So there’s the backstory. Now let’s see what happens here. Mark Dankowski is also running as a Democrat, and there’s some backstory there, too, as he is a former employee in McCulloch’s department. Lots of allegations flying around this race.
- It’s anybody’s guess what will happen in the end in the Andy Meisner vs. Marty Knollenberg race for Oakland County treasurer. Meisner is a former state lawmaker, while Knollenberg serves in the state House. Neither are pushovers. Meisner has the advantage of incumbency (although that didn’t matter four years ago when he ousted former treasurer Pat Dohany); Knollenberg has name recognition (his dad is former Congressman Joe Knollenberg). Both are formidable pols who I expect to fight hard for victory in November.
- The district that Rep. Brown would have to had run in is now pretty solidly Republican after the redistricting process, and those fighting for that nomination in August are county Commissioner David Potts (R-Birmingham); Birmingham Schools Board of Education Member Robert Lawrence; David Wolkinson, an attorney and former staffer on Gov. Rick Snyder’s campaign team in 2010; and Bloomfield Hills City Commissioner Michael McCready. There’s already been a clean campaign pledge and requests that candidates not spend more of their own money on the race than they can raise. This is bound to be a tough battle to succeed state Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Orchard Lake), the powerful chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee. Moss, who has made no secret that he will run for the state Senate in 2014, is term-limited.
- The race for the 39th state House District seat has as many candidates as my childhood friend Louie had fingers: Eight. With that crowded of a field, who knows what will come of it? There are some familiar faces in the contest on both sides of the aisle (six Republicans, two Democrats) and some relative unknowns.
- Incumbent Oakland County Circuit Court judges don’t often face challengers (one in the last 30 years, according to county staff). This time the five incumbents – Wendy Potts, Phyllis McMillen, Michael Warren, Denise Langford-Morris and Leo Bowmen – face two: Deborah Carley and William Rollstin. I’m watching.
- District Court judges are facing challengers, too, as Jodi Debbrecht of the 51st District Court and Diane D’Agostini of the 48th District Court face one and three challengers, respectively.
- This isn’t in our coverage area, but the Oakland County Board of Commissioners 17th District race is bound to be interesting for those of you keeping an eye on the entire county chess board. Incumbent Commissioners Craig Covey of Ferndale and Helaine Zack of Huntington Woods, both Democrats, are squaring off in the Aug. 7 primary election after county board Republicans lumped them into the same district during the reapportionment process.
- Here’s a simple yet ridiculously complex one: Any race for West Bloomfield Township government. There’s plenty of mud that will be flying during any number of township races – mostly Democrat vs. Democrat mud – for seats on the township board, sources say. Sitting full-timers (supervisor, clerk and treasurer) have primary challengers, including Treasurer Teri Adelberg Weingarten, who will face fellow a Democrat, Trustee Gene Farber, on Aug. 7. But don’t limit your attention just to township board races: The “lesser” races for smaller boards and commissions have an impact on township politics and governance, as well. All’s fair in love, war and West Bloomfield. Keep in mind that this election season will also feature the return of former township supervisor David Flaisher, who is running as an independent against the winner of the Democratic primary featuring Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste, Jonathan Warshay and Robert Egren.
- Keep an eye out on the Highland Township supervisor race to succeed Triscia Pilchowski. There are a half-dozen vying for the Republican nod (the community is about 147 percent Republican), so let’s see how that one plays out.
- Also of note is the White Lake Township supervisor race featuring current Supervisor Greg Baroni and challenger Matt Sprader, both Republicans. Sprader has taken umbrage with a variety of aspects of township operations, so we’ll probably be hearing a lot about that in the days and weeks leading up to the August primary.
So there you have it – at least for now. This in no way is comprehensive, and anything in politics can change at a moment’s notice, even at the local level, but this is how I see the election season’s drama so far.
What are your thoughts?