And it’s not just changing demographics — although that does play a role — in the county that U.S. Census estimates for 2011 peg at 78 percent white and 14 percent black causing a shift away from the GOP, according to Frank Houston, chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party.
“It is shifting. It is becoming more friendly to folks other than white males. But I think that’s only a small part of the story. That takes time,” Houston said.
Throw in there what Houston called a “radical” shift away from the Republican Party values of 20 or 30 years ago to today’s GOP that is “more beholden to folks who are extremist,” and “catering” to those in that wing of the party, and you have a recipe for last week’s election in which county Clerk/Register of Deeds Bill Bullard, Jr. and county Water Resources Commissioner John P. McCulloch were tossed from office in favor of their Democratic challengers.
“That’s a two-edged sword,” Oakland County Republican Party Chairman Jim Thienel said of the changing county demographics. “It’s a cultural change and a demographic change. You have a mayor (Janice Daniels of Troy) who lost her seat primarily because she believes marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s a vast cultural change that I’m amazed at. There’s obviously a demographic change.”
Bullard, a Highland Township Republican who previously served as a state lawmaker and Board of Commissioners chairman, fell by 7 percentage points to state Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Commerce, Wolverine lake), who made national and international headlines this summer when she was muzzled on the floor of the state House for her comments during a debate over abortion legislation.
Bullard was appointed to the county clerk/register of deeds post following Ruth Johnson’s election as Michigan Secretary of State in 2010.
McCulloch, another former chairman of the county board, narrowly lost to county Commissioner Jim Nash (D-Farmington Hills) by 1 percentage point, according to unofficial election results.
With Bullard and McCulloch gone, that leaves only two Republicans — county Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Sheriff Michael Bouchard — in countywide executive positions after they easily secured double-digit wins last Tuesday over their Democratic challengers.
Treasurer Andy Meisner and Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, both Democrats, fended off challenges from a pair of well-known Republicans in term-limited state Rep. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) and former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Bishop of Rochester, respectively.
“I think the primary problem we had is that there were 26,000 more straight-party voters on the Democrats’ side than the Republican side,” Thienel said. “That being said, the unions’ and women’s vote seemed to be strong against our countywides, even though we won on the (state) proposals that we wanted to defeat.”
Thienel added that the “Republican base didn’t turn out” and that the county GOP needs to work to drum up more enthusiastic turnout among its supporters next time around.
However, the county Board of Commissioners — following a heated redistricting battle last year — retains a strong Republican majority, 14-7, after Tuesday’s election. The board was winnowed to 21 members from 25 under legislation signed into law last year.