This Week in Government: Ahead of the 2022 General ElectionNovember 4, 2022
Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.
Supreme Court Stay Means Disputed Poll Challenger Regulations to Stay in Effect
A poll challenger guidance issued by the Department of State will stay in place for the general election after the Supreme Court on Thursday issued a stay of the Court of Claims order that knocked down key portions of the manual.
In DeVisser et al. v. Benson and O’Halloran et al. v. Benson (MSC Docket No. 164956, 164955), the court, in a 5-2 order, stayed the October decision from the Court of Appeals, meaning the manual challenged in this lawsuit will stay in effect for Tuesday’s elections.
Plaintiffs in the case challenged several portions that were added to the manual clerks to use for guidance and training on election challengers. It was issued in May 2022 and was in place for the August primary.
In these cases, plaintiffs include the Michigan Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, and GOP-aligned election challengers. They argued the manual in question was a rule that was not promulgated through the proper channels. The Court of Claims did not block the entire manual in its order, but rather specific items.
The Department of State argued the manual is instructional and provides mere guidance, meaning it does not fall under rulemaking requirements.
Specific items in the manual that the Court of Claims order would have blocked included a new uniform challenger-credential form, a requirement that challengers only communicate with an election inspector designated the “challenger liaison,” a section allowing political parties to appoint or credential challengers at any time until Election Day but seemingly not on Election Day and a ban on cell phones in absent voter counting boards.
With the Supreme Court’s stay, those items will remain in place, as they were for the primary.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement her office has remained confident in the legality of the Michigan Bureau of Elections’ guidelines surrounding election challengers “and their rightful balance providing transparency while protecting voters and poll workers from disruptions and intimidation.”
“In a moment when we often see lawsuits filed not to enforce the law but instead to cause confusion and further partisan strategies, I am grateful to the Michigan Supreme Court for providing clarity to all voters and election officials that the challenger guidelines and protocols used in previous elections will remain in effect for next week’s general election,” Benson said.
Attorney General Dana Nessel also praised the order from the court.
The Michigan Republican Party, however, said the manual limits the ability of election observers to challenge the integrity of the election and makes the process less transparent, pointing to the dissent from Viviano.
“It is unfortunate that Benson, with Dana Nessel enabling her, is refusing to follow Michigan law and the Democrat majority at the Michigan Supreme Court has now used a procedural issue to allow Benson’s illegal rules to proceed through this election,” Gustavo Portela, MIGOP deputy chief of staff and communications director, said in a statement. “The Michigan GOP strongly disagrees and will continue to fight for a transparent and honest election process. It should be easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
Viviano, in his dissent, said the case did not meet the standards for a stay. He also rejected the idea of a delay in filing suit as Justice Richard Bernstein noted the suit came eight weeks after the August primary when the manual was in effect.
Further, he said the new portions of the manual would reduce transparency in the election process and pointed to the fact the state conducted elections without such provisions in the past.
“On their face, the secretary of state’s changes limit the ability of election observers to challenge the integrity of the election and make the vote-counting process less transparent,” Viviano wrote. “The secretary of state has imposed extra statutory requirements, the violation of which will lead to an otherwise legally authorized challenger’s removal. The changes further imperil statutorily required records by creating a system of permissible and impermissible challenges that essentially forces election inspectors to adjudicate the merits of the challenge before deciding whether they even need to record it at all. It is also unclear how efficiency will be increased by creating a potential bottleneck by forcing all challenges to funnel through the challenger liaison.”
Bernstein pushed back on Viviano’s dissent, writing that significant legal issues are at play in the case that cannot be vetted before the election. He also said he believes the plaintiffs did delay, as one expressed disagreement with the new provisions in July 2022.
Further, he said if the August 2022 primary went smoothly with the provisions in place, the Nov. 8 election shouldn’t be any different.
“Defendants note that the guidance is binding on local clerks, and that training based on this guidance for both local clerks and election inspectors has already taken place across the state,” Bernstein wrote. “It is impractical to think that new training could both be developed and take place the week before the election without a significant use of state resources, even if we assume this is a logistically achievable task within the time frame before us. Although both of my dissenting colleagues deny that any significant changes would be necessary at this point, it seems obvious that they would be — the August 2022 primary election was held with the challenged provisions in place, and a change would need to be made less than a week before the November 2022 general election. To say this would not be disruptive is to ignore reality and basic human behavior.”
Detroit Clerk Prepares for Smooth Election, Hints at Lower Voter Turnout
DETROIT – Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said Thursday she expects somewhere between 28 and 33% voter turnout in the city, a number that, if correct, could pose big problems for Democrats running statewide given the importance of a strong vote in the heavily Democratic city.
Winfrey said the city has sent out a sample ballot and notification to register the approximately 508,000 registered voters ahead of this election.
The city has issued roughly 83,000 ballots and anticipates counting between 75,000 and 78,000 by election night. So far, the counting board has approximately 60,000 ballots and expects to receive the remaining 15,000 to 18,000 between Sunday and Election Day.
“That means over 50% of all ballots cast in this election will be by absentee ballot,” Winfrey said at a pre-election news conference.
If the trend remains the same, Winfrey said her office estimates an additional 13-17% is coming from the precinct in addition to the 83,000 ballots, thus landing the city at its less than 35% voter turnout for the 2022 election.
Between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., Winfrey told media the state should begin seeing some returns.
Approximately 4,000 workers have been trained to process folders for absentee ballots, either at one of their 450 precincts or at the central counting board at Huntington Place. Winfrey also told the media that many of their staff are fighting some sort of viral illness.
Nonetheless, Winfrey was confident the night of Nov. 8 would go smoothly, saying they are taking advantage of the preprocessing of absentee ballots recently signed into law. On Nov. 6 and Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the local administrators will “prepare the ballot for tabulation by verifying valid sub numbers and recording all the information in the electronic poll.”
“We are hoping to take this opportunity to get a head start so that we can begin tabulating earlier on Election Day,” Winfrey said. “So, on Sunday and Monday, roughly 150 coworkers will be at this very space will be working.”
Preprocessing is not new to the Detroit staff, Winfrey added, saying they were allowed to do so in 2020.
“We’ve worked with both major parties to ensure as much as possible that we have representation at all of our counting boards,” Winfrey said.
Daniel Baxter, director of elections for the city of Detroit, said last year, for the municipal elections, all of their counting boards were balanced in both the primary and the general. For the latest primary election, Baxter said only seven of the 450 absentee voting precincts were out of balance, adding that if one were to calculate the difference, it was off by one vote.
“That’s our goal and our objective for this particular election, is to make sure that we steady our pace, make sure that we stay focused, to ensure that every ballot is counted in counting board, make sure that we do it efficiently,” Baxter said.
Downriver, Macomb, Incumbents Key for House Majority Race
With slightly more than a week before Election Day, House districts key for both sides as they seek to control the chamber next term center around Downriver, Macomb County, and potentially vulnerable incumbents.
Then there are three more districts Downriver, one where Democrats stopped spending and two others that are friendlier on paper to the Democrats, and both sides are all in.
Besides Shannon, the open 61st House District in Macomb is a key seat where both sides are fighting.
With Election Day looming, undecided voters are starting to pick sides. The areas truly at play are tougher for the Democrats as districts like O’Malley’s and Tisdel’s might be trending their way, but not quite there yet.
And while Downriver is fickle, the area generally is trending toward the GOP.
Democrats, though, seem to be in good shape in the Grand Rapids seats, where Republicans don’t seem to be spending many resources with just over a week to go.
But keeping all of their vulnerable incumbents and holding on to seats like the 109th House District in Marquette is a daunting task. Even more so after the 46th House District came off the table for the Dems as candidate Maurice Imhoff‘s record of threats to his school and sexual harassment allegations came to light, and they pulled support.
The map remains tougher for Democrats. Assuming they win all safe/likely Democratic seats, along with the 56th District covering parts of Troy/Clawson and the 20th House District anchored by West Bloomfield, they would have 40 seats in the bag. Of the 23 below, they would need to win 16 for the majority.
Republicans have 46 safe/likely Republican seats and appear the heavy favorite in the 62nd House District in eastern Macomb County. That means they need just nine of the other 23 seats below to get to 56 seats.
Here are the 15 seats Gongwer News Service rates as key to the House majority:
1. GARZA V. DESANA IN THE 29TH: Republicans have been bullish about unseating Rep. Alex Garza (D-Taylor) in this key Downriver 29th House District for the entire cycle. Garza has a much tougher district than he did before redistricting and is facing Republican James DeSana of Carleton.
Democrats see a realistic path for Garza, starting with his home turf of Taylor. Some said he is hitting the doors hard and doing what he has to. Republicans feel good about the environment in general Downriver, saying President Joe Biden is underwater here and it will help their candidates.
2. SHANNON V. SMITH IN 58TH: The combination of Macomb County and a GOP candidate who is not a liability have Republicans feeling strongly about their chances to unseat Rep. Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights) in the 58th House District. Republican Michelle Smith of Sterling Heights, owner of a real estate appraisal company, appears different from the candidates Republicans have had in the past against the incumbent.
Republicans say they can hammer Shannon on his record and that it is effective. Democrats, though, say Shannon has a strong record for the district and are emphasizing his support for public safety. They also point to Smith’s past misdemeanor assault conviction.
3. MILLER V. BINIECKI IN 31ST: Democrats have Van Buren Township Trustee Reggie Miller going up against Dale Biniecki of Monroe, a trucker, in the 31st House District. Again, Republicans feel good about the environment Downriver. Democrats feel really good about the 31st because Miller is a local official, and they feel she is running a strong campaign. This district is huge geographically and includes a mixture of GOP-dominant communities and Dem ones. The base numbers favor the Democrats.
4. ANDREWS V. WHITEFORD IN THE 38TH: This new Lake Michigan shoreline district has everyone interested. Democrats think Joey Andrews of St. Joseph, a policy analyst for the AFL-CIO, is a good fit. Some old tweets recently came out where he compared police to Nazis, but Democrats say he has been messaging on his support for public safety long before the GOP attempted to use those tweets against him. Republicans are happy with Kevin Whiteford of Casco Township and think the tweet attack is resonating. Democrats are spending big here.
5. KULL V. THOMPSON IN 28TH: House Democrats aren’t spending in this Downriver seat making up the 28th House District as the fundamentals are tough given the Republican tilt in Monroe County. But Democrat Robert Kull of Newport, a veteran, is an interesting candidate with the backing of former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and is said to be running a solid campaign himself. He is up against Republican Jamie Thompson of Brownstown Township, a nurse. Thompson is said to be working hard but supports things like a so-called forensic audit of the 2020 election. This could be a surprise on election night, but again, Republicans are confident in their Downriver operation.
6. HAADSMA V. MORGAN IN 44TH: It truly is a deja-vu situation in the 44th House District race between Democratic Rep. Jim Haadsma of Battle Creek and Republican Dave Morgan of Battle Creek. Democrats see this as yet another failed attempt from Morgan, who has spent little in the past. House Republicans aren’t spending here but think Morgan could pull it off without expending resources, as he has come close in the past. Calhoun County is trending Republican, and even Battle Creek turnout isn’t always the strongest. It is one to watch, but Haadsma probably has the edge.
7. MARTINI V. STEELE IN 54TH: Democrats have Shadia Martini of Bloomfield Township, an immigrant from Syria, against Republican Orion Township Trustee Donni Steele. Both sides are setting themselves up as the commonsense choice for voters. Democrats feel good about the fundamentals here: a highly educated district with a lot of suburban women, two segments trending their way. Education could be a big issue here, and Democrats feel good about that, too. Martini had a stronger fundraising period than Steele, and Dems are putting slightly more money in this district. It is likely going down to the wire.
8. BERNARD V. TISDEL IN 55TH: Democrats and Republicans are split on what the top issue is here. Patricia Bernard of Rochester Hills is working to unseat Rep. Mark Tisdel in this Rochester Hills-based 55th House District. Dems think Tisdel has strong headwinds because of the abortion issue. Republicans think the economy is a top issue by a long shot as voters choose who to represent them in the House. This seat will be a clear test of two of the most conflicting issues in this cycle. One factor to watch. Republicans are spending for their candidates in this area higher up on the ticket, like John James for US House and Michael Webber for state Senate. Democrats are not spending for their candidates in those races, and US Rep. Elissa Slotkin no longer is running here to turbocharge the Democratic operation.
9. HILL V. WAGNER IN 109TH: Republicans are incredibly bullish about Melody Wagner of Gwinn defeating Marquette City Commissioner Jenn Hill in the 109th House District. It is the last seat in the Upper Peninsula to have Democratic representation. Gwinn has lost it twice. Democrats contend the seat is purple and feel good about Hill. Republicans are confident in their chances and think the UP is trending their way. Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) appears in an ad the House Republicans started running for Wagner this weekend.
10. O’MALLEY V. COFFIA IN 103RD: The battle in the Traverse City-area between Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) and Grand Traverse County Commissioner Betsy Coffia continues. Both sides are spending, but the GOP has reported nearly $1 million. Again, Republicans are confident in their incumbent who is working hard while they spend the big bucks. Democrats are pointing to his record on abortion and his signing onto a lawsuit doubting 2020 election results.
11. HOOD V. AFENDOULIS IN 81ST: This Grand Rapids-area race between Democratic Rep. Rachel Hood of Grand Rapids and former Rep. Lynn Afendoulis of Grand Rapids is one where the GOP is spending a bit. Republicans really like Afendoulis and feel she still has name ID from her family history and congressional run. Democrats feel strongly about Hood and her record. Republicans think the Grand Rapids environment is not as strong for them as it is Downriver and in Macomb.
12. CHURCHES V. HOWEY IN 27TH: Democrats love their candidate in this Downriver seat. Jaime Churches of Grosse Isle, a teacher, is apparently hitting the doors very hard. Robert Howey of Trenton has run before and lost. He also was not the first choice for the GOP. Of course, Republicans feel good about the environment here, but this is a friendlier Downriver seat for the Democrats on paper. Dems are also spending a bit more here.
13. MENTZER V. AIELLO IN 61ST: This 50/50 seat in Macomb between Mount Clemens City Commissioner Denise Mentzer, the Democrat, and Mike Aiello of Clinton Township, the Republican, is expected to go down to the wire. It’s an interesting development because the Republican primary was almost lifeless, with almost no Republican organizations getting involved. That, however, has changed with the HRCC coming in to help Aiello for the general. Republicans, of course, feel good generally about the environment. But this seat includes some Democratic-friendly territory, some GOP-friendly territory, and some 50/50. Democrats feel good about their candidate and the work she is putting in. Democrats are spending more here. Clinton Township has long been something of a white whale for the GOP. Is this the year?
14. FITZGERALD V. DEKRYGER IN 83RD: Another Grand Rapids-area contest where Democrats are outspending the GOP. Here, Republican Lisa DeKryger of Wyoming, co-owner of a building company, and Democratic Wyoming City Councilmember John Fitzgerald are the candidates. Republicans like DeKryger, but the environment could be to blame here. The Republican caucus has reported almost no spending for DeKryger. Fitzgerald has not only raised a solid amount as a candidate, but the caucus has also spent upwards of $300,000.
15. GLANVILLE V. MILANOWSKI IN 84TH: The reelection effort of Rep. Carol Glanville of Walker appears to be proving the crucial nature of special elections. After winning a safe GOP seat because of a flawed candidate in a May special election, Glanville is having an easier time with the incumbency designation and a friendlier seat. Republican Mike Milanowski of Walker ran a write-in campaign in the special and has some name recognition, though not much seems to be happening on the GOP side. Republicans do say there is outside spending in the Grand Rapids seats. Democrats are greatly outspending the GOP caucus here, and Milanowski is out of money.
ON THE RADAR
DEM INCUMBENTS IN 21st, 22nd, 76th: Rep. Angela Witwer is seeking reelection in the 76th House District, Rep. Kelly Breen in the 21st House District, and Rep. Matt Koleszar in the 22nd House District.
Republicans have Eaton County Commissioner Jeremy Whittum against Witwer of Delta Township, but Witwer has done all the right things in this seat rich with GOP voters. Witwer likely has this locked down. Don’t expect a GOP push here though there wasn’t much of one two years ago either, and it turned out close.
Against Breen of Novi, Republicans have Novi City Councilmember David Staudt. Breen is working; Democrats are spending. Republicans continue to watch, but no push yet.
Koleszar of Plymouth has Cathryn Neracher, a small business owner from Northville, as an opponent. Republicans feel Koleszar is the most vulnerable of these three Democratic incumbents because of the new district. Democrats have remained vigilant, and a strong Republican effort hasn’t surfaced here.
57TH: Democrat Aisha Farooqi, a Sterling Heights Zoning Board of Appeals member, is up against Republican Oakland County Commissioner Thomas Kuhn in the 57th House District. Republicans are dominating the spending here. This likely only comes into play if there’s a Democratic tsunami. Sterling Heights is just too friendly to the GOP, and the Republican is from the Troy part of the district, where a Democrat must run well to have a chance.
80TH: The caucuses are mostly staying out of this contest between Republican Jeff Johnson of Ada against Democrat Kent County Commissioner Philip Skaggs in the 80th House District. It has not been a battle of large spending so far. Johnson has put a large portion of his own money behind his candidacy. While Skaggs came out of a contested primary, he spent relatively little right before the election and is running out of cash. This seat, however, was the strongest for the Dems on paper heading into the cycle.
GOP INCUMBENTS IN 68TH, 96TH: No real effort to take on Rep. David Martin (R-Davison) in the 68th House District and Rep. Timmy Beson of Bay City in the 96th House District ever materialized from the Democrats. The GOP has spent heavily to shore up these incumbents.
CONLIN V. WOOLFORD IN 48TH: Jennifer Conlin of Ann Arbor is going up against Republican Jason Woolford of Genoa Township in this 48th House District that combines Washtenaw and Livingston counties. Republicans are keeping an eye on it, but nothing has materialized. Democrats are confident.
Tempers Flare as Karamo Hearing Wades into Re-litigation of 2020
An evidentiary hearing held Thursday to parse alleged evidence and to collect testimony in a lawsuit seeking to challenge Detroit’s absentee voting and counting system days before the election was at times contentious and turned into shouting matches between the presiding Wayne Circuit Court judge, the plaintiff’s attorney and the lawyer representing the city in court.
Although the hearing in Karamo v. Winfrey (Docket No. 22-012759) began early Thursday morning and lasted nearly nine hours, much of the content in the proceedings was overshadowed by the tense decorum, voluminous objections, accusations of racism and political grandstanding, and plenty of raised voices – with Wayne Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny routinely chiding plaintiffs’ attorney Daniel Hartman over his line of questioning.
The lawsuit filed by the Republican secretary of state nominee Kristina Karamo seeks to have residents in the city of Detroit vote in person, even if they have chosen to vote absentee, withdrew a motion to disqualify the entire slate of judges in the Wayne County Circuit Court from hearing the proceedings. Specifically, it challenges drop boxes – citing the conspiracy-riddled film “2,000 Mules” – signature matching for absentee ballots, absentee vote counting boards, returning absentee ballots via mail, and more.
Although voters across the state can return an absentee ballot through a drop box or via mail, the lawsuit seeks to require Detroit voters to vote in person. Additionally, it says absentee ballots not requested in person with ID cannot be verified through signature because there is no process from the Department of State. This is also true statewide.
Despite seeking to oversee the state’s elections as secretary of state, Karamo continues to make false claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
On Thursday, the hearing before Kenny was used mostly to collect testimony from Michigan’s longtime and former elections director Chris Thomas, who, following the 2020 election cycle, became the preeminent voice debunking election security disinformation, fraud conspiracies, and false claims that the election had been tampered with and stolen from then President Donald Trump in favor of current President Joe Biden.
Thomas was asked several questions about the setup of the makeshift absentee voter counting board facility inside the Huntington Center in downtown Detroit, not only for the upcoming general election but also for the August primary and the 2020 presidential race. The latter was at the center of several Michigan-related conspiracy theories. Some of those theories regarding Detroit became the focus of the “2,000 Mules” conspiracy documentary.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Daniel Hartman, spent hours asking Thomas, who has been acting as a consultant to the city of Detroit, and its clerk Janice Winfrey, a series of questions about his background and his experience running elections in the state. His questioning later waded into the weeds of technical capabilities of voting equipment used during the past few elections in Detroit into the actual layout of the Huntington facility and the inner workings of the counting board.
This line of questioning went on for several hours before Winfrey’s attorney, David Fink of Fink Bressack, called into doubt the relevancy of various videos from Dominion Voting Systems – which also found itself at the center of false and defamatory claims about the 2020 election – showing what he amounted to a sales pitch for their machines from 2017.
From there, things continued to get ugly between the two parties, with Fink claiming the videos were nothing more than online fodder from right-wing conspiracy “echo chambers” focused on election denialism that were irrelevant to the case. Hartman countered by saying the man in the video had been talking about technology used in Detroit’s elections.
After a break, Hartman continued down a similar path, with Kenny showing some frustration over probing and somewhat conjectural questions that Thomas had seemingly answered in various ways before being asked again.
Kenny said he was refusing to let the court and Hartman wade into a “litany” of conjecture that Fink, in turn, called an extended fishing expedition – twice – while also claiming that the plaintiffs were seeking extraordinary injunctive relief but were now attempting to gather evidence of wrongdoing from the witness stand.
When the judge asked Hartman why he was asking the type of questions he was and why he believed past instances would pose an issue when changes have been made to the Detroit AVB counting board processes, Hartman said the previous issues would show how the next election could be affected by similar concerns.
To that, Kenny said it sounded like the proceeding was “as close to fishing as it gets.”
When the way Detroit counts military absentee votes came up during the hearing, Fink objected to a line of Hartman’s questioning, saying the only way it was relevant to the case at hand was if the plaintiffs intended to demand from the court that Detroit invalidate military absentee votes at the close of arguments.
“If that’s what he intends to do, I will be shocked,” Fink said.
Kenny agreed, adding that his question calls into doubt what the actual remedy is – as Hartman has said throughout the case that invalidation was not the remedy; rather it was to have guidance from the court on how the process should be handled. The judge has quarreled with that assertion, as has Fink. The judge did so again in response to military votes that might be tossed if the injunction is granted to the plaintiffs.
“It gets back to what you are seeking in terms of the remedy that is listed in your complaint,” the judge said. “Hartman, according to what is there, the remedy that you are seeking would be … to prevent an eligible Detroit voter who happens to be serving in the Army near the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea would be ineligible to vote because he would not, most likely, get the permission of his staff sergeant to leave and pick up a ballot at the Detroit city clerk’s office.”
Kenny continued, shouting at this point, by saying that was point blank what the plaintiffs are asking for in the lawsuit. He also invoked some personal opposition to what that remedy would entail, as his son was in the military at present.
To that, Hartman began a shouting rant of his own, decrying the characterization that he would seek to disfranchise members of the military from having their votes count.
“To characterize me as trying to disenfranchise a military voter is offensive,” Hartman yelled. “Secondly, what I am trying to prevent is the person that is sitting in China, who hasn’t been to the United States or Detroit in 18 years, who may or may not exist, from casting a ballot through this lack of election security. And I’m tired of being called a racist by Fink. I’m sick of Fink saying I’m trying to disenfranchise the heroes in the military when I’m trying to secure this election.”
He also accused Kenny of “handcuffing” him by ruling that he could somehow not argue the legal maxims in the matter – instead wanting him to focus on the burden of proof of alleged wrongdoing in Detroit – and by letting the opposing counsel issue arguments directly attacking the requested relief as patently racist and misinformed. Indeed, Fink has called the lawsuit blatantly racist throughout the proceedings because he argues it asserts falsely that the majority-Black city of Detroit does not have the competence to run its own free and fair elections without issue.
“I asked you if you were biased in this case. You have indicated that you are not, so if you’re going to hold me to a standard, sir, with all due respect, that I cannot raise the law and that I am only to talk about process, you cannot then allow Fink to come in and address me with the remedy to make his political point that he practiced in the mirror this morning.”
At that point, Hartman called for a break, but Kenny denied the request.
“Too bad. You may need a break, but we need to continue,” the judge said.
Several hours later, the same pattern emerged – long spells of questioning, cross-examination, and redirecting of Thomas resulted in flared tempers between Hartman, the presiding judge, and Fink. There were also several times when Kenny had to stop the two from either talking over or taking potshots at each other.
Eventually, the pair took testimony on direct and cross-examination of Detroit Election Administrator Daniel Baxter, which again say the two attorneys return to shouting, objecting to whole lines of questioning and a short fight over the merits of the theories presented in “2,000 Mules.”
Hartman again attempted to bring up those theories as evidence of what might occur in this election. But it was stated by Thomas and Baxter stated that they have state and city-approved equipment and that a contract with election software company Konnech – whose executive has been accused of giving China access to sensitive voting data – was no longer in effect and that the software was not being used in the upcoming election.
Proceedings are to continue Friday morning for closing arguments. The general election is Tuesday.
Kildee, Scholten Confident They’ll Prevail in Key U.S. House Seats
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee and attorney Hillary Scholten are running in two of the more competitive districts in the state. In separate interviews with Gongwer News Service, the two Democrats were not worried record-high inflation or economic concerns would cost them their elections.
The two candidates are running in districts moving in opposite political directions. Kildee’s I-75 corridor seat, which includes Flint, Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland, is an ancestral Democratic stronghold that has been trending Republican. Scholten is trying to become the first Democrat to represent Grand Rapids in the U.S. House since the mid-1970s in an area that is trending Democratic.
8th DISTRICT: It is a first for Kildee to face the full force of the national Republican fundraising apparatus. It’s Scholten’s second try in a competitive seat, though the newly drawn district she seeks is much more favorable for a Democrat than the seat she lost two years ago to U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer. Further, Meijer was ousted in the Republican primary, so she’ll face newcomer John Gibbs instead.
Republican committees have spent about $3 million in the 8th District race between Kildee and Republican Paul Junge of Fenton, compared to about $5.8 million from Democratic committees.
Kildee (D-Flint) said no day is quite the same as campaigning, saying he spends as much time as possible in the Flint, Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland communities.
Reproductive rights are on the ballot literally and figuratively, the incumbent said. The issue of abortion access is one that comes up all the time when Kildee is meeting with constituents.
“It’s also on the ballot in a lot of these races. It’s certainly on the ballot in my reelection for Congress because I trust women to make those choices, my opponent thinks the government should dictate those choices without exceptions,” Kildee said. “I think that’s a dangerous path that Paul Junge and the Republicans would take us on.”
Kildee also said economic issues are a part of the conversation, no matter what year it is. With this in mind, Kildee has tried to focus on the passed or proposed legislation to bring down costs, such as his push to cap the price of insulin, suspend the federal gas tax, and use higher blends of ethanol.
“The work we’re doing to try and lower costs for families is largely a focus along with the investment in our future, like the CHIPS and Science Act,” Kildee said, which is among legislation that he said incentivized domestic production of materials to be used for solar panels and semiconductors.
The economy and abortion are among the most pressing issues for voters. Typically, when the economy is struggling, the party holding the presidency loses seats. However, abortion access could prove to be a saving grace for Democrats. Kildee told Gongwer he thought Democrats had a good chance of either winning or holding onto congressional seats in November.
“Each seat is won and lost on its own,” Kildee said. “Those big national trends are interesting but each of these congressional districts is a race between two candidates, so it’s hard to see these national trends playing out locally.”
On the issue of inflation, Kildee said he thought people generally understand everyone came out of a global pandemic that “disrupted the economy like nothing else has.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine also impacted the economy, Kildee said.
“The real question I hear from people is less about pointing fingers and laying blame, but more about, ‘well, what’s your plan? What’s your plan to get us through this?’” he said. “The difference between myself and my opponent is that I can point to the plan.”
His plan builds on already passed legislation that aimed to reduce the costs of groceries, gasoline, and infant formula. On the flip side, Kildee said the Republican plan largely consists of placing blame and latching on to conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
“It’s kind of a frightening thing what’s happened to the Republican Party,” the Democrat said.
Republicans are trying to flip several seats in the state, especially those which are either tossup or tilting Democrat. Kildee’s 8th District is rated by Gongwer as tilt Democratic. Kildee was asked if redistricting more than any Republican challenger made this district more competitive.
“Redistricting clearly has made an impact,” he said, adding that he thought the 8th congressional district was fairly drawn.
All of the communities within the district are connected, Kildee continued, with the communities sharing geographic, financial, and even familial connections.
A slate of ads, in particular, features a clip of Kildee from the summer of 2021 saying he believed inflation was transitory. Republicans bashed Democrats over these claims, with many feeling it minimized a devastating economic outlook. Now with a 40-year high record inflation, these ads are flooding the airwaves in the district to knock Kildee.
When asked about the ads, Kildee said, “I believe we cannot buy an election,” saying that was what was really going on. Kildee added that the U.S. needs political reform to eliminate “all of that dark money.”
“This is just politics and it’s just the worst version of politics,” he said. “And it’s not so much just super PACs. My opponent, his super PAC is his own inherited trust fund and … what I find even more offensive is the person who has never lived in or anywhere near this congressional district, renting a post office in order to file petitions to represent a community that he knows nothing about, but he can do it … two years ago he tried the same thing, he parachuted into Elissa Slotkin’s district and lost, and what did he do? He left those people behind.”
Attorney Paul Junge first lost to U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) in 2020 for the then 7th U.S. House District. Born in Michigan, Junge moved to California in his youth and spent much of his life practicing there as an attorney before moving back to the state to run for Congress. This time, Junge has a Trump endorsement in his pocket and made an appearance at the former president’s rally in early October.
President Joe Biden also continues to have low approval ratings, and some Republicans have quipped smart Democrats should separate themselves from the president. Kildee said his district knows when he shares views with Biden just as much as when the congressional member disagrees with the president.
“If you want to run against Joe Biden, run for president,” Kildee said of Republicans claiming a vote for their Democratic opponents is a vote for Biden.
The biggest difference for Kildee between himself and Junge is that he “doesn’t give up on the people that he works for.”
“Sometimes you really have to work hard for a while to get something done,” Kildee said. “It took me a while to get help to the people of Flint in the water crisis. Took us a while to get help for people in Midland when they were dealing with the flood as a result of the dam breach. Took me a while to get prisoners out of Iran and working on getting those people free, it took years. And what I’ve seen in my time is if it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth continuing to fight for until you get something for the people that you work for.”
Among Kildee’s top priorities includes bringing back jobs to the union-concentrated district and also that the cap of the price of insulin applies to everyone.
“It’s mostly about making sure that we invest in our own communities … creating opportunities for people to raise their family,” Kildee said, adding that he wants to ensure the U.S. is also dependent more so on its own supply chain than foreign entities.
Gongwer News Service made several attempts in recent weeks to reach Junge for this story. His campaign never responded.
3RD DISTRICT: Scholten first ran against Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) for the 3rd U.S. House District in 2020. After losing in a close race, Scholten has thrown her hat into the ring again for another try in 2022 and perhaps could secure the seat, especially with Meijer being knocked out of his primary.
“This district has been represented by the same type of individual – Republican, male – for its entirety. I’d be the first Democratic woman in west Michigan’s history to represent us in Congress,” Scholten said. “As a working mom of two kids, that really means something right now. A representative should be someone who understands the needs of the district. Whether it’s the rising cost, the need for good paying jobs, good schools, safer communities, I understand the issues that matter to west Michigan families because they matter to me and my family too.”
Gongwer has rated the 3rd U.S. House District as tilt Democratic. Scholten is also receiving moderate support, with the Republican and Independent members for Scholten formed in October, and that includes some Republican former state legislators.
“This year, they’re putting party aside and voting for the person,” Scholten said. “I think that I’m someone who has shown whether you’re a progressive or a conservative, whether you’re Democrat or Independent, I’m someone who can work with anyone to deliver for the needs of West Michigan.”
The lifelong resident of the west Michigan community said she was not raised in a Democratic household and did not identify as a Democrat until she was a senior in high school.
“It’s through my own thinking, application of policies, through the facts that I’ve seen as a social worker, public interest attorney, thinking through the policies that make the most sense to me that means running as a Democrat in 2022,” Scholten said. “But it does not always mean going along with whatever the Democratic Party wants to do. I’ll be a well-reasoned voice.”
Scholten’s message that she says really resonates with people is also evident in her campaign fundraising. She said the many investments from those across the community come from people not only seeing “our ability to win, but they trust me with their resources.”
There is no such thing as a typical campaign day for her, with each day filled with a different combination of door-knocking, interviews, and events with constituents. On the trail, Scholten said she hears that people are ready for change.
“I think they recognize the high, high stakes in this election,” she said. “The contrast between me and my opponent could not be starker. Are we going to be represented by someone who is a pro-democracy, pro-choice, pro-commonsense candidate or are we going to elect an election denier who peddles in conspiracy theories and is so extreme even his own party would not confirm him to a position within the Trump administration.”
Gibbs is among the handful of Republican candidates who have received former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. The Ivy League graduate who worked in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secured a victory in August over Meijer, despite having nowhere near the same name recognition as the outgoing congressional member. His affiliation with Trump and Meijer’s vote to impeach the former president gave Gibbs the upset, yet it remains to be seen if he can win in November.
While there were questions about whether national Republicans would abandon the seat after Meijer lost, Republican committees have spent more than $3 million, slightly more than Democratic committees. Though Scholten has a substantial candidate-to-candidate edge in funds over Gibbs.
Ads have been running in the 3rd U.S. House District against Scholten, many of which have painted her as a sympathizer to those who damaged business properties in the evenings of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Gongwer asked Scholten if this was an accurate depiction of her stance and if she thought Grand Rapids voters believed Scholten wanted to “defund the police.”
“Of course, it’s not an accurate depiction of how I felt,” she said. “I issued a statement condemning the violence, condemning the riots. I was downtown cleaning up with my members of my church after the riots. John Gibbs was nowhere to be found.”
Scholten also said the ads have been found false by four independent fact-checkers, saying that “these were just complete lies.” She called it uncomfortable that these types of ads can continue to run. The ads being run against Gibbs, Scholten added, include his actual words and beliefs.
Gibbs was in hot water in September after CNN broke the news of a blog post he made during his time at Stanford University sometime between 2000 and 2001 that argued the U.S. has suffered as a result of women’s suffrage. In a statement to the press that day, Gibbs said the blog post was nothing more than “to provoke the Left on campus” (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Sept. 22, 2022).
Scholten was asked if she was concerned for Democrats like herself in competitive districts losing because voters are unhappy with the economic outlook. She said she was not, adding that in this race, individuals “do not have to choose between the right choice for the good of our economy and a party because both are contained within me.”
“The extremism on the other side, even when it comes to the economy, (is) so prevalent in John Gibbs,” Scholten said. “At a time when individuals are feeling so economically vulnerable, Gibbs has threatened to take away Social Security and Medicare, ending a lifeline of hard-earned benefits that individuals are entitled to, the dollars that they earned … and taking away their healthcare and kick seniors out of their nursing homes. It’s just unconscionable.”
With the campaign season winding down, Scholten said the enthusiasm was palpable, seeing the enthusiasm in fundraising and volunteering.
“People here are ready for the optimistic forward representation that I’m going to bring to this district. We’re ready to usher in a new era that’s going to continue to improve the lives of West Michiganders. I think people are so tired of politics as usual and they likely see something in me that is a breath of fresh air. We have built a quality campaign from scratch, and I think people recognize that and it’s something they want to be a part of,” she concluded.
Gibbs’s team said they could not find time in his schedule to do an interview.
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