In close race, Republican Ruth Johnson takes Sec. of State

Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 2, 2010

"You know what brought us this far? You. Absolutely everyone of you that got out there," Republican Ruth Johnson, Michigan's Secretary of State elect told the crowd at the Michigan GOP watch party at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit Hotel last night.

With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Johnson won with 51 percent of the vote, beating Democratic opponent Jocelyn Benson, who garnered 45 percent, according to the Associated Press as of 5 a.m.

A resident of Holly, Mich., Johnson is the current Oakland County clerk — a position she’s held for the past six years. Johnson will be taking the secretary of state seat of incumbent Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who isn’t eligible to run for a third term due to Michigan’s state term limit laws.

During her time as Oakland County clerk, Johnson reduced office costs by more than $1 million and decreased the office staff by 20 percent, according to her campaign website. Johnson also served three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives starting in 1998. During her time in the House, she was chair of the House Land Use and Environment Committee.

As a state representative, Johnson investigated state government corruption through subpoena power, which resulted in the ousting of an official who used taxpayer dollars for personal use, Johnson’s campaign website states.

Throughout her campaign for secretary of state, Johnson promised that, if elected, she would continue to fight against election deception and fraud, make sure all voters are Michigan residents and reform the secretary of state office to ensure transparency and accountability. Johnson already began implementing the latter initiative during her campaign by making campaign donation records publically available online.

Michael Traugott, professor of Communication Studies at the University, said last night that Snyder's projected win throughout the governor's race most likely encouraged voters to support other Republicans running for office in the state.

“I think it was clearly a Republican year, and they had a very strong candidate at the top of the Michigan ticket — Rick Snyder — so I think that all of the statewide Republican candidates benefited from that," Traugott said.

The two candidates’ varying levels of experience was a point of contention throughout the race.

Benson, a 33-year-old law professor at Wayne State University Law School, worked on the Harvard Civil Rights Project from 2002 to 2004 as the Voting Rights Policy Coordinator. And in 2008 Benson put a stop to voters’ eligibility being challenged on Election Day based on foreclosure lists, according to Benson’s campaign website.

“We fought a good fight, but it just wasn’t our time. It wasn’t our race," T.J. Bucholz, a spokesman for Benson's campaign, told The Michigan Daily late last night.

As of now, Benson plans to return to teaching law at Wayne State, Bucholz said.

"We’re hopeful that the fight continues, and Jocelyn is going to do what she’s always done in her career, and that’s be an advocate for the people of Michigan," Bucholz said.

Traugott said Benson's lesser experience compared to Johnson's most likely contributed to her loss in the race.

“This was her first campaign, and if the Democrats had been better organized statewide … she might have done better, but I think Johnson’s experience clearly worked to her benefit," Traugott said.

Benson came to campus last month and told students she disagrees with Johnson's plan to ensure only citizens are able to vote, which would involve having everyone carry licenses. Instead, Benson said she would have people present an ID card other than a license that doesn't indicate a person's citizenship status, according to a Sept. 17 Michigan Daily article.

“To treat two sectors of the population separately is a violation of the equal protection clause,” Benson said at the time.

Like Johnson, Benson’s campaign promises included fighting government fraud and increasing transparency in public office. According to her campaign website, Benson specifically wanted to expose corporations’ influence on elections.

— Daily Staff Reporter Bethany Biron contributed to this report from Detroit.