Local Dems Rally Behind Saline Mayor to Retake 52nd District Seat from Michigan GOP—Not.
by P.D. Lesko
Saline’s mayor, Gretchen Driskell, formed an “exploratory committee” in February 2012 to see if she could have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning back the 52nd District State House seat from Repblican Mark Ouimet. The Michigan GOP targeted the seat, held by Democrat Pam Byrnes, in 2010 when Byrnes stepped down to run for state senate. Ouimet, a former Washtenaw County Commissioner, beat back Democratic opponent Christine Green by a slim margin in November 2010—a mere 1,592 votes out of some 42,000 plus cast. Theirs was by all accounts an ugly race with mudslinging and last minute allegations that Ouimet had chiseled county taxpayers out of some $30,000 in per diems that he should never have requested. A subsequent audit revealed Ouimet had chiseled taxpayers out of $14,385, not the $30,000 alleged by Washtenaw County Democrats, who got the information from Michigan Democratic Chair Mark Brewer’s staff, FOIAs revealed.
Unlike several Washtenaw County Commissioners, including Ann Arbor Dems Conan Smith and Barbara Levin Bergman, in February of 2011 Ouimet repaid the amount owed. Both Smith and Levin Bergman have repeatedly refused to reimburse taxpayers for the money they wrongly took.
Former Washtenaw County Dem party chairman Stu Dowty demanded the investigation of Ouimet’s per diems. Dowty told the A2Journal: ”It brought the whole issue of the honesty and integrity of a candidate in one of the major races last November to the forefront, and that’s important. I’m pleased he cut the check, and anybody can draw the conclusion that he recognized that the county is owed.”
Don’t look for Washtenaw County Dems or Ann Arbor Dems to pull out any stops to lend a helping hand to Gretchen Driskell (right). While AnnArbor.com gushed that the Ouimet-Driskell race would be “one to watch,” the underwhelming support by county and Ann Arbor Dems for Driskell matches that offered by city and county Dems to Democrat Virg Bernero in the 2010 gubernatorial race. As A2Politico revealed in April 2011, many local Dems donated to Snyder’s campaign. Snyder got more in donations from Ann Arbor, Dexter, Chelsea and Saline residents, than Bernero did, over $814,000 dollars from 1,400 donors. Then again, Bernero took Ann Arbor by only 1.5 percent of the votes cast for governor. Snyder got 58,029 of the 123,672 votes cast, and Bernero got 59,829 votes.
Many of Republican Rick Snyder’s top donors in Ann Arbor are names that you’ll find on John Hieftje’s campaign finance forms going back several years. These Ann Arbor donors support many of the Demublicans currently sitting on City Council. In fact, Republican Mark Ouimet and Democrat Gretchen Driskell have something in common: in 2010 they both donated to Republican Rick Snyder. Yes, the Democratic candidate for the 52nd District seat supported the Republican candidate in the 2010 gubernatorial race, not Democrat Virg Bernero. Saline’s Democratic Mayor supported a Republican candidate for governor who is anti-gay, anti-union, who has attacked teachers, cut education funding and, some national political analysts argue, is possibly a puppet of ALEC and that group’s agenda. (A2P Notes: As an aside, to see the names of Snyder’s Ann Arbor donors, including two Ann Arbor City Council members, a Democratic mayor, various members of city boards and commissions, local developers and business owners, download the list here.)
So what is the first clue that Gretchen Driskell is going to get “Berneroed” by county and local Dems?
Of Ann Arbor’s four Democratic County Commissioners, only Yousef Rabhi attended Driskell’s kickoff event. 53rd District Representative Democrat Jeff Irwin attended, but Democratic State Senator Rebekah Warren did not. Warren and her husband Democrat Conan Smith are tight with Republican Snyder. Ann Arbor’s Democratic Mayor, who sits on multiple boards with Driskell, was not in attendance on the evening of her kickoff. Fourth Ward Council member Margie Teall was the lone Ann Arbor City Council member who attended.
Representative Irwin was quoted as saying: “When I watch Mark Ouimet’s votes, I don’t think they line up with what our community wants. I’ve worked with Rep. Ouimet for many years and I think he is a pleasant man and he works very hard at his job, but I’ve been very disappointed with his voting record — particularly with his voting record around education.”
Regardless of Irwin’s impression that Ouimet’s voting record may not line up with what the community wants, Ouimet raked in hundreds of donations from the Ann Arbor “community,” including from many (again) individuals who endorse and donate to the Demublican Mayor, Council members, Senator Rebekah Warren and, yes, even Representative Jeff Irwin. In 2010 Ouimet, Irwin and Warren accepted money from several of the same PACs, as well, including PACs of companies that have been identified as some of the country’s most notorious corporate tax dodgers.
County and local Democrats who withheld support and donations from Bernero’s campaign, and who did not push his candidacy, did so by simply staying home. This is exactly what will happen to Driskell, regardless of whether she can match Ouimet’s ability to self-fund and fundraise from the county’s heavy hitters and PACs. Driskell may have explored her options and crunched the voting numbers, but it’s probable that she hasn’t taken into account the fact that local and county Dems flaunt party loyalty with impunity—beginning with their 2010 support of Ouimet, and ending with her own 2010 support of Governor Rick Snyder, whose policies and plans she now criticizes as hurting Michigan’s ability to make “21st Century decisions.”
The Ouimet-Driskell race will be one to watch, but what we’ll see is a re-run of the Michigan Democratic Party, county and local Dems standing by and smiling while Saline’s mayor twists slowly in the political wind.
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