State Races in Districts 54, 55 Take Shape

Term limits put seats in eastern, southern Washtenaw in play

Editor’s note: The Chronicle previously published an article on state legislative races in the 52nd and 53rd House Districts and the 18th Senate District. An update on those races appears at the end of today’s article.

Candidates for Michigan’s House of Representatives still have eight months to file for the 2010 election. But with money to raise and campaigns to organize, most potential candidates for the state’s 54th District say they expect to make decisions about entering the race by the end of this year.

At least four Democrats from the eastern Washtenaw County district are considering running for the seat now held by state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, who’s ineligible to run after being elected to three terms. (Smith is campaigning to be the Democratic candidate for governor.) Allen Francois, Mike Martin, David Rutledge and Lonnie Scott are all potential candidates in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which includes the city of Ypsilanti, and Augusta, Salem, Superior and Ypsilanti townships. [Link to 54th District map.]

The field in the nearby 55th House District so far appears to be smaller. Republican Joe Zurawski of Washtenaw County is a candidate for the seat held by three-term state Rep. Kathy Angerer, a Democrat who is ineligible to run again. On the Democratic side, Monroe County resident Michael J. Smith says it’s very likely he will run.

The 55th District includes Pittsfield, Saline and York townships in Washtenaw County, along with communities in Monroe County. [Link to 55th District map.] Angerer and her predecessor Matt Milosch have come from Monroe County. Milosch, a Republican, lost to Angerer after serving a single term.

54th District: Eastern Washtenaw

Since term limits began in the early 1990s, eastern Washtenaw County residents have seen Democratic primary elections in years when incumbent House members have been unable to run again – and the successful primary candidates have gone on to serve the maximum three, two-year terms.

Although that pattern needn’t hold, it does heighten the import of an August primary. And prospective candidates certainly know that.

David Rutledge has twice been a candidate in those open-seat primaries. Allen Francois served as a staffer for Wheeler Smith after she was first elected to the seat in 2004, and Lonnie Scott serves on her staff now.

Term limits do shape the path for would-be state elected officials, acknowledges Francois: “They create an opportunity, though I’m just 33 so it won’t be my last.”

Potential Democratic candidates

Allen Francois: An Ypsilanti native, Francois has spent several years working for a company that offers “disaster management” services – primarily to the federal government. He’s currently working in Mississippi on continued efforts to house people displaced by hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005.

He previously served as a field representative in U.S. Rep. John Dingell’s district office in Ypsilanti.

Francois continues to maintain a home in Ypsilanti and says he and his wife hope to return to the community full time this winter. He expects to decide whether or not to enter the race in November.

Mike Martin: An Ypsilanti Township trustee, Martin was elected to that board just last year. Employed in labor relations, he has been a township resident since 1989.

He says he expects to make a decision about the House race near the end of the year.

David Rutledge: A Superior Township resident, Rutledge has served as an elected trustee on the board of Washtenaw Community College since 1996. He also serves on the board of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, one of three appointed members.

A candidate for the House seat in 1998 and 2004, Rutledge says he understands what it takes to win in a Democratic primary and is assessing his chances now.

Previously a township supervisor and deputy director of the House legislative research staff, Rutledge is president of Alpha Environmental Services Inc., based in Detroit.

Lonnie Scott: A legislative aide to Wheeler Smith since last year, Scott is – at this point – perhaps the most committed to becoming a candidate. While he would have to leave his post to become a formal candidate, the 2005 Central Michigan grad expects to set up an exploratory committee as early as next month.

Scott grew up in the Lincoln Consolidated School District and worked in student affairs at universities in New York and Kentucky before returning to the area last year.

Among others Democrats who have discussed running are Ypsilanti school board member David Bates. Bates tells The Chronicle he has decided not to enter the race. Long-time Willow Run school board member Clifford Smith, who ran fourth in a six-candidate primary for the 54th House seat in 2004, also says he will not run.

Potential Republican candidates

Assuming there is an August Democratic primary, the winner would likely face a Republican candidate in November.

Ypsilanti Township resident Tom Banks has five times appeared on the ballot as his party’s representative. And, this election cycle, Salem Township Clerk David Trent says he’s considering a campaign that would reprise his 2002 run against then-incumbent Democratic state Rep. Ruth Ann Jamnick, who retained the seat.

Elected to the township post in 2004 and again last year, Trent says he is also exploring a run for the 18th District state Senate seat, which must be vacated by the term-limited state Sen. Liz Brater of Ann Arbor.

Trent is also considering the seat on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, held by Democrat Ken Schwartz. The commission member representing the county’s 2nd District, which covers the northwestern part of the county, Schwartz is considering a run for the state House’s 52nd District. (See previous Chronicle coverage.)

Brater’s seat, the 18th Senate District, covers most of Washtenaw County and has been held by Democrats for at least a dozen years. Members of the state Senate are limited to two, four-year terms.

Of course, Trent says, he could ultimately decide to stand pat in his position as clerk.

55th District: Southern Washtenaw, Monroe County

With Angerer term-limited, Monroe County Democrats have turned to Michael J. Smith, a Temperance resident and member of the Bedford board of education. If no other Democrat emerges, he will likely face York Township Supervisor Joe Zurawski – a Republican who is campaigning for the seat.

Supervisor for five years and a township trustee for eight, Zurawski sees the district as traditionally – and today marginally – Republican. While redistricting has changed its boundaries over the years, it was held by numerous Republicans before Angerer won it in 2004.

For his part, Zurawski will highlight his ability to work across party lines. “I’ve worked with Democrats at the township level. I consider Ruth Ann Jamnick a good friend, and (Ann Arbor Township Supervisor) Mike Moran and (Superior Township Supervisor) Bill McFarlane. We all work together.”

A fiscal hawk, he’ll also try to make the case that his York Township experience will translate to statewide government.

A Washtenaw County resident for 22 years, he’s a retired auto industry engineer.

Angerer is a leader among state Democrats – she’s currently majority floor leader – and will undoubtedly do her best to help the party hold the seat. A meeting between Smith and Angerer will be scheduled soon, says Diane Brookes, chairwoman of the Monroe County Democratic party.

With his official entry into the race pending, Smith continues to work as the Monroe County United Way’s AFL-CIO community services liaison. A Monroe County native, he’s a 1992 graduate of Bedford High School and has an associate degree from Monroe Community College.

Smith says his school board service gives him some experience with a tight budget.

Other State Races: An Update

52nd House District

In previous coverage of the 52nd House District, The Chronicle identified three potential Democrat candidates to succeed the term-limited state Rep. Pam Byrnes: county commissioner Ken Schwartz, Saline mayor Gretchen Driskell, and Dr. Philip Zazove, a family practitioner and former Byrnes primary opponent.

There’s another candidate: Scio Township trustee Christine Green says she’s running for the seat that includes northeast Ann Arbor, the cities of Chelsea and Saline, and the townships of Ann Arbor, Bridgewater, Dexter, Freedom, Lima, Lodi, Lyndon, Manchester, Northfield, Pittsfield, Scio, Sharon, Sylvan and Webster. [Link to 52nd District map.]

A lawyer, Green was elected to the township board last year after serving on the Scio Planning Commission.

She says she’ll formally launch her campaign in November and stress her experience as a member of the Michigan Environmental Council’s board and a past chairwoman of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan’s board, along with a law practice that emphasizes civil rights and employment law.

“I’ve done a lot of work with nonprofits and it’s made me realize that the opportunity to affect real change is through government,” Green says. “We’re lucky to have wonderful nonprofits, but you need the power of the legislature.”

53rd House District

As expected, Ann Arbor resident Ned Staebler will run for the seat that state Rep. Rebekah Warren now holds, representing Ann Arbor. Staebler, a vice president of program administration at the Michigan Economic Development Corp., will launch his campaign on Oct. 4.

18th Senate District

In earlier coverage of the senate district now represented by veteran Ann Arbor lawmaker Liz Brater, The Chronicle reported that Ypsilanti Township Democrat Ruth Ann Jamnick could be a candidate. Jamnick has now confirmed that she is, indeed, considering a run for the seat.

A former Ypsilanti Township treasurer and supervisor, Jamnick served as state rep in the 54th District for the maximum allowable three terms. “I enjoyed it and think I represented the area well,” says Jamnick. “I’m definitely thinking about the senate and will decide by the first of the year.”

State Rep. Rebekah Warren, an Ann Arbor Democrat from the 53rd District, launched her campaign for the state senate seat on Sept. 19. State Rep. Pam Byrnes, a Lyndon Township Democrat representing District 52, is also a potential candidate in the senate race. Term limited, Byrnes has said she’ll announce her plans by year’s end.

About the writer: Judy McGovern lives in Ann Arbor. She has worked as a journalist here, and in Ohio, New York and several other states.

One Comment

  1. By Brian
    September 26, 2009 at 8:31 pm | permalink

    Well done, Judy. Very informative, and certainly much more detailed than the regular news.