BY Crystal Proxmire
There weren’t many openly gay candidates in the 2012 elections to begin with, and now that the primaries are over, the LGBT community has even less representation to look forward to in Michigan.
Trevor Thomas, the young activist from Grand Rapids, lost in his primary against Steve Pestka for the third Congressional District. The 28 year old came home from Washington, where he worked for HRC, to make the run for Congress. His opponent, 60 year old Pestka, had many more years of experience in campaigning and plenty of name recognition, but the vote was a close 56-44 percent. The election is important not only because Thomas is gay, but because it is an opportunity to turn a traditionally Republican seat blue. The incumbent Republican, now running against Pestka, is Jason Amash, the 32 year old Libertarian Republican.
“I spoke with Judge Pestka tonight and congratulated him on his victory in this hard-fought campaign,” said Thomas in an issued statement. “I told him that I look forward to working together to defeat Justin Amash in the fall. Democrats and folks from across the political spectrum are united in feeling that Representative Amash is out of touch with West Michigan values, and we need to make sure that we unseat him in November.”
Back on the east side of the state there is sad news for Oakland County, as a decade of gay representation on the Oakland County Commission will come to an end as Commissioner Craig Covey exits as the last person to represent the now-eliminated 25th District. Earlier this year Republicans challenged the new district maps and lost in court. So rather than accepting the maps they lobbied State Representatives to enact a law limiting the number of districts in counties to 21, and changed the rules over who gets to draw the maps.
PA 280 was enacted with immediate effect despite having the required number of votes to do so on Dec. 28, 2011. The state law only affects Oakland County. It cuts the number of districts from 25 to 21, making the redistricting maps that were already created and approved by the courts no longer in compliance. The act also stripped the Apportionment Committee of their authority to draw districts. It gave that power instead directly to the Commissioners themselves.
Democrats sued about the Constitutionality of PA 280. They won in the Appellate court, but the State Supreme Court voted along party lines to uphold it. Thus Covey’s district was eliminated and Ferndale was re-drawn into the 18th District, which is also home to Democratic incumbent Helaine Zack. In a district that includes Ferndale, Hazel Park, part of Oak Park, Royal Oak Township and Huntington Woods, Covey lost 45-53 percent. He served for two years, following nearly eight years of representation by Dave Coulter, who was arguably the first openly gay county commissioner, who is now the Mayor of Ferndale.
Covey declined to comment on the election, though he did post on his Facebook page, “I congratulated Helanie Zack on her victory, and I endorse her for the November election. The bad guys here are the state and county Republicans, who engineered this primary battle. Shame on County Clerk Bill Bullard, and L. Brooks Patterson, who forced the powergrab redistricting on us. We will remember in November.”
One key race in which a gay man stands a chance is Democrat Kevin Howley who is taking on 74 year old Republican L. Brooks Patterson for Oakland County Executive.
Howley, who was unopposed in the primary, said he was excited to see his name printed on the ballot, and hopes that he can continue to be successful in campaigning from now until November. He is one of only a few openly gay candidates for public office remaining in the state, and has gotten endorsements from the Victory Fund, the Pride PAC, and various other progressive groups.
“Michigan is so far behind the rest of the country in terms of having LGBT equality. This is a great opportunity for people to rally around a gay candidate,” Howley said. “We need to have a more cohesive political presence. That’s why they [Republican elected officials] were able to strip away domestic partnership benefits. People need to get involved.”
Howley is not your typical politician, but he has an accomplished career helping businesses and non-profit organizations make economic turnarounds. At the end of 2010 he took on the task of helping Affirmations restructure economically as he served as the interim executive director. He has also worked with Ruth Ellis Center, Friends Schools of Detroit and other organizations. He lives in Huntington Woods with his partner and their two children.
Patterson, who has held the position for the last 20 years, was in a car accident days after the primary, with his driver slamming into another car and sending Patterson to the hospital with broken bones and a gash to the head, although reports indicate that he will recover and continue campaigning.