DETROIT (AP) — Gretchen Whitmer won the race for Michigan governor on Tuesday and Debbie Stabenow won a fourth term in the Senate as the Democratic Party took aim at the Republican Party's hold on most statewide offices with a slate of female candidates.
Whitmer pledged to fix the state's rickety roads and reverse a retirement tax, while her opponent, Bill Schuette, had hoped a solid economy would convince voters to stick with a Republican. GOP Gov. Rick Snyder couldn't run because he reached a two-term limit. Stabenow turned aside a challenge from Republican John James, a businessman and Iraq War veteran who was making his first bid for political office.
Democratic women ran against Republican male incumbents in two closely watched U.S. House races in eastern and southern Michigan. There also are three statewide ballot questions, including one that would legalize recreational marijuana.
Here are some key races:
Republicans dominate the state's U.S. House delegation, 9-4, with one vacancy in a Democratic-leaning Detroit-area district. Republican Rep. Mike Bishop is facing a vigorous test from former CIA analyst Elissa Slotkin, who has pounded the incumbent with TV ads highlighting his opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Republican Rep. Tim Walberg has a rematch against Gretchen Driskell, whom he trounced in their southern Michigan race in 2016. Democrat Haley Stevens, a key government staffer in the bailout of the auto industry, is running against Republican businesswoman Lena Epstein in suburban Detroit. U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman won a second term in northern Michigan's 1st District. Democrat Rashida Tlaib won an open seat in the Detroit area to become one of the first two Muslim womenelected to Congress, joining Somali-American Ilhan Omar, who won her Minnesota race on Tuesday.
Democrats have long been outnumbered in the Michigan House and Senate. They're poised to make gains, though capturing a majority in both chambers for the first time in 34 years would be tough. Republicans have benefited for years because they controlled how districts were drawn after the 2010 census. Republicans hold majorities of 63-46 in the House and 27-10 in the Senate, with one Democratic-leaning seat in each chamber currently vacant. In case of a tie in the state Senate, the newly elected lieutenant governor who presides over the chamber would tip the balance.
Democrat Dana Nessel is best known for representing two women who successfully challenged Michigan's ban on gay marriage. She has promised to shake up the attorney general's office, especially how it handles Flint water cases. She says the special prosecutor is overpaid and that criminal charges were influenced by politics. The Republican candidate, Tom Leonard, wants to put more emphasis on how local courts and law enforcers handle people who are mentally ill. A wild card: Will an independent candidate and the Libertarian Party nominee get enough votes to influence the result?
The two candidates with the most votes in the six-person race will get seats on Michigan's highest court. Justices Elizabeth Clement and Kurtis Wilder were appointed by Snyder and are seeking to stay in office. Democrats nominated University of Michigan law professor Sam Bagenstos and appellate lawyer Megan Cavanagh, the daughter of former Justice Michael Cavanagh. Republicans have a 5-2 majority on the Supreme Court, though candidates aren't identified by party on the ballot.
Ten years after Michigan voters approved medical marijuana, they will decide whether to allow anyone age 21 or older to buy, grow and use the drug for recreational purposes. Local governments could ban pot shops even if the proposal wins at the ballot box. The nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan says police and jails might save money if marijuana becomes legal, but it also notes there will be a cost for abuse and other public health issues. Marijuana sales would carry a special 10 percent tax, with 70 percent of revenue going to schools and roads, on top of Michigan's 6 percent sales tax.
Proposal 3, which allows people to register to vote as late as Election Day and immediately get a ballot, easily passed. Absentee ballots will be granted without voters having to provide a reason they're requesting one. Straight-party voting — a single mark for candidates of one party — will also be revived. Supporters, including the American Civil Liberties Union, civil rights groups and unions, say it will make voting more accessible. Opponents included Republican secretary of state candidate Mary Treder Lang, who said some provisions will "add more bureaucracy, red tape and government regulations."
Voters overhauled the way seats in the Legislature and Congress are drawn every decade. The job now will go to a 13-member commission picked at random after the next census. It's an extraordinary change now enshrined in the state constitution that snatches power from lawmakers and the governor. Republicans drew the maps after the 2010 census because they were in control of the state Capitol and have remained so, at least partly because of how those seats were drawn. Critics of the proposal say a commission won't be accountable to the public. Supporters, however, say representative democracy is at risk in a process soaked in politics.