All hail the winners

By Walt Sorg

This story was corrected on Nov. 15.

He wasn’t on the ballot, but the biggest political winner in Michigan last week was Gov. Rick Snyder. “One Tough Nerd” held his majorities in the state House and on the Supreme Court. With GOP control of all three branches, Snyder will easily get around his only “loss”: the narrow defeat of the emergency financial manager law. Expect quick enactment of a new law only slightly less draconian than the law rejected by voters. Snyder’s toughest challenges will be dealing with the Tea Party wing of his own party and perhaps heading off a right-wing primary challenge in 2014.

Also winning big were Michigan television stations. The record $150 million spent on ballot proposals, along with the usual candidate advertising, went primarily directly to their bottom line.

Big Business scored big in the bedsheet-ballot battle. The combined financial clout of the Michigan State Chamber and two electric utilities (aided by the Koch brothers, Van Andel family and casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson) crushed organized labor and environmentalists in defeating Proposals 2, 3 and 4. They were joined in the winners’ circle by Lansing-based PR firms Truscott/Rossman, Marketing Resource Group and Martin/Waymire. Each played key roles in the campaigns against the three ballot proposals.

Major winners locally were working people lacking medical insurance. President Obama’s victory means that “Obamacare” will be fully implemented; Ingham County voters overwhelmingly agreed to pay slightly higher taxes in support of the Ingham Health Plan. Add to IHP the superb work of Care Free Medical Center and other community-based health services and you have a healthier future for our area’s working poor.

Honorary mid-Michigan winner status goes to two local alumni, Lansing School for the Blind graduate Stevie Wonder and East Lansing High School alum Nate Silver. The former was front-and-center throughout the Obama campaign, helping draw huge crowds for key presidential campaign rallies. Silver, the founder of The New York Times blog, is now the nation’s most-quoted and credible political statistics nerd after his near-perfect projection of the presidential and U.S. Senate results.


Without doubt, the biggest individual non-candidate election loser was billionaire Matty Maroun. He spent upwards of $35 million to protect his Ambassador Bridge monopoly and make it harder to raise taxes. Both ballot proposals went down 2:1.

Close behind in the losers list are Lansing-based political consultants Byrum/Fisk and the Sterling Corp. Both took double hits. Byrum/Fisk was charged with regaining a Democratic majority in the Michigan House and fell five seats short, failing to even have a candidate in two districts. Sterling Corp. struck out with an attempt to use a legal technicality to keep Proposal 1 off the ballot. (However, Sterling Corp.'s Steve Linder says it was fellow Sterling employee Jeff Timmer who voted against putting the proposal on the ballot based on a technicality as a member of the Board of Canvassers.) Working together, they managed to corral just 37 percent of the vote in favor of the Renewable Energy Proposal 3. The latter failure could prove especially damaging to Sterling as it infuriated some in its Republican-leaning client base. On the plus side, both were well paid for their efforts.

They are joined in the pantheon of losers by unions and the Michigan Democratic Party. In a year when President Obama and Sen.Debbie Stabenow easily carried the state, state Democrats managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Rather than focusing on electing candidates down-ticket, party Chairman Mark Brewer and his labor-leader cohorts focused their money and energy on ballot proposals plus an expensive, unsuccessful campaign to oust ethics-challenged House Speaker Jase Bolger. That money could well have tipped the scales in the Supreme Court races (where the GOP held its 4-3 advantage), or made a difference in a couple of congressional districts.

Now, state Democrats appear poised to take on long-term minority party status with a small and generally weak list of potential statewide candidates, minimal influence in state government and a coalition of support groups (labor, environmentalists, women’s groups and LGBT groups) which no longer can reliably deliver election victories.

Yet locally, the Ingham County Republican Party (and local Tea Party movement) lost big. The GOP is now virtually extinct in Ingham County (and fading quickly in Eaton County) after losing just about every local election. The Tea Party insurgency in Delhi Township was short-lived as its candidates lost their effort to takeover the township’s government by hefty margins.

Sadly, our loser list concludes with state Rep. Mark Meadows. His 20-years of service in state and East Lansing government comes to an ignominious end with his loss to Andrea Larkin for district judge. Like Muhammed Ali, “the champ” fought one fight too many.

(Sorg can be reached at