Democrats White and Behm win seats on Board of Regents

By Allana Akhtar, Daily Staff Reporter
and Claire Bryan, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 5, 2014

Update: With votes tallied from heavily Democratic Wayne County in the early morning hours, Democrats Kathy White and Mike Behm narrowly edged out their Republican challengers for the two open spots on the University’s Board of Regents.

White, an incumbent seeking reelection, lead the pack with 1,352,347 votes, followed by Behm who received 1,263,196 votes. Republicans Ron Weiser and Rob Steele finished with 1,258,361 and 1,254,325 votes, respectively.

As of 2 a.m. Wednesday, the race for two contested spots on the University’s Board of Regents was too close to call.

Republicans Rob Steele and Ronald Weiser lead with 596,732 and 594,196 votes, respectively, compared to Democrats Mike Behm’s 440,903 votes and incumbent Kathy White’s 477,101 votes.

Early Wednesday morning, the Michigan Secretary of State had yet to release final tallies from several counties, including the heavily Democratic Genesee and Wayne Counties that contain Flint and Detroit.

In 2012, the final election results were not determined until the following day. In that year, the two Republican candidates led for most of the early morning hours, but fell to Democrats once votes from Wayne County were tallied.

The board’s two open seats are currently held by Regent Julia Darlow (D), who is not seeking reelection, and White.

White, who currently serves as chair of the Board of Regents, is a professor of law at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, an instructor of law at the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York and a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserve.

Weiser founded McKinley Associates, a commercial real estate company, and served on multiple boards for nonprofit organizations including the United Negro College Fund of Washtenaw County, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn and the Detroit Institute of Arts. He also served as the American ambassador to the Slovak Republic under the Bush Administration.

Steele, a University Inteflex program alum, is a cardiologist at St. Joseph Mercy Health System in Ypsilanti and served as a clinical assistant professor at the University for more than 20 years.

Behm works as a litigator in Flint and served as president of the Michigan Association for Justice in 2011, a trade association. He worked on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

The eight-member board is elected for eight-year terms on the statewide ballot. The board is currently composed of six Democrats and two Republicans.

In 2012, Democrats Mark Bernstein and Shauna Ryder Diggs won the two open seats on the board, carried to victory in part by the presidential race at the top of the ticket. Similarly, Republicans Andrea Fischer Newman and Andrew Richner won the election in 2010, a year that saw low Democratic turnout and the election of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

In this election cycle, all four major-party candidates emphasized affordability in their platforms, but differed on their plans for its execution.

Steele had said he planned to finance student loans by tapping into the University’s endowment, while White said she intended to strengthen financial aid. Behm and Weiser see the University’s satellite campuses in Dearborn and Flint as additional, more affordable options for students and said they plan to strengthen these campuses.

Earlier this month, the candidates met for a candidate forum at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy to discuss a variety of University issues, including campus climate, the institution’s response to sexual assault and working with the city of Detroit.

Most of the candidates shared similar views on these issues, such as going to greater lengths to aid survivors of sexual assault and working to increase diversity among students within the boundaries of Proposal 2, the 2006 ballot initiative that banned consideration of race in college admissions. Behm also expressed support for the University’s financial divestment from fossil fuel companies.

In the last year, the regents have been involved in several significant decisions, including the appointment of University President Mark Schlissel.

Political Science Prof. Vincent Hutchings said regent candidates typically don’t gain as much publicity compared to other races.

“These lower-level offices put a bigger burden on the voter,” Hutchings said. “It is harder for people to gain information about these people because information in the media is less plentiful.”

Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president for government relations, ran unsuccessfully for regent in 1986.

“It was a great experience, but I think what you learn quickly is that the visibility of the regent races is really pretty low in the electorate,” she said.

For that reason, Wilbanks said the results in regents races are sometimes driven by the top of the ticket, particularly when voters cast straight-ticket ballots.

“Straight party ticket voting may happen a little more frequently when you are down at the bottom of the ballot,” Wilbanks said. “That historical pattern has held true.”

In a telephone interview with The Michigan Daily, Regent Emeritus Frederick C. Matthaei said he does not think partisanship plays a large role in the functioning of the board.

Matthaei was appointed to the Board in 1967 after the resignation of his father, the namesake of the University’s botanical gardens. He ran for reelection a year later as a Republican nominee, but lost when Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey carried the state.

“I think their political party is important only because they have to run through it,” he said. “You don’t want eight regents to be all on the same party. I think it’s good to have a variety of educated people, number one, and number two, it’s a question of how good their personal experiences could be for serving as a regent, not what political party they’re in.”