MI 52nd District Race Boils Down to Bamboozling Naive Dems & Independents. Again.

by P.D. Lesko

52nd District Representative Mark Ouimet and Governor Rick Snyder both let mainstream media assumptions that they were moderate Republicans go uncorrected. The last laugh, in retrospect, has been on all of the Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County independents and Democrats who endorsed, gave money to and voted for the two men. Ouimet went on to vote in lock-step with the Republican ideologues in Lansing as they raised taxes on the middle-class, socked it to oldsters by taxing pensions, and attacked public education by slashing funding—despite the sorry fact that 70 percent of the state’s 4th and 8th graders can’t read at level, according to data compiled by the Children’s Defense Fund. Last year Ouimet went along with his Republican murder of cronies as they cut state unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, and he also voted to impose absolute time limits for children and their parents seeking assistance from the state. This means tens of thousands of families with children whose parents are unable to work or who cannot find jobs are being barred from help.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau released in September 2012, poverty in Michigan has increased 66 percent since 2001. Michigan’s poverty rate continued to rise sharply through 2011, to 17.5 percent up from 16.8 percent just a year earlier, and well above the national average of fifteen percent. Almost 1 in 4 children in Michigan lives in poverty. Child poverty rose to 24.4 percent in 2011, up from 23.1 percent in 2010 and 14.2 percent level in 2001. Michigan is in the worst third of the nation for child poverty.

However, according to Representative Ouimet’s (pictured right) latest Legislative Update, “Two Years of Fiscal Responsibility” have helped give Michigan a big boost. The Legislative Update must have been prepared by some Whirling Dervishes in Ouimet’s employ, because the spin is stunning. Michigan has a “higher credit rating,” claims Ouimet (well, not exactly, but who’s counting?). He claims that Bloomberg research concluded Michigan’s economy is improving thanks to “the leaders of our state continue who work together to reduce spending and make necessary tax and government reforms.” Well, no. According to Bloomberg Business Week: “Michigan’s economy is recovering from the recession at the second-fastest pace in the U.S., lifted by reviving carmakers.” Carmakers got a boost from President Obama and the Congress, not Governor Snyder, Representative Mark Ouimet or the state’s other Republican legislators and their billion dollar tax break for business.

Taking credit for the work of others is what politicos do, but it’s smarmy nonetheless.

The reality is ugly and doesn’t fit into the libretto penned by the state’s GOP leaders: In Michigan, income inequality continues to grow. The percentage of households making $150,000 or more increased by five percent over the decade, middle-income households declined. Low-income households making less than $35,000 a year increased by over 10 percent, confirming the downward spiral in the living standards of working class families. The largest increases were in the lowest income cohort, households with income under $15,000, according to an analysis by the Michigan League for Human Services (MLHS), an advocacy group for low-income households.

All in all, Mark Ouimet has turned out to be about as moderate as Mitt Romney (whom Ouimet is endorsing in the 2012 presidential race). Snyder’s “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” pole dance and Voodoo Economics have not resulted in any significant improvement in the state’s childhood poverty rate. With 641,615 Michiganders on food stamps, our state has the third highest rate in the nation, according to new data from the U.S. census. More Michigan residents are on foodstamps than in 2010, when Ouimet and Snyder were elected.

In point of fact, Mark Ouimet’s main accomplishment in two years has been voting in lock-step with Lansing Republicans, and his sponsorship of a bill to allow the sale of beer at Michigan Stadium. Coupled with Ouimet’s academic degrees purchased from a diploma mill shut down by the FBI, according to reporting by the local news blog AnnArbor.com, and it’s no wonder Gretchen Driskell is challenging Ouimet to represent the 52nd District.

As it turns out, Driskell and Ouimet have more in common than Dem voters might imagine, or Driskell might like to have people know. Both of them donated to Rick Snyder in 2010. Driskell, the Democratic Mayor of Saline, sent along a donation to the RepubliNerd’s campaign, and Ouimet, as a Republican County Commissioner did the same. Both Ouimet and Driskell are up to their political necks in the local job creation boondoggle Ann Arbor SPARK. On her campaign web site, Driskell writes: “I served as chair of the Saline Economic Development Corporation and have been involved significantly with Ann Arbor SPARK. There, we helped develop initiatives designed to spur job growth — including incubators, business accelerator programs, micro-grants, and the talent portal.” Ann Arbor SPARK has skimmed close to $2.5 million in money from public schools in Ann Arbor, as well as from the city’s General Fund since 2009.

With both hands in the cookie jar that is the Ann Arbor SPARK model, including its diversion of money from public education, Driskell assures liberal voters: “Under the current Republican majority, K-12 education has been under constant attack. If we want to improve education, we need to stop cutting K-12 education and raiding the School Aid Fund to plug other holes in the state budget. We need to get ballooning class sizes under control so all our students get the attention they need and deserve. We should be putting the highest quality teachers at the front of the classroom and giving them every tool they need to deliver the best possible education to our kids, including a curriculum that encourages critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”

While Driskell does have the support of the state’s education unions (including a $5,000 donation from the Michigan Education Association) and Planned Parenthood of Michigan, she does not list the endorsement of a single current Washtenaw County Commissioner, or even a member of the Saline City Council she has headed for the past 14 years as Mayor of Saline. Democratic State Representative Jeff Irwin is endorsing Driskell and gave her a $100 donation. Irwin served on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners with Ouimet before both were elected to the State House in 2010.

Irwin recently told the Michigan Daily, “Mark Ouimet’s success in the past has always been predicated on his ability to get more moderate Republicans and even some Democrats to vote for him. Irwin added that Ouimet has campaigned as pro-choice and pro-education, but has voted against both ideals during his time in the House. He (Ouimet) likes to wear maize and blue and go to football games … but he’s willing to cut U of M (funding) by 15 percent.”

State Senator Rebekah Warren donated to Driskell’s campaign via a behind-the-scenes $500 check from Warren’s Envision Michigan PAC, but Warren has not endorsed Driskell against Republican Ouimet. Washtenaw County Commissioner Barbara Levin Bergman donated $200 to Driskell in July 2012. Bergman, who is retiring at the end of her present term, filched over $1,800 from county taxpayers for per diems to which she was not entitled, according to an audit, and has refused to pay back the funds. County Commissioner Leah Gunn, who is also retiring at the end of her present term, donated to Driskell, as well, without endorsing her candidacy. Not to be left out, Joan Lowenstein, a former Ann Arbor City Council member and Downtown Development Authority Board member who called Ward 5 residents “whiners,” and then went on to harangue Ann Arbor voters as “old, stingy and Republican” in a loopy essay published in The Ann in December 2011, gave Driskell’s campaign $100.

Lowenstein, Gunn and Bergman last teamed up to endorse and support Ward 1 Council candidate Eric Sturgis, whose campaign imploded thanks to his lies about his academic credentials, as well as behavior that included angry outbursts at public debates, and removal of his opponent’s campaign signs—captured in photos by the local news blog. Prior to that, the three women backed the losing campaigns of former Ward 2 Council member Stephen Rapundalo, and Ward 3 City Council candidate Ingrid Ault.

Driskell, like Ouimet, is behind a multi-million dollar bungled push for regional transit. She writes on her campaign website: “Likewise, transportation projects such as light rail, commuter rail, regional busing, and the other parts of our comprehensive transit plan come closer to becoming a reality every day….By thinking strategically and comprehensively about how we can utilize these resources in the most efficient way possible, we can offer our businesses and residents a host of options for moving their products and getting around. Implementing this strategy sends a clear signal — particularly to the young, talented, highly-educated workers and the knowledge-economy businesses that employ them — that Michigan is the hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.” Driskell is serving up a heaping plate of Demublican babble, and her platform on transportation should be readily recognizable as the Republican Party line in Lansing.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that her 2012 pro-education, pro-life, pro-rainbows, pro-unicorns and pro-regional-transport campaign platform is very similar to Ouimet’s in 2010. Whereas Driskell has the endorsement and support of unions, Ouimet has the endorsement and support of associations: business associations, builders and contractors associations, insurance associations and the NRA.  He even managed to land the 2011 Legislator of the Year award from the Michigan Townships Association.

If, as Representative Jeff Irwin suggests, Ouimet is a turncoat moderate Republican who campaigned as a pro-life, pro-education candidate only to have “voted against both ideals during his time in the House,” what should Democrats expect from Gretchen Driskell—a woman who supported the Republican candidate for governor in 2010, and who touts her support of the Ann Arbor SPARK “job creation” scheme, a taxpayer black hole that has earned the scorn of conservative political analysts at the Mackinac Center, as well as harsh criticism from newspapers such as the Lansing State Journal, and the Detroit Free Press?

Is Driskell a turncoat Democrat?

Some would argue that any sitting Democratic mayor who supports a Republican gubernatorial candidate over the Democratic candidate is worse than a turncoat. In some states, such disloyalty is punished by tossing the politico out of the party on her/his ear. The question, of course, is whether over the past 14 years in office, during which time she has cavorted with Ann Arbor’s Democrats-for-ALEC, Driskell sold her political soul. She wants to replace the Republican who has disappointed his independent and Democratic friends—friends who perhaps naively believed that he would, as a freshman legislator, stand up to the Republican majority and vote away his chances for re-election. Ouimet may have been caught buying his Master’s degree from a diploma mill, but he is no fool; the Michigan GOP rewarded him for his staunch loyalty with a redrawn district that protected his Republican base, and perhaps even expanded it a bit.

The race in the 52nd District boils down to a political conundrum: Voters must choose between a Republican who managed to convince naive Democrats and independents that he would be a moderate, and a classic Washtenaw County Demublican who wants to convince naive Democrats and independents that she is a progressive. The problem, of course, is that many who run as Democrats in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County belong to the party of Political Opportunism. With her support of Snyder in 2010, her enthusiasm for the SPARK boondoggle, and her subsequent campaign condemning Michigan’s Republican leadership, Driskell is skating on some very thin Democratic ice.

Officials from the Michigan GOP don’t expect her to unseat Ouimet. However, at least one Michigan political analyst in his comments to the local media said that Driskell’s race in the 52nd District was “winnable” by a Democrat and suggested she could, possibly, ride in on President Obama’s coat tails—that is, if local Democrats and independents come out and vote in the same numbers they did in 2008. Will they? That is, literally, a million dollar question. While both DNCC and RNC officials expect Obama to take Michigan, it’s by no means clear that voter turn-out will equal 2008 numbers.










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