May 17 2018 10:07 AM

2018 looks good for female pols in Ingham County

By now you’ve probably heard that 2018 is shaping up to be the Year of the Woman as far as politics is concerned.

The Michigan Democratic Party’s top four statewide nominees may end up being women with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow running for re-election, Gretchen Whitmer the gubernatorial front-runner, Jocelyn Benson in line for the secretary of state nomination and Dana Nessel the favorite for the attorney general nomination.

Statewide, female congressional and legislative candidates made up 34 percent of the candidates in 2018, up from 27 percent in 2016, and nowhere is this being felt as significantly as Ingham County, where it’s probable that all three new state House members will be women.

Let’s start in the vacant Lansing-based 68th House District. Ingham County Commissioner Sarah Anthony is off to a fast start with mailers going out in the district. Her chief opponent is expected to be Kelly Collison, the chairwoman of the Michigan Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus, who is already facing political attacks by one hired gun about the diversity of her group.

The 68th does include four men — Paul DeWeese, Benjamin Guins, Eric Nelson and Farhan Sheikh-Omar — but Anthony is gobbling up the institutional support while Collison is looking to expand her reach as having been a local leader in the Bernie Sanders movement in 2016.

Collison faced some criticism last month from local political consultant Joe DiSano, who is heading up something called Real Progressive for Michigan, about the diversity of the candidates the MDP’s Progressive Caucus had endorsed. Apparently, 88 percent of them were white and 71 percent were male.

However, Collison told a local radio host that the candidates DiSano fingered were the caucus’ first wave of endorsements. Future picks would include a more diverse cross-section, she said.

In the 69th, the entire field of Democratic candidates in this bright blue district are women — Meridian Township Treasurer Julie Brixie, Ingham County commissioner Teri Banas and former Commissioner Penelope Tsernoglou.

At least three polls have been done in this East Lansing/Meridian Township district and the upshot is the same — Brixie and Tsernoglou are the front-runners with Banas running third.

Tsernoglou is already out with a six-page, multi-colored mailer. The owner of Practical Political Consulting describes herself as an “organizer, advocate and progressive” who was born in Southfield, but at age 2 her family moved to Germany, where her professor father worked at a research facility. At age 8, the father stayed there, but everyone else moved back to Michigan.

The candidate recounts her years at the University of Michigan, where she played in the marching band and joined a service sorority. She got her law degree from the Detroit College of Law in 2004.

She’s also worked at the Ingham County Animal Shelter pro bono for victims of domestic violence. When she thought Hillary Clinton would be president, she resigned from the county commission. But Clinton, of course, didn’t win and “as the attacks on our values grew, so did my resolve to fight back.”

Brixie sent out her first mailer this week, where she lays out her experience on the Meridian Township Board in developing the first-ever local land use preservation program and placing 953 acres of “ecologically valuable land” into permanent preservation.

Helen and Howard A. Tanner, a former director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, wrote a few paragraphs on the flier about how Brixie helped cobble together the money to create the Lake Lansing North Reserve.

She also has her share of personal photos — a wedding photo, a picture of her as a young girl. Scrapbook memory stuff.

This race promises to be close and expensive. By the beginning of this year, Brixie, Banas and Tsernoglou had raised a combined $125,358, more than any other set of state House candidates in a Michigan Democratic primary. Only a Republican state House primary in Oakland County raised, very slightly, more money in 2017 than the 69th, based on a MIRS analysis.

In the rural Ingham Countybased 67th District, Ingham County Commissioner Kara Hope is the strong favorite. Williamston School Board President Greg Talberg opted against running as he fended off a recall attempt fueled by his support of allowing transgender students use the locker rooms and bathroom they felt most comfortable using.

Hope has earned the support of current Rep. Tom Cochran, D-Mason, Sen.

Curtis Hertel. D-East Lansing, and 30 other elected officials and organizations.

The other four Democratic candidates in the race are men, but Hope has wrapped up next to all of the institutional support and has raised, by far, the most money of the five-person field.

When Election Day comes and goes in Michigan on Nov. 8, Michigan is set to see many more female officeholders than we do today. It’s likely Ingham County will lead the way.

(Kyle Melinn, news editor of the capital newsletter MIRS, returns as a City Pulse columnist this political season. Reach him at kmellin@mirsnews.com.)

This story was corrected to remove the reference to Julie Brixie as an Ingham County commissioner. Brixie is Meridian Township treasurer.