May 25 2011 12:00 AM

Bryanton weighs retirement, Byrum and Swope in the wings


Ingham County Clerk Mike Bryanton is
leaning against running for another term in 2012, and there’s no
shortage of interested candidates — chief among them state Rep. Barb
Byrum and Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope — if he decides to hang it up
after 17 years on the job.

Bryanton, 66, stressed that he hasn’t
officially made up his mind and that a lot can happen in politics, but
he noted that the job has gotten more difficult over the years with the
rapid advances in technology compounded by a shrinking budget and the
various personalities on the Board of Commissioners.

Recently, a former Bryanton employee sued
the clerk for allegedly making her go through a polygraph test to
determine if she had left a telephone message in which the caller
claimed Bryanton was having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer
he had recently promoted.

Both Bryanton and the newly appointed
chief deputy clerk, Janie Lee, have repeatedly denied any romantic
relationship in the various news reports published since the story broke
last month.

The clerk said the lawsuit has "very
little to do" with his decision. He called the suing former employee,
Nicole Anderson, a "disgruntled employee," who filed the suit a month
after she voluntarily resigned.

"Don’t bury me, yet," said Bryanton, a
Democrat. "My mind isn’t made up 100 percent either way. I’ve got a year
to think things over."

State Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, is
wasting little time in taking a hard look at the seat. Byrum, who is
term limited from running again for her current job in 2012, said she
has been approached to run for the clerk’s position and she’s talking
with potential supporters about a run whether Bryanton decides to seek
re-election or not. A decision is expected in the coming weeks.

"It’s time to bring integrity back to the office," said Byrum, without expanding on the comments.

Byrum said she would like to see some
reforms in the clerk’s office, specifically a ban on the clerk, the
county’s chief elections officer, from contributing to anyone on the

Secretary of State records show Bryanton
has donated to more than several Democratic candidates over the years,
including Democratic gubernatorial nominee Virg Bernero in 2010 ($700),
Secretary of State nominee Jocelyn Benson ($850) and Byrum herself ($25)
in 2006.

Bryanton said he doesn’t know what Byrum
is referring to with the "integrity" comment. He said there has been no
question about the integrity of the Ingham County Clerk’s office since
he began his tenure in the mid-1990s and if she’s referring to the
current situation regarding Anderson, "shame on her."

If Bryanton does opt against running
again, he said he has put in a call to Lansing Clerk Chris Swope and
urged him to get into the ring.

"I have all the respect in the world for
him and, in my opinion, he would be an obvious choice to replace me
given his experience in dealing with elections and understanding
elections law," Bryanton said.

Swope declined to talk much about a potential race other than to say Bryanton did talk to him and he’s keeping his options open.

State Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing,
and state Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, also are term-limited at the end
of their current terms and would be in a position to run for an open
seat. Meadows said he’s not taking the option off the table as a
possibility, but he’s been interested in succeeding Sen. Gretchen
Whitmer, D-East Lansing, when her second and final term expires in 2014.

Bauer said she has not heard from
Bryanton that he may not run again, so any consideration of running for
the clerk’s job “would be premature.”

The hypothetical match-up between two local political heavyweights — Byrum and Swope — has local political observers abuzz. 

Practical Political Consultants published
the results of a May 15-17 robo-poll of 225 likely Democratic primary
voters on Monday that showed Byrum up 72 to 16 percent over Swope. 

Even in Lansing and Lansing Township,
where Swope’s name is the most well known, Byrum leads Swope by a 67
percent to 26 percent margin, according to the survey. 

"The most useful polls are the ones with
unexpected results, and this one certainly qualifies," said Mark Grebner
of Practical Political Consultants. "I figured Swope and Byrum would be
roughly competitive, but they’re certainly not. Byrum’s lead was large
and consistent."

Grebner said Byrum led 74 to 9 percent in
East Lansing and Meridian Township and 80 to 7 percent in the rest of
the county. Outside of the lopsided results, Grebner said he found the
high response rate interesting. 

"It appears that voters are familiar with
the candidates and willing to express their opinions freely," Grebner
said. "These results do not appear to reflect mere name identification."

Asked if she paid for the Grebner poll,
Byrum said she did bring the question up to Grebner, but he conducted
the poll. She said she did not pay for the poll.

Asked if her well-known name  —
her mother is former state Rep. and Sen. Dianne Byrum — may have
influenced the poll, Grebner said, "I don’t really have an answer for
you, quote me however you want."