Yousef Rabhi has been announced as the winner of the Democratic primary for the Michigan House of Representatives’ 53rd District seat with 16 precints reporting, edging out his opponent Steven Kwasny.
With all but four precints reporting, Rabhi recieved 7,237 votes to his opponents’ 1,225 with a voter turnout of at least 14 percent.
Washtenaw County Commissioner Yousef Rabhi declared his candidacy when incumbent State Representative Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) was barred from running for re-election due to term limits.
Rabhi had widely been considered the favorite to succeed Irwin, receiving Irwin’s endorsement. Rabhi also earned endorsements from the majority of local elected officials in Washtenaw County — including Mayor Christopher Taylor and the entire Ann Arbor City Council — as well as statewide advocacy groups including the American Federation of Teachers Michigan and the local chapter of United Automobile Workers, which represents Ann Arbor.
Rabhi was challenged in the Democratic Primary by Steven Kwasny, a 28-year-old Eastern Michigan University student, whose central issue was campaign finance reform. Kwasny explicitly refused to accept financial contributions to his campaign and relied solely on web advertising and volunteers.
Addressing supporters at a restaurant in Downtown Ann Arbor, Rabhi criticized the Republican administration of Michigan and laid out an agenda focused on funding for public education, environmental protection, LGBT equality and government transparency. However, he also acknowledged the challenges in implementing his agenda posed by the Republican-dominated state government and firmly stated that he would fight for a Democratic majority.
“We have so much work to do in a state that has gone so far in the wrong direction over the last six years,” Rabhi declared. “A state that has eroded its public education system, and taken down the quality of our Great Lakes, and our air and our environment. A state that has discriminated against those that are gay or transgender or lesbian in our own communities. We live in a state where some are succeeding but not everyone. A state where transparency is not a priority and where democracy is not something that is accesible to everyone. We here in this room will change that.”
“This state is not about those values. This state is about clean air and clean water. This state is about treating everyone fairly. This state is about making an economy that works for everyone and that our public education system is funded so that we can invest in the future of our state, of our nation, of our world. … Today isn’t about me, today is about Ann Arbor, today is about our state and today is the beginning of our effort to take back the Michigan House of Representatives to turn it blue!”
However, Rabhi also acknowledged that the current Republican majority in the state legislature poses a challenge to his policy goals. Therefore, Rabhi said he would need to take a bipartisan approach while also reforming state-level governance to push for a Democratic majority.
“In order to do those things we first need to change the way our state is structured,” he said, listing off campaign finance reform to limit the power of political action committees, improved transparency that would subject the Governor of Michigan to Freedom of Information Act requests and fighting Republican-biased gerrymandering as additional priorities.
Rabhi also complimented his opponent’s campaign, emphasizing the need for political debate in civil society and sympathizing with Kwasny’s focus on campaign finance reform.
“I think that he ran a great campaign,” Rabhi said. “I think it’s important in a democracy to have multiple perspectives addressed, so I appreciate the fact he ran.”
Rabhi raised $51,820 through the campaign cycle and spent $18,296. Kwasny self-funded his campaign with $430 and spent $339.
Kwasny was unavailable to comment for this article.