By Dawn Wolfe
In an otherwise disappointing election year, the results of the statewide races, especially those for state House, offer hope for LGBTs and allies in Michigan.
In addition to picking up five Democratic seats and thus narrowing the GOP majority from 63-47 to 58-52, incumbent Republican Matt Milosch was replaced by Democrat Kathy Angerer. Milosch voted against LGBT positions a whopping 91 percent of the time during his stay in the House and was a sponsor of House Resolution U, the Michigan Legislature’s attempt to codify a ban on equal marriage rights and civil unions in the state constitution. This figure is taken from an analysis of state House voting records done by BTL for its 2004 Voters’ Guide.
“There is greater hope now in that seat than there was before,” said Michigan Pride PAC’s Sean Kosofsky.
Even a few of the elected Republicans are at least somewhat reasonable on LGBT issues. Lorence Wenke, a Republican who voted against Resolution U and went on to survive a primary campaign marked by anti-gay rhetoric, won his 63rd District reelection bid by a substantial 58.9 percent. In addition to voting against House Res. U, Wenke had a 64 percent voting record during his past two years in the state House – well above the majority of the House’s Republican members. The 33rd District’s Leon Drolet, another Republican state House member who opposed House Res. U and has a 64 percent pro-gay voting record, won his reelection bid by over 60 percent. Drolet was endorsed by both BTL and Michigan Pride PAC.
Kosofsky said of Drolet, “Leon’s been a terrific advocate for us in the Legislature. He is the single strongest supporter of equality on the Republican side of the aisle.”
The 85th District’s new Republican legislator, Richard J. Ball, “would be one of the most reasonable, moderate Republicans you could approach,” according to Bill Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics. Ball replaces Larry Julian, who in addition to being a sponsor of House Resolution U had an unimpressive 13 percent voting record on pro-LGBT bills.
Other gay and gay-friendly candidates who won their elections include the 22nd District’s Hoon-Yung Hopgood, a BTL and Pride PAC-endorsed incumbent with an 82 percent positive voting record, the 53rd District’s openly gay Representative Chris Kolb, who retook his seat with over 80 percent of the vote, and newcomer to the Legislature Marie Donigan, who took the seat formerly held by Dave Woodward and who was a champion for gay equality during her tenure on the Royal Oak City Council.
Veteran civil servant Aldo Vagnozzi, long a champion of LGBT rights, won reelection to his seat in the 37th District despite a reputed anti-gay mailing sent by supporters of Republican challenger William Largent. All of these LGBT rights champions, and election winners, are Democrats.
BTL, Pride PAC endorsees fare well
Candidates endorsed by Between The Lines in its Voters’ Guide, and those endorsed by Pride PAC, also did well. Sixty-four percent of BTL-endorsed state House candidates won their elections, as did 68 percent of the candidates endorsed by Pride PAC.
Kosofsky was happy with the numbers.
“I know that some political action committees endorse people with the goal of having a really impressive victory rate at the end, and that’s not exactly helpful to themselves or the PAC. We try to weigh in in as many races as possible because we want to be a voter’s guide as well as just a PAC.”
He added, “The only criteria we use is who will serve our community best.”
Of the success of Pride PAC endorsed candidates, Kosofsky said that the numbers “say that the instincts we have are terrific, but most importantly, it shows that folks running for office are running increasingly in a pro-gay position.”
Marilyn Kelly, called “a clarion voice for justice” by the Triangle Foundation, will be returning to her seat on the Michigan Supreme Court, where she will provide needed balance to an otherwise pro-conservative bench. In addition, Michigan voters elected BTL-endorsed Democrats to at least one position, and in two cases to both open positions, on the governing boards of Michigan’s state universities. All of these seats will be crucially important in the upcoming legal battles surrounding Proposal 2, with pro-LGBT forces working to mitigate the harmful effects of the amendment and social conservatives doing their utmost to extend them.
Kosofsky affirmed the importance of the college board positions in the ongoing struggle for legal protections for same-sex relationships. “The makeup of our university boards is critical in the coming years, when the state of domestic partnership benefits is at stake,” he said.
“It’s important to have progressive-thinking people on the boards, regardless of their party affiliation, to ensure that colleges that offer domestic partnership benefits continue to do so,” agreed Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU’S LGBT Project.