Election 2012: Dems Fight for Hotly Contested 68th House Seat

Jul 30, 2012

The 68th state House district covers a large swath of the city of Lansing, plus parts of Ingham County and Lansing Township.  The current officeholder,  Democrat Joan Bauer, will vacate the seat this year.  Seven Democrats are vying for the nomination to represent this very diverse district.

Joan Bauer likes to say that she can be anywhere in her state House district within 15 minutes.  That’s because her constituents mainly live in west and south Lansing, a much more densely populated area than that of her suburban peers.  Bauer says the 68th has a strong mix of older residents and young professionals.

“It’s a real diversity of people,” says Bauer.  “Income levels; we do have a higher percentage of people who live in poverty than some of our surrounding suburban areas.  You have to always be thinking of the many different people that you are representing at the state Capitol.”

That diversity can be both a challenge and a reward for whoever leads the 68th in the future.  That may explain why so many Democrats – seven in all – are vying for the nomination. 

The candidates are Anne Clayton, Dale Copedge, Harold Leeman, Ted O’Dell, Griffin Rivers, A’Lynne Robinson and Andy Schor.  Nearly all of them have either a city or county government pedigree.

Bill Ballenger is the editor of Inside Michigan Politics.  He says regardless of all the rhetoric about the issues, this race, like most political contests, boils down to money and influence.

“It’s going to get down to endorsements by major interest groups,” Ballenger explains.  “Who gets the union backing in the 68th district in the Democratic primary, that’s essential.”

But in a primary, broad shoulders and deep pockets only carry a candidate so far.  Everything hinges on turning out your base.

On a cloudy Thursday, vendors begin setting up their tents at the South Lansing Community Farmers Market.  There’s no monolithic politics in this neighborhood.  All over, you see yard signs for nearly every candidate, especially the three African-American hopefuls.  It’s a great place to take a pre-election pulse.

Jerry Moist says he’s in survival mode; just making sure he’s got money for food, transportation and utilities.  He and his wife have just moved back to mid-Michigan, having fled Arizona’s oppressive heat.  His top priority for his next state rep?  Access to affordable health care.

“I’m on Medicare.  I still have premiums that come out, deductibles, co-pays; it’s crazy.  And I might only go to the doctor’s once a month, and sometimes I think it might be cheaper to pay the cash than it is to have the insurance.” 

LAVERY:  “So, you need somebody who can really keep an eye on regulating that and keeping it under control for you?”

MOIST:  “That would be nice.”

A sudden summer shower prompts Margie Evarian to hoist her umbrella.  She’s pleased to see the Democratic primary race so competitive this year.  Mostly, she  wants her next lawmaker to get away from their desk in the Capitol.

“Just meeting with people and groups to find out what their needs are, and sometimes being active in the communities,” says Evarian.  “And this neighborhood is pretty involved.”

Civic engagement is something current representative Joan Bauer prides herself on. She says her 11 year stint on the Lansing city council taught her how to stay close to the people.  Bauer says her successor must be ready to embrace the same attitude.

“It is a job that doesn’t end at 5 o’clock,” Bauer notes.  “Any given week, probably four or five nights of the week you have events, usually on the weekends there are activities.  I have loved that part; the getting to know people and to really understand what people want from their government and trying to explain to them what we’re doing.  So I hope that that continues also.”

Historically, Michigan’s 68th House district has been overwhelmingly Democratic.  It’s become even more so since its reapportionment following the 2010 census.  The winner of the Democratic primary will go on to face one of the two Republicans in the race, Tim Moede or Michael Wing in November.