In the world of politics, it’s always election season. That said, with the 2021 elections now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to gear up for 2022. Pride Source checked in with three political prognosticators who shared their knowledge about the races and issues LGBTQ+ voters in Michigan should have on their radar.
Our panelists include Roland Leggett, chair of the LGBT & Allies Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party; Mark LaChey, first vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party; and Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan.
Michigan LGBTQ+ Out Candidates
So far, four openly LGBTQ+ candidates in southeast Michigan have announced their intention to run for office in 2022: incumbents state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia), and newcomers Noah Arbit in West Bloomfield and Jason Morgan in Ann Arbor, both running for state representative in their respective districts. Generally speaking, incumbent candidates have an advantage. But it’s early: The filing deadline is not until April 19. Ultimately, the odds of their success in 2022 rests on the way the districts are finally drawn.
LaChey on Arbit
“The overall pattern of Oakland County and much of south Michigan is, it is turning blue or purple as people migrated further out into the suburbs and exurbs. So I’m optimistic for Noah. I think he’ll be a great campaigner. He is already a great Democratic activist. The good and bad is he has youth on his side. So, there’s the youthful energy, but there is perhaps some need for experience, but you pick up experience fast running for office.”
Leggett on Pohutsky
“I’m also the politics director of Michigan United and Michigan People’s Campaign. And Laurie Pohutsky has been a very, very, very strong partner for us in relation to redistricting and a number of other issues. She brings to the table a lot of knowledge around the needs not only of our community, but a lot of other vulnerable and isolated communities. And so I think she has a very good chance and is a very talented politician.”
Legggett on Moss
“Jeremy is incredibly talented. He’s an excellent senator. [But] we’re under attack from the right side of politics here, and we cannot make any assumptions about…how things will go for any candidate. I for one plan on doing absolutely everything that I can to help Jeremy next year out of an abundance of caution.”
LaChey on Moss
“Jeremy’s biggest asset is he is one of the hardest-working, diligent campaigners that I know. He loves meeting constituents and potential constituents. He’s got potential leadership on his side. So those are the things voters look at and go, ‘Well, what has he done in the past? And where will he be if we vote for him?’ So I think all those things are in Jeremy’s positive side.”
LaChey on Morgan
“There’s another campaigner who [like Jeremy Moss] just is like the Energizer Bunny. He is he has done an incredible job on the Washtenaw County Commission. I think his district again—although the exact borders aren’t drawn—will be a safe Democratic district. It’s hard to imagine a district in Ann Arbor, that isn’t a safe Democratic district. He has gone out and done everything right so far in terms of securing endorsements, raising money, kind of blocking out the whole Democratic side of the field for himself, and that is an incredibly smart strategy.”
At the top of the ticket are pro-equality elected officials Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Sec. of State Jocelyn Benson. Our panelists stressed how critical it is to re-elect them.
LaChey on Nessel, Whitmer, and Benson
“Dana [Nessel] has done an incredible job as our attorney general. And in my mind, that is more important, or certainly, as important as her being our first elected LGBT statewide office holder. She is a beacon for a lot of people. I see her working day in and day out to be a true attorney general for all the people of Michigan in the model of Frank Kelley.”
LaChey predicts re-election for all three top officeholders.
“I suspect that this will be a good year for Democrats across the board. [Further,] Republicans within the state of Michigan are not putting up candidates that would stand a chance against, I don’t think, any of our statewides.”
Leggett on Nessel, Whitmer and Benson
“[Dana Nessel] has a really unique understanding of the needs of the community. And I’m not going to call her an advocate, I’m going to call her a warrior because I want a warrior on my team, and that is exactly who she is.”
“Governor Whitmer…is not an ally in name only. She has been really doing a great job of examining what policies need to be enacted or changed on the state level and figuring out the best way to do that. And she’s making those decisions based off of feedback, which she’s getting from the community and that’s invaluable.”
“[Jocelyn Benson] has been one of the most popular and respected secretaries of state in the country. We cannot afford to lose the access to the ballot and the progress that we’ve made over these last few years. So it’s imperative that we support her.”
Knott on top statewide races
“What’s at stake in 2022 is our top three statewide elected officials. That is the utmost importance to protect, if you will, for our community. And that’s evident by [their] pro-equality work [and] track record to date for passing policy or protecting the LGBTQ+ community.”
School Board Races
Until recently, school board races didn’t attract much attention. Now it’s commonplace for angry parents and others to disrupt school board meetings with manufactured hysteria over critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity and inclusion policies (DEI). No matter that public schools do not teach CRT or that the extremists whipping up this frenzy often can’t explain what CRT or DEI is.
“Whether it’s about DEI policy or some of the attacks that they have on LGBTQ kids, we’re seeing [this] in [both] suburban and rural communities. Attacks on GSA’s [gay/straight alliances] [are] an example. Whether it’s the mask mandates or drilling down to very specific policy that harms LGBTQ+ kids, school board elections are going to be hugely important to our community for a variety of reasons, including making sure that schools are safe and welcoming to LGBTQ+ youth.”
“You can discern pretty quickly who are Democrats who are Republicans if you listen to the positions and you listen to them speak. We have to pay attention to school boards for two reasons: one, they are the gatekeepers for curriculum among other things, and we want to continue to have open and inclusive classrooms for our LGBT kids [and] LGBT-questioning kids. And we want to promote a curriculum that provides information and support. Separately, school boards have historically been the breeding ground for future candidates for higher office.”
Twenty states in the US ban conversion therapy, the harmful and discredited practice that aims to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. However, Michiganders are only protected by a patchwork of ordinances passed in several municipalities. Bills that would ban conversion therapy as practiced by health care providers on minors have been repeatedly introduced by lawmakers but have died in the Republican-majority state Legislature.
Considering Governor Whitmer’s executive order on this matter, all three panelists expressed optimism that if a bill banning conversion therapy were to come across her desk, she would sign it. First, though, voters must elect officials that make it a priority.
Amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA)
For 38 years, there has been no movement in the state Legislature as it relates to amending ELCRA to include protections for LGBTQ+ people in Michigan. And with the recent failure of Fair and Equal Michigan’s citizen’s initiative, another door has been closed.
“We have a Michigan state Supreme Court that is going to be taking a look at the Rouch World decision in the near future. I’m optimistic that the court is going to give us a win on this matter, but that doesn’t mean [we should] dismiss the need for the Legislature to ultimately pass into law explicit protections.”
“I do not see [ELCRA] being amended if the Republicans retain control of either of the houses of the [state] Legislature. So within the four corners of Michigan, step one is for us to control the governor’s office, the state House and the state Senate separately. And [I am] a proponent of believing that perhaps our best path forward is the adoption of the Equality Act in the US Congress which would, I believe, subsume our Elliott-Larsen.”
“If we are able to flip the state House, which is possible, I believe that [amending ELCRA] could absolutely happen. We need to make sure that these elected officials and candidates make our issues top of mind and top priorities. Amending Elliott-Larsen is one of the governor’s top priorities. So it’s about making sure that the Legislature reflects the will of the people and the will of the executive branch and I’d even say the will of the Supreme Court here in Michigan.”
What About Redistricting?
Redistricting is the process by which district maps at various levels of government are redrawn every ten years based on U.S. Census data. Despite some bumps along the road with Michigan’s newly formed independent redistricting commission, established by Proposal 2 in 2018, redistricting is well underway and nearly finalized. While it’s premature to forecast the outcome of races in districts where official boundaries are still being determined, our panelists were able to provide a forecast based on trends they’ve observed.
“I believe that the Census undercount is one of the things that is most challenging related to redistricting. And the fact that we haven’t had as coordinated a response to the districting commission as a community as I would like us to have had creates challenges, too. There’s still time and there’s a lot of work to do.”
“First of all, Michigan is not one of those states and Detroit is not necessarily one of those…metro areas that has a quote-unquote ‘gay ghetto.’ So, the primary concern with redistricting, with respect to the LGBT community, typically is ensuring communities of interest are kept together and not necessarily divided whether it be state House, state Senate or Congress.”
“However the lines shake out, it’s going to give us some opportunities to potentially pick up one chamber, whether that’s the [state] House or the Senate. So I am optimistic that it’s going to be fair for folks that care about pro-equality policy and pro-equality candidates.”