BY LOUIE MEIZLISH
Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 2, 2002
Two years after being term-limited out of the Michigan House of Representatives, Liz Brater wants to get back into state government.
But the coast is not clear for her swearing-in as the new 18th District state senator, since the former Ann Arbor mayor and six-year former lawmaker faces a Republican opponent who says government will be closer to the people if his grassroots campaign prevails.
"We have a lot of problems with the state budget and we need people with experience to deal with them," Brater said during a recent interview. Projections from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan predict a deficit of $600 to $700 million in the budgets for the next two fiscal years.
Brater is just one of many House veterans seeking election to the Senate. At least 20 of the 38 Senate races feature a present or former House member. Brater faced hurdles just getting to this point, handily defeating incumbent Rep. John Hansen of Dexter in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary for the Senate seat.
But Brater's opponent, Scio Township Trustee Gordon Darr, is treating the race as competitive although the district has more Democrats than Republicans. Currently Republicans control 23 of the 38 seats in the Senate.
"She has a strong connection with a number of key Democratic constituencies," Darr said of Brater, whose endorsements include the Michigan State AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers. "But for this seat here you really want to build those bridges to be able to work with those people in Chelsea and Dexter." For his part, Darr, a former Dexter Village councilman, has the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.
The 18th District seat being vacated by term-limited Democratic Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith is in the shape of a hook that begins in western Washtenaw County, taking in Sharon and Freedom townships, then spanning across all of northern Washtenaw - encompassing Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor Township - then diving along its eastern edge to include Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Augusta Township.
Among the issues on which the two differ: Brater supports abortion rights, while Darr opposes abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother's life. She opposes vouchers for private school tuition, while Darr is generally supportive of them.
Darr noted that he has forsworn heavy fundraising. For this race, he requested a financial reporting waiver from the Michigan secretary of state, for he intends to raise and spend less than $1,000 in his bid for the seat.
Darr said his first priority if elected is to push through the Legislature a bill establishing public financing for all campaigns for state offices. Currently, only gubernatorial candidates receive matching funds from the state.
"If a Republican from the Ann Arbor area is in the state Senate pushing clean elections I think that's going to give it a lot of leverage," he said.
One of the more unusual developments in this race is that both parties' nominees agree that two major tax cuts should be halted. Gov. John Engler has already approved legislation halting the .1 percent annual reductions in the single business tax, a move they both applaud. The current SBT rate is 2.1 percent.
But Darr and Brater both said with the state budget facing a $1 billion shortfall, the governor and Legislature should also halt the .1 percent scheduled annual reductions in the state income tax, which is currently 4.1 percent.
"It's not politically feasible to raise them," Brater said. "We're stuck with the revenue shortfall we have and I think we're going to have to look at some additional economies."
Does that mean budget cuts? Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, has proposed cutting all major state budgets by 5 percent across-the-board.
Brater said cuts may be necessary, but that a reduction in the prisoner population by releasing nonviolent offenders would free up substantial amounts of money from the corrections budget.