As the general elections loom near, the endless cycle of fundraising, campaigning, and advertising is almost finished, if only for a little while. Newly elected politicians will have a few weeks to relish in their long-fought victory before they uproot their staff and settle in Lansing to begin their term as a Michigan State Senator. With the newly drawn districts following the 2010 census, Michigan Senate districts may look a little different but they are as competitive as ever.
Michigan’s 20th district, currently held by Republican Tonya Schuitmaker, is no exception. Schuitmaker is now running for reelection in the newly drawn 26th district. The 20th district now comprises Kalamazoo county, Paw Paw, and Antwerp townships. District 20 has 269,554 civilians residing within its border while the average Michigan district has 260,096 residents. The district is 51.0% female and 49% male while 95.9% of individuals are non-Hispanic and 4.1% are Hispanic. 82.6% of citizens are white and 10.2% are African American.
As of 2010, the Michigan State Senate has been controlled by a Republican supermajority with Democratic Senators coming mostly from Ann Arbor and urban Detroit districts. Michigan Democrats are hoping to gain back seats in this year’s election and the 20th district may be the place to do so. District 20 is unique compared to most because there are three candidates, rather than the expected two.
Sean McCann, the Democratic candidate is a Detroit native but has lived in Kalamazoo for the past twenty four years with his wife and two children. He first moved there to attend Western Michigan University and soon after graduation, became involved with his community service work. He was elected to the Kalamazoo County Commission in 1999 and served for ten years. McCann is an entrepreneur and manages/rents several properties throughout the state. Since 2011, he has served as State Representative for the 60th district.
Margaret O’Brien, Republican, graduated from Mattawan High School in 1991 and put herself through college, graduating from Michigan State University’s James Madison College in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. Margaret, her husband, and her two children who are now freshmen in college reside in Kalamazoo. Margaret was a Portage City Councilwoman and was elected to the State House in 2010 and has been a real estate agent for the last ten years.
Lorence Wenke, recently left the Republican party and is now running as a Libertarian. Wenke graduated from Kalamazoo Christian High School in 1963, attended Calvin College for two years, and graduated from Western Michigan University with a business degree in 1967. He is the present owner of Wenke Greenhouses (Kalamazoo) and Sunbelt Greenhouses (Georgia), and is a partner in Michigan Grower Products (Galesburg). Wenke worked for the Michigan House of Representatives as a Republican for six years and prior to that, was a Kalamazoo County Commissioner for eight years, three of those years as a chairman. Wenke and his wife have been married for forty eight years and have two grown children.
McCann believes in giving Michigan job contracts to Michigan employees and opposes education and pension taxes. He does not support tax breaks for politicians/wealthy or corporate giveaways. He endorsed the recent Medicaid expansion and minimum wage increase in Michigan. He does not support the Right to Work Act or the current emergency financial manager that has been authorized by the State legislature. He is disappointed in the State legislature’s for failing to put together a road funding package.
O’Brien supports the Right to Work Act and hopes to bring back vocational education. She supports funding public schools and believes in access to early childhood education. O’Brien recently told supporters that she would support raising the sales tax to fund road repair if the state’s gas tax was constitutionally repealed. She does not support gay marriage or abortion and does not believe that tax breaks are the answer. If she could change one government policy she would move the Department of Education under control of the Governor’s office.
Lorence Wenke, a Libertarian, is a conservative small businessman. He endorses a part-time legislature and hopes to reduce government spending. He supports tax breaks and also supports the Right to Work Act, but does not support an exemption to the Right to Work Act and believes that it should be equal to everyone across the state. Wenke also feels that the middle class has been hurt by free trade agreements between the U.S and countries like Mexico and China.
Having three candidates could prove to be an advantage for Democrats because the Republicans and Conservatives will be split between Wenke and O’Brien, which could make it easier for McCann to get a majority of voters because this is not a typical two-party election. Voters who support the Right to Work Act will more than likely not vote for McCann and will have to decide between Wenke and O’Brien. Seeing as how many Liberals and Democrats support gay marriage and are pro-choice, O’Brien can direct resources away from that electorate and focus on the swing voters and the undecided who will more than likely end up determining the outcome of this election. McCann has the spending advantage in this race which will be a great benefit to him.
Democrats are looking to upset the balance in the Michigan Senate, which historically has been Republican-dominated and the 20th district may be the perfect place for them to start. Wenke and O’Brien both fighting for votes from the Republican/Conservative electorate could prove to be an advantage for the Democrats and it’ll be interesting to see if McCann can capitalize on that. This is an important race to watch not only for the balance in the Michigan Senate, but also in the midst of a crucial midterm election during a time of global political instability.
3. http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2014/09/ campaign_finance_reports_show.html