Opinion: AnnArbor.com's endorsements for 52nd House District and 15th Congressional District seats
A wearying campaign season of bickering, distortions and downright nastiness is almost over. On Nov. 3, Michigan will wake up to a new governor, a mostly new Legislature and all of the same old problems that have plagued it for years.
Our ability to tackle these problems will depend on who we send to Lansing. We need legislators who have a record of accomplishment in local government, a spirit of bipartisanship and a commitment to structural change in state government. In the race for the state House 52nd District, we think Republican Mark Ouimet fits that bill over Democrat Christine Green.
A former Ann Arbor City Council member and current vice chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, Ouimet helped guide the county through a difficult budget process, winning important concessions from employee groups. He also played a key role in the merger of the Chambers of Commerce in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. His pragmatic approach to issues has earned him respect and support across party lines.
Green, an attorney and Scio Township trustee, has strengths as well. Her focus is on making government more efficient and avoiding tax increases to make Michigan more competitive. She also has strong stands on such issues as tying tax incentives to real job creation.
While we agree with Green on some issues, we find that Ouimet shows a deeper commitment to the structural reform that Michigan needs, and his long public record of producing real results makes it easier to believe that he can be effective in Lansing.
We purposely delayed making an endorsement decision in this race until we had a chance to assess allegations that Ouimet collected per diem pay from the county that he wasn’t eligible for. We are disappointed in his lapse of judgment on this issue, and in his initial response to it. He claimed per diems for attending meetings that weren’t clearly covered under the county’s guidelines, and justified it, at least partially, by saying he gave the money to charity. Other county commissioners took similar reimbursements, though in much smaller amounts. Ouimet has asked for an independent, non-partisan review of reimbursements and says he will repay the county for any expenses that are found to be ineligible. That is appropriate.
Still, this incident shouldn’t be considered in a vacuum. When we look at Ouimet’s hard work on behalf of this community, his long record of service and his history of accomplishments, those things far outweigh this lapse. His body of work as a public servant demonstrates that he is well qualified to serve us in Lansing and can help bring about real change there. We endorse Mark Ouimet for the 52nd District House seat.
15th Congressional District
In this time of strong anti-incumbent sentiment, being the longest-serving member of Congress is no particular advantage for John Dingell. It’s more like a target on his back. Taking aim at the veteran Democrat is Republican challenger Rob Steele, an Ann Arbor physician.
Dingell has embraced Ann Arbor since it was added to his 15th U.S. House District in 2002, working closely with local officials to help secure federal funding for local needs. The $13.9 million in federal funds that Ann Arbor just landed for repair of the Stadium Boulevard bridges was huge, as was the recent $1 million grant to help pay for a new Blake Transit Center downtown.
On the other hand, Michigan remains a donor state, sending more money to Washington than it gets back, and voters have every right to question why Dingell and other long-serving Democrats in Congress haven’t been more effective in correcting that imbalance. It also is troubling that Democrats removed him as chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, prompting the Washington Post to declare that his “time of grand power has passed.’’
Steele is waging a vigorous campaign, buoyed by polls that he says show Dingell is vulnerable. But we have trouble getting a read on Steele. His campaign web site and his announcements are conspicuous for their lack of specifics. Meeting with our editorial board, he was measured in his statements, but if you listen to his interviews on conservative talk radio shows, he spouts Tea Party rhetoric with the best of them.
Steele clearly has a strong understanding of the federal health care reform, which he calls “Obamacare’’ and vows to overturn. Otherwise, he often offers simplistic solutions to complex problems like immigration or job growth. We also disagree with his position on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, which he opposes.
Dingell, who has never received less than 60 percent of the vote in a general election, may or may not be at risk in November. At a time when people want change in Washington, his entrenched status is not a plus, nor are questions about whether his influence and effectiveness are on the wane. But his accomplishments and his dedication are epic, and we don’t find that Steele has made the case for replacing him. We endorse Dingell for another term, understanding that his future longevity depends very much on the actual accomplishments he demonstrates over the next two years and not on his laurels.
Click here to read AnnArbor.com's gubernatorial endorsements.
Editor’s note: The three community members who serve on our Editorial Board - David Mielke, Bob Guenzel and Marsha Chamberlin - did not participate in the endorsement interviews and were not involved in these endorsement decisions.