National attention is being focused on a Democratic Party primary election. A circular being distributed by a political organization that calls itself the ‘America Votes Action Fund Michigan’ denounced a Democratic primary candidate in an August 6 special election in Michigan. The glossy postcard features an elderly bespectacled white male in the act of raising a forkful of food his mouth while extending a TV remote control in his other hand. Behind him stands, incongruously, an elephant: the Republican mascot. On the other side of the card are a series of accusations lain against Karyn Miller, one of six Democrats in a race for the state legislature. The bottom of the card reads, “Can we talk about the elephant in the room?”
The seat for 49th District of the Michigan state House of Representatives became vacant when its previous occupant, school teacher Jim Ananich, was elected to the Michigan state Senate in a May 2013 special election. The district encompasses a portion of the cities of Flint, Flushing, Mount Morris, and Swartz Creek, along with a part of Mount Morris Township – a suburban locality. The district is leans towards the Democratic Party by far at 72.2 percent Democratic. There is also a Republican primary on the same day in which voters, irrespective of party affiliation, may vote. However, they must choose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican polls. The winner of the Democratic primary is almost surely to be elected in the general election to be held this November.
Voters will also decide on a millage renewal and a tax increase for an outlying rural school district.
Genesee County Clerk/Register John Gleason, a Democrat who until November 2012 was a member of the state Senate, expects a low turnout in the race, as does veteran political observer and Flint-native Bill Ballenger. There are currently 332,325 registered voters in Genesee County, which encompasses the 49th district. The area leans towards the Democratic Party, having long been home to both General Motors and the United Auto Workers’ union. According to an interview Gleason had with the Flint Journal, voters are tired of going to the polls because this will be the fourth special election since November 2012 in a county that is now more notable for murder than building automobiles. Senator Jim Ananich, with solid union support, was elected in the May special election that was necessitated when Gleason left the body to take a seat in the county government.
Six Democratic candidates and two Republicans face off for the 49th District state House seat. The winning Republican candidate from the primary will face off with the winning Democratic candidate on the November ballot.
Democrats Karyn Miller, 49, Flint Township Supervisor; Phil Phelps, 34, of Flushing; Trevor Rodgers, 24, of Flint Township; Dan Hipkins, 57, of Mt. Morris; Don Wright, 73, of Flint Township, and Eli Isaguirre, 27, of Swartz Creek will appear on the November 6 ballot. Republican candidates Patrick Duvendeck, 64, of Flushing, a suburb of Flint, and 2011 Flint mayoral candidate Don Pfeiffer, 40, of Flint are also on the ballot.
Phelps has support from the UAW, which remains strong in the area despite the outmigration of manufacturing jobs and ageing pensioners. Isaguirre has support from another union, AFSCME, as well as Flint’s Democratic mayor Dayne Walling.
Miller is currently serving as a member of the board of supervisors of Flint Township, which like the rest of the county is struggling with unemployment, outmigration, and flagging business. Her issues in the campaign appear to be basic nuts-and-bolts of local governance. In an interview with the Flint Journal, Miller was proud of bringing curbside recycling to the township by signing a contract with a private company to provide the service at a lower cost than government. “Weekly trash pickup, weekly yard waste, weekly recycling… that to me is a big accomplishment.” She also said that a highlight of her time on the board was the building of a bicycle path with private funds and grants.
However, the postcard circulated by America Votes says that she had once run for office as a Republican but changed her affiliation to the Democratic Party “to increase her chances of winning.” The card quoted Miller as saying that she “’has changed her political affiliation, but not her values.’” The card also said that Miller “headed a conservative, anti-woman organization” because she had served as president of Pregnancy Helpline, a pro-life organization that offers free pregnancy testing and other assistance to expectant mothers.
Local voters have received phone calls from organizations asking for whom they will vote in the special election. In one case, a local voter received a call that repeated some of the accusations contained in the America Votes postcard.
Isaguirre’s website described his family as staunch labor union supporters. A graduate of Michigan State University, the young Isaguirre worked for Mark Schauer, a former U.S. Representative who is now running for the state governorship. According to Isaguirre, “Mark showed him what it takes to be a true public servant and champion for the middle class, and how to run a great campaign.” Among his other qualifications, Isaguirre’s website credits him for fighting for “worker’s rights in Wisconsin,” and for working at the Michigan Consumers for Healthcare to implement Obamacare. He also worked for President Barack Obama’s “grassroots organization.” The website did not specific whether he has any private sector experience.
The president of America Votes is Joan Fitz-Gerald, a former president of the Colorado state Senate and an active member of the Democratic party. The website for the group says that Fitz-Gerald was a chair of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, being credited for bringing 10 new state chambers under Democratic control in the 2006 election: a gain of 350 legislative seats nationally.
The executive director is Greg Speed, a Chicago-land native. According to the America Votes website, Speed has “experience advancing progressive causes by leading grassroots advocacy programs, strategic communications efforts and political campaigns, and by working as a senior staffer to Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.” He was also involved in launching Envision Communications, a Democratic media and communications firm that provides consulting services to progressive organizations, labor unions, political candidates and committees. He is a former communications director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.