You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Jeff Irwin offers his take on Washtenaw County's prospects with 4 Democrats in the Michigan House

By Ryan J. Stanton


From left to right, Democrats David Rutledge, Gretchen Driskell, Adam Zemke and Jeff Irwin will represent Washtenaw County in the Michigan House of Representatives for the next two years. For the past two years, Washtenaw County had two Republican and two Democratic representatives in the House but Rick Olson and Mark Ouimet are on their way out.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Last week's election brought major victories for Democrats in key battlegrounds across the state of Michigan, and in Washtenaw County the story was no different.

All four of the county's representatives in the state House are now Democrats after Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell ousted Rep. Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Township, in the 52nd District and Adam Zemke won the 55th District seat being vacated by Rep. Rick Olson, R-York Township.

Meanwhile, state Reps. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and David Rutledge, D-Superior Township, easily defeated their Republican opponents to stay in office another two years.


State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, served as chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee. The Dems picked up five seats in the state House in last week's election.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Irwin, who served as chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee, spoke with about the election results locally and statewide and what they mean.

"Democrats made big gains and it was a really positive night for us," Irwin said. "In most of the seats where there was a real competition and a real opportunity for either a Democrat or a Republican to win, Democrats were winning and we saw that in Washtenaw County."

The Democrats picked up five seats statewide, but Republicans still hold a 59-51 advantage in the House. The GOP also controls the Senate and the governor's office. What do you think is the significance of this election and what does it mean now that Washtenaw County will be represented by all Democrats in the state House?

Irwin: Obviously I'm elated that Democrats were able to sweep Washtenaw County, and I'm going to have more colleagues to work with who share my values of making education a top priority in our state and getting back to a focus on growing our economy, rather than wallowing in the social issues that the Republicans have been wallowing in for the last two years.

It's also very positive that we picked up a number of seats. We made pretty strong gains in the Legislature, narrowing the Republican advantage considerably. Hopefully that's going to create a new spirit of working together when we get back to Lansing and encourage the Republicans to focus more on those issues that we agree on. I have some hope that we're going to be able to strike some compromise, particularly on issues like energy efficiency.

Our top priority as Democrats is making education the top priority of the state. And with five new Democrats in the House and five less Republicans, I think we have a much greater chance of realizing that goal and getting the state back into a position where we're investing in our universities, where we're investing in innovation, and we're investing in our K-12 schools, and that's going to be a gratifying result for me if that's the spot we can get to as a result of this election. Do you think it will hurt Washtenaw County to not have a member of the majority party representing it in the state House? Will it be well served by all minority party representatives when the Republicans still call the shots in Lansing for the next two years?

Irwin: Well, we have a Republican governor who represents the whole state and also lives here in Washtenaw County, and hopefully that's going to be helpful to our community. I'm hopeful with Gov. Snyder's pronouncements that the major cuts they made to K-12 and higher ed in 2011 was the end of the budget pain for our schools, but you never know what's going to happen in the next legislative session. We're all going to be working hard to communicate with our Republican colleagues about the importance of public education and try to strike as much bipartisan compromise as possible. The 52nd District race was viewed by some as a referendum on actions taken by the GOP-controlled Legislature in the last session. Is that what happened in that race?

Irwin: I think so. I think the main issue there that was the subject of the referendum was really education. I think education is a bipartisan value in Washtenaw County. People believe in higher ed as an engine of economic growth. People understand that our communities thrive because of U of M and EMU and Washtenaw Community College. People believe in their neighborhood schools and feel strongly that their neighborhood schools need to be top-notch in order for not just our own children to be successful, but also for our property values to be high and for Washtenaw County to continue to be an attractive place to live and to invest. So I think investments in education are very broadly popular in Washtenaw County and I don't think a legislator in Washtenaw County can survive a voting record that stands against K-12 and higher ed. That's a hard record to carry to the voters in Washtenaw County and I think that was one of the big pieces that hurt Rep. Ouimet in his re-election. Do you think the GOP is watching and taking notes?

Irwin: I really hope so. The major cuts they made to K-12 schools and higher ed hurt Republicans all over the state and that's the main reason why we made big gains. It's not just in Ann Arbor that people understand the value of public education. It's really statewide. Do you expect yourself or any of the other Democrats from Washtenaw County to land in any key leadership positions or committees at the start of the next session?

Irwin: We had a leadership vote and the Democratic leader is Tim Greimel from Auburn Hills and Pontiac, and the floor leader is Rudy Hobbs from Southfield, so those are the two main leadership positions. Everything else, as far as who are going to be the ranking members on various committees and those types of issues, is going to be settled later. I think we've got a couple of real rising stars in both Adam Zemke and Gretchen Driskell, and I think Rep. Rutledge and I are going to be right there at the table when we're talking about what kind of issues we're going to focus on. Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer issued a call right after the election for a number of election reforms, including establishing early voting and no-reason absentee voting in Michigan, eliminating the position of Secretary of State as a partisan elected official, and exploring options for online and mobile voting. Are those ideas you're supporting?

Irwin: I do think it's the right time to be discussing election reform, and I do think Michigan needs to take steps to make voting as easy as possible. One of the reforms the senator was suggesting is no-reason absentee voting. That was one of the first bills I introduced and it's something the League of Women Voters is very supportive of and it has a lot of bipartisan support, so I certainly support that one. In fact, I've been trying to encourage my Republican colleagues to move that legislation forward.


Two new and two returning House Democrats will go to work for Washtenaw County inside the Michigan Capitol starting in January.

Ryan J. Stanton | Why hasn't it moved forward yet?

Irwin: Usually the argument that gets laid out there against no-reason absentee voting is that it's somehow going to increase fraud. And that's just a terrible argument, because we already have a situation where you can vote absentee if you check a little box saying, 'I intend to be absent on the day of the election.' And anyone who's willing to engage in voter fraud is certainly going to be willing to check that little box.

The only folks who are unwilling to check that little box when they want to vote absentee are the folks who are very, very honest, and those are the ones we need to make an allowance for.

So an idea like early voting to try to reduce lines and give people more opportunities to vote, it's a good idea. And the idea of trying to make sure we have more voting machines for high-turnout elections so we don't have lines that stretch for hours, that's a good idea. And I can't imagine how anyone could oppose that kind of good idea, but I suspect as usual we're going to have a struggle getting these issues heard because there's a partisan advantage for Republicans in suppressing the number of votes. More voters is good for Democrats and less voters is good for Republicans. Aren't the Democrats shooting themselves in the foot to link some of these election reforms to very partisan attacks on Republicans, though?

Irwin: This has unfortunately become a partisan issue over the years. And the Republicans have not only opposed efforts to make voting easier and to reduce lines at polls, but they've actually introduced legislation to try to make voting harder and to try to make lines longer at the polls. I hear you saying 'I hope the Republicans see our way and compromise a little.' Is it also possible they'll say, 'Hey, we've got two more years where we control every corner of Michigan's government. Let's take advantage of this and push our agenda while we still can'?

Irwin: It's certainly possible and that's going to be a decision they're going to have to make. There's been a lot of talk about whether the Republicans are going to rush to eliminate no-fault insurance coverage or enact right-to-work laws or make some other decisions that are very partisan in the early moments of the next session or even during lame duck. I can't say that I know that they won't.

I can only say that I've communicated with my Republican colleagues about how now the election is over and we know what we're looking at going forward, and we as Democrats are ready to work with them and try to find some solutions we agree on and can move forward together on. At this point, I'm still hopeful the Republicans will choose that path, because the repudiation that they met at the polls is certainly a strong incentive for them to start thinking about how they can be less partisan and less extreme in their views and more willing to find common ground.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 4:17 a.m.

I understand that with the improvement in Michigan's GDP, as anemic as it may be, that tax revenue should go up as well. The newly generated revenue can be applied to supporting education in Michigan without necessarily changing the tax rate on anyone.


Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 4:02 a.m.

Finally, someone made a reasonable point.


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 3:38 a.m.

So essentially the only budget Mr Irwin is willing to cut is public safety in order to increase school spending? Is he sure there is nothing else we don't need that we are paying for?

Karen Walacavage

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 5:30 p.m.

It's funny how important education is after the election. Willow Run Schools are consolidating with an already fragile Ypsilanti School District. And you want to throw more tax dollars to a system that is failing. What else is new. Voter fraud.... At my township hall, absentee ballots were in a secure cardboard box where the top just lifts off easily. And it was in the lobby to make things more convenient for the Democrat voters. I think we had 100% for Obama - no fraud taking place here. Social issues and the war on women are over, Amen! Wait.....I think another baby girl was murdered by my Washtenaw County abortion clinic -Planned Parenthood. Business as usual.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 9:22 p.m.

I wish YpsiGirl was right about the duration of the Obama presidency.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 6:42 p.m.

Karen, Hey if you didn't hear....Mitt Romney and the Tea Party Mentally LOST BIG on November 7th. President Obama be President until January 20, 2016, The Affordable Health Care Act will remain law of the land, Planned Parenthood will receive proper funding for the organization's family planning care services, real voter fraud similar to make access to the polls harder for Minorities, College Students, Latino's and anyone not voting Republicans will be addressed soon by Pres. Obama's Department of Justice & Congress. But I heard that for folks with who think like you are actively signing petitions seeking to secede from the Union......


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

I love flipping off those protesters and their signs when they are standing out on Huron Pkwy...makes my day!


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

Two freshman and all four in the minority. How many different ways can you say "irrelevant?"

Basic Bob

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 5:31 p.m.

Five including Rebekah Warren. Maybe we can get another Youtube lesson in how to speak in public.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

Mr. Irwin is a charismatic and highly visible Democrat and wouldn't surprise me if he was invited to move to D.C. to take over Dingell's or Levin's job. That said, when it does come down to pushing radical Ann Arbor issues (no, I;m not talking about the Aut bar sign suit) Jeff - like Obama his Democrat in chief - whimps out in deference to "compromise" with the clueless republican majority. Some day a bold leader will emerge with some radically energizing ideas - we just hope its not too late and their name is not Hitler, Stalin, or Mao.

Claude Kershner

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

I hope the four people representing the county manage our money as if it was their own. Further, after watching the state struggle for eight years in a statistical recession it's refreshing to know the State of Michigan is being run by someone who understands the importance of a balanced budget. Nice to have vs. necessary to live is a great guiding financial principle. I agree educational funding is important but not by taking loans from the federal government. We as a state are better able to manage that dialogue and the subsequent strings attached than Washington DC.

Claude Kershner

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 11:10 p.m.

League: I've read some of your other posts and its clear you are a liberal Democrat. That said, the stats you cite tell a very small story of a much larger problem under Gov. Granholm. Fact: there was no other state in the country who lost more businesses and jobs to out of state competition than Michigan during her years in office. Fact: unemployment in MI skyrocketed following her 2007 1.35 billion dollar tax increase with no state spending cuts. Fact: so many people left Michigan to seek new jobs or start new businesses that MI lost a congressional seat. MI was ranked 49th nationally in retaining college grads. Fact: under her watch Michigan's credit rating was cut from AA to AA-. Getting the MI economy on track with an increase in jobs brings more tax revenue into the state which then funds education, social services etc. What Snyder has done is reposition the state towards retention of intellectual capital based on opportunity while showcasing Michigan as a business friendly environment. There is more work to be done but after years of horrible results this is the first time in a decade the state is moving Forward!


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 10:36 p.m.

Hey Claude, when Granholm left office our Tax Foundation's Business Climate in Michigan was 17th in the country. We were better than all states around us but Indiana. So now in 2012 with the Rickster, we are at 18. Check at the So cutting business taxes to the bone moved us from 17 to 18. And by the way, between 2003 and 2010, Granholm cut the Michigan budget by $1B, thats B for billion, which was much more than any state in the country. My references are cited.

Claude Kershner

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

Creating a business climate where industry wants to stay in Michigan rather than leave for more tax friendly states was a top priority to maintain the revenue current and future additional revenue. The previous administration's anti business policy pushed Michigan to the bottom five in the country for attracting business. Here in Ann Arbor one of the leading educational and research companies in the world (to say nothing of the largest tax and charitable contributor to the town) pulled up stakes and left without even a phone call to Lansing. The balance between investment spending and foolish policy based on ideology is the defining difference between a partisan hack and true leader. I hope the POTUS is able to show a comparable record of economic achievement in 8'years what Gov. Snyder has managed to accomplish in two.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 6:27 p.m.

Education funding is MOST important. How can we expect to culture our next generation of leaders in Michigan without property funding public education? This should be a no-brainier. Cutting the Public School Rainy Day Fund to the tune of $900 Billion dollars for "tax cuts" could be given to C & S Corporations is NOT the way to balance Michigan's budget!


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

The long-awaited economic recovery has thus far been feeble. Let's hope it can survive the mammoth revenue loss expected by Washtenaw County's fine dining venues now that Mark Ouimet has lost access to a taxpayer-provided expense account. Might it be enough to slide us back into recession?


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 2:56 p.m.

When? Where? How much?

Top Cat

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

In other words, Washtenaw County's Four Marx Brothers want to return to the golden days of the Granholm stagnant quo.


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

Ya well, Top Cat, I think one of the four is a woman. How about Lucy, Shemp, Curly, and Moe as an alternative?.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

Education is important but so is working within a budget. Prior to the Governor change 2 years ago the The previous Democratic Governor was funding state eductation by borrowing Stimulas money from President Obama- That is why education had to be cut there was no money in the state! how quickly we forget Do you think the tobacco settlement money she gave to the city of Detroit Would have funded some education needs? Please Don't be so quick to point your finger Mr. Irwin without looking at your own party which has been less than honorable with the peoples money. A little humility and humbleness would be appreciated and is needed.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

The question AA should have asked. If education is your top priority, are you willing to cut other programs to pay for increased spending on education or will you seek a tax increase for higher education spending?

Claude Kershner

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 9:40 p.m.

Using California as an economic/tax increase example for Michigan educational options is like asking Lansing to model Detroit's budgeting process. Epic fail!

Basic Bob

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

Snyder said he wanted to cut spending on prisons. For that matter, so did Granholm. The legislature is stalling because law and order gets votes. Even when it doesn't reduce crime.

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 6:39 p.m.

Irwin's answer: Of course I would be willing to make reductions in other areas before making reductions in education funding. For instance, while we cut higher eduction by 15% in the 2011-2 session, we left MDOC almost completely untouched. Despite a reduction of inmates from roughly 53,000 to around 46,000 we've been unable to significantly reduce costs in prisons.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 6:23 p.m.

Considering this is what California has just done -voted in a small tax increase to support public education- maybe this would not be a bad idea in Michigan either.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if at least one of them thought like an independent and not simply another progressive talking point?


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 4:12 a.m.

and what is the progressive talking point that bothers you? How does an independent think, anyway?

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 11:57 a.m.

" I hear you saying 'I hope the Republicans see our way and compromise a little.' Is it also possible they'll say, 'Hey, we've got two more years where we control every corner of Michigan's government. Let's take advantage of this and push our agenda while we still can'?" Fortunately for democracy, they'll have one less vote to do that, with the defeat of supported Mark Quimet.

Basic Bob

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.



Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 11:55 a.m.

I hate politics. Why can't we just get along without branding ourselves as one party or the other?

Claude Kershner

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 9:44 p.m.

We already have a 50 year example of one party rule in the state of Michigan: the city of Detroit. There has not been a Republican Mayor since 1958 and the city council has been a Democratic majority since 1939. How would you say that has worked out so far?


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

Because politics is a business. The joke on all of us is that both sides of the isle understand this. We would like to think we could return to the days, of independent thought. Today, the agenda of a particular party is key. What is interesting is that now that California has super majorities in the Gov/House and Senate, all Democrats, we will see what one party governing brings. It will be an experiment that will be very telling one way or the other. Will poverty end there? Will there be 100% employment? Will business flourish? Will climate change?