2017-01-05 / Columns

Republicans Had Success At County Level

Michigan Politics
By George Weeks

This year begins with Republicans looming dominant not only in Washington and Lansing, but also controlling 69% of Michigan’s 83 county board commission seats statewide.

As the latest Inside Michigan Politics (IMP) newsletter headlined about the 2016 election: “Battle of the Boards 2016: Republicans Flip 4 of 83 Boards, Dems Turn 1.” Republicans picked up 36 county seats last year, many of them Up North.

IMP said Lake County, “the poorest county in the state…has the distinction of being the site of Michigan’s most dramatic county electoral change on November 8.” Before the election, Democrats had 7-0 complete control. Now Republicans have a 5-2 majority.

Republicans flipped three other boards in the election: Alpena, Chippewa, and Isabella, according to data from the Michigan Association of Counties. Democrats turned one in Clare County. Overall the GOP picked up 36 seats across the 83 counties.

IMP said the GOP would now have 432 seats, making gains in 31 counties. Democrats, who picked up seats in only six counties, will fall to 182 seats.

There will be 29 boards with no Democrats whatsoever, with the additions of Iosco, Antrim, Emmet, and Wexford. Only four county commissions will have no Democrats.

Beyond county politics, what’s the significance of all of this in the bigger pictures of state and national races?

IMP said it well: “This is significant as county boards often function as the farm team for the Legislature, which is subject to some of the strictest term limits in the nation. And the November 8 election results will likely help Republicans, which have already sported a deeper bench than Democrats for several cycles.”

IMP also notes that as bad as things were for Democrats in the election at the county level, they still run county commission boards in most of Michigan’s largest counties: Wayne, Macomb, Genesee, Saginaw, Ingham, Muskegon, Washtenaw, and Bay.

“However,” said IMP, “the Dems even lost ground in two of them, Genesee and Saginaw. Oakland remained unchanged with a 14-7 GOP edge, thanks to an assist from the Legislature’s 2011 reapportionment do-over. Democrats did pick up two seats in another big county, Kent, where Trump underperformed, but Republicans still hold a 13-6 majority there.”

The Political Extremes Are Downstate

Not surprisingly, state senators Up North in the latest tally by Inside Michigan Politics newsletter are relatively moderate compared to those downstate.

Senator Morris Hood (D-Detroit) had the most 2016 liberal voting record at 87%. Senator Mike Green (R-Mayville) was deemed the most conservative, voting liberal only 22.2% of the time.

Contrasting examples: Senator Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City was among five Republicans voting liberal 36.7% of the time. Senator Tom Casperson of Escanaba was among four Republicans voting liberal 30% of the time.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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