Nov. 11 2015 12:32 AM

Lansing, East Lansing voters reject dirty politics

For such a minor election, the balloting last week offers some worthwhile takeaways.

It is clear that voters in Lansing and East Lansing rejected heavyhanded tactics designed to influence their votes. In both cities, the Council races were shaped by unusually partisan campaigns. Apparently civility still matters in mid-Michigan.

In Lansing, the secretive Capital Region Progress operation allied with Mayor Virg Bernero waged a well funded, bitter attack against newcomer Adam Hussain and his mother, incumbent First Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington.

Washington has tangled with Bernero over his administration's lack of transparency (a charge sadly reinforced by his alliance with the shadowy Capitol Region Progress), long overdue city pay raises and support for more rationale marijuana policies. The Capitol Region Progress/Bernero pitch to voters was that Hussain, a Waverly Middle School teacher, would reflect his mother's political position — a not unreasonable assumption.

But there are always factions in politics. What the attack campaign did was make it personal. Voters rejected the strident campaign and perhaps the secrecy. As in previous elections, most notably the sleazy campaign in 2014 to unseat Ingham County Commissioner Deb Nolan, Capitol Region Progress and Bernero overplayed their hand. If Hussain is anything like Bernero, he won't forget the slights. The mayor wouldn't.

Post election, Capitol Region Progress will slink back into its tax-exempt 501(c)4 “nonprofit” crevice. It refuses to discuss its leadership and financial backers, laundering its politicking through the ill-used tax-exempt education loophole.

As for Bernero, who won't deny affiliation with Capitol Progress Lansing, he can move to another fight, which he likes. It's not necessarily a bad quality for a mayor, but picking the right battles is important. And as the results indicate, this was a bad call.

Bernero backed Third Ward incumbent Councilwoman A'Lynne Boles, whose reelection campaign was tarred by a series of reports about lawsuits, shaky finances and questionable claims. Reporting by City Pulse reporter Todd Heywood detailed lawsuits that Boles denied, and campaign claims about her votes and support for projects that simply weren't true.

The vote for the Third Ward seat was close, 1,441- 1,369 for Hussain. To no one's benefit, the bitter campaign waged by Capitol Region Progress/Bernero launches the new Council term on a needlessly discordant note.


In East Lansing, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce waded into the Council races with a mailer that attacked challenger Erik Altmann, citing his work on the city's Planning Commission that it views as anti-growth.

It endorsed three candidates, two of whom won: Former Mayor and State Rep. Mark Meadows, East Lansing most professional politician, an easy choice; and Shanna Draheim, who along with the nod received a $2,500 contribution. The Chamber wanted East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett, but voters didn't. He placed fourth, losing to Altmann 2,212–1,955.

Meadows, with his long history in East Lansing politics, characterized the Chamber's attack campaign as unprecedented, specifically “misleading, amateurish and ill-advised,” according a report by The Chamber also contributed $2,500 to the Boles' bid. Another loss. Another bad call.

The Chamber and its PAC are at a disadvantage promoting their generally sound pro-business agenda. Members won't dirty their hands in the messy business of local government. Rather, the Chamber must empower mercenaries to do its bidding. You don't find the group's leadership — representing business like Jackson National Life Insurance Co., law firm Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith P.C. or the consulting firm Kandler Reed Khoury & Muchmore — standing for election. Too much time; too little compensation.


Taxpayers in outlying communities were willing to pass renewal millages. Olivet voters renewed the schools operating millage. Vermontville Township voters decided to retain ambulance service and renewed that millage. But sinking fund millages in Charlotte and Eaton Rapids failed. The Eaton Rapids vote was so close — 1,175 yes / 1,178 no — that a recount is pending. Investing in education remains a hard sell.


Ohio's marijuana legalization proposal failed, in large part because it would have created a supplier monopoly for the 10 growers who funded the ballot initiative. Voters in Michigan are expected to vote on legalization in 2016 and the proposals circulating have no such provision.


Finally, if you marvel at the thousands who turn out for Donald Trump pep rallies or question the support for the incomprehensible positions advanced by Ben Carson, the leading Republican presidential primary candidates, the reelection bids by Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat are proof that it's impossible to underestimate voters.

Trying to reclaim their House seats after the bizarre sex scandal and cover-up that drove them from office, both proclaimed that the will of the voters rather than political elites should determine their fate. Yet another bad call.

They were thoroughly beaten: Courser received just 4 percent of votes caste; Gamrat got 9 percent.

But here's the takeaway. Four hundred and fifteen people in Courser's district and 962 in Gamrat's still considered them the best candidates to represent their interests. Clearly, it's possible to campaign on adultery and lies. But you can't win. At least not this year.