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Democrats Bernstein, Diggs win regents election

By Peter Shahin, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 7, 2012

Riding the coattails of the national ticket, Democratic nominees for the University’s Board of Regents Shauna Ryder Diggs and Mark Bernstein narrowly prevailed over Republican nominees Robert Steele and Dan Horning in Tuesday’s election.

University regents are elected on a statewide ballot. As of 10:30 p.m., Bernstein and Diggs are up to 2,135,360 and 1,891,284 votes, respectively, compared to Steele’s 1,595,608 votes and Horning’s 1,590,603 votes.

Bernstein and Diggs’s victory will continue the Democrats’ current 6-2 majority on the board. The two newcomers will replace outgoing Democratic members S. Martin Taylor (D–Grosse Pointe Farms) and Olivia Maynard (D–Goodrich).

When returns began coming in from around the state at about 11:00 p.m. Tuesday, Horning and Steele took an early lead, benefiting from primarily rural and strongly Republican reporting counties. However, even as more suburban districts began to submit results, the race became more competitive throughout the evening and into Wednesday morning.

The result was not definitively determined until early Wednesday afternoon when Wayne County — a primarily Democratic area that includes Detroit — registered 1.4 million votes, of which Bernstein and Diggs received 547,407 and 503,560 respectively, placing them ahead of their Republican challengers.

As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Diggs had been running in last place among the four candidates but now leads Horning and Steele by about 300,000 votes each. Bernstein leads each of the Republicans by more than half a million votes.

As of 10:30 p.m., only Genesse County, which is a Democratic stronghold, had not yet reported its results.

Speaking from the statewide Democratic Party election event in Detroit, Bernstein said he was thrilled by the success that his campaign had achieved.

“I am greatly honored by the possibility of being able to serve as a regent,” Bernstein said. “I am eager to begin to serve the University and the people of Michigan.”

Bernstein holds a bachelor's degree, a law degree and an MBA from the University and is currently the president of the Sam Bernstein Law Firm, his father’s legal practice. He previously worked on the Clinton administration and was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm to sit on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

Bernstein attributed his electoral success to an unorthodox campaign for the position, including a bus tour of the state to raise awareness about the election.

“We ignored every piece of conventional wisdom that was imparted upon us,” Bernstein said. “We campaigned in a way that I felt honored the extraordinarily important role that the University of Michigan plays in our state, and the important role in leading the University.”

During his well-publicized campaign, Bernstein consistently advocated for lowered undergraduate tuition, the creation of “Go Blue Bonds” to provide students with access to lower interest rate loans and the reallocation of some portion of the University’s endowment to financial aid.

“The most important priority that faces higher education is addressing skyrocketing tuition and the burden of crushing student debt,” Bernstein said.

He added that in the long term, he saw a coming divide among public universities between those who could adjust to the new reality of funding for public education and those who could not.

“We are in a transformative moment in higher education and there will be public universities that will figure this out,” Bernstein said. “There will be winners and losers. The losers will be left behind and so will the states in which they are located … the stakes could not be higher.”

Diggs, who holds undergraduate and medical degrees from the University, is currently the owner of a laser and cosmetic dermatology practice in Grosse Pointe Farms. In an Oct. 27 interview with The Michigan Daily, Diggs echoed Bernstein’s assessment that tuition and affordability are the most pressing issue facing the University and the Board of Regents.

“I think there are ways to make U of M just as financially attractive as other institutions around the country,” Diggs said. “I do think that the regents and the administration … could have a leadership role in trying to encourage the Legislature to continue to pay appropriations (to the) University.”

Diggs could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

One of the Republican regent nominees, Robert Steele, spoke several hours before returns came in and said the down-ticket races would almost certainly follow the trend set by higher races.

“The regents or any of the State Board of Education-type races are at the bottom of the ballot and follow the top of the ballot,” Steele said. “If Obama wins, I probably won’t, if Romney wins, I probably will.”

Steele, who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) in 2010, said he did not have any plans to run for office in the future.

Dan Horning, the other Republican regent nominee, who previously served as regent from 1995-2002, was not immediately available for comment.

This story was updated at 10:30 p.m. with current vote counts