As the 2012 presidential election heats up, another election is starting to gain momentum as Democratic and Republican hopefuls vie for two open seats on the University’s Board of Regents.
Current incumbents S. Martin Taylor (D–Grosse Point Farms) and Olivia Maynard (D–Ann Arbor) will not be running for re-election in November, noting that they plan to spend more time with their families and embark on other work within the community. Regents serve eight-year terms on the board that governs the University.
Three Democratic and Republican candidates are seeking their party’s nomination. The field will narrow to two candidates per party following nominating conventions later this year.
The three Democratic candidates vying for seats are former Michigan Lt Gov. John Cherry, Shauna Diggs, a dermatologist from the Grosse Point area and Mark Bernstein, a Detroit-area lawyer.
According to Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, new Democratic regents will continue to support a number of key party initiatives if elected.
“The Democrats (on the board) have been very important,” Brewer said. “They have been staunch defenders of affirmative action, which the Republicans have opposed. They have been advocates for (the) fair treatment of University employees, which is not always the case for the Republicans on the board.”
He added that Democratic candidates will strive to make college affordability and accessibility a priority.
“(The regents) have been advocates for keeping costs down and making the University affordable,” he said. “ … Higher education should be more widely available than it is now.”
Despite a long-held Democratic majority on the board, he said he doesn’t believe the election of Democratic regents will be a given, adding the party will work hard to campaign for their candidates in the coming months.
“You never take anything for granted,” Brewer said. “ … This is a very competitive two-party state.”
Republican candidates for regent are Ronald Weiser, founder of McKinley Real Estate Management, Rob Steele, a former cardiologist, and Dan Horning, a former regent who served from 1994 to 2002.
Matt Frendewey, a spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, said he is excited about the Republican candidates because they will uphold the values of the party and support limited government.
He added he is confident about the Republican prospects in the upcoming election, particularly with what he believes to be decreased enthusiasm for President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress — a sentiment he said will trickle down to the regents’ election.
“I think that the Obama campaign is very concerned with losing the state,” he said. “ … If the enthusiasm for the president isn’t very high, it will dramatically impact the lower end of the ticket.”
Taylor, a retired DTE Energy executive who was elected as a Democrat to the board in 1996, decided not to run again so he could enjoy his retirement and spend more time with his grandchildren, he said.
“It was wonderful to have served and I think (the University) is being left in even better shape,” Taylor said.
Taylor added that he is endorsing Diggs in the upcoming election. He said since medical research and academics are so prominent at the University, it’s important to elect someone from the field.
“I think it’s long overdue that we have a medical doctor on the board,” he said. “ … There’s a huge change coming in the medical field and it’s critical that we get it right because if ever the health affairs of the hospital started going in the wrong direction, it could reflect on the entire University.”
Taylor added that the most important thing for future regents to strive for is maintaining affordability of the University for its students.
Maynard, also a Democratic regent elected in 1996, said she is stepping down from the board to become more involved in her work in the community. She currently serves as president of Michigan Prospect, an organization that seeks to promote community development and facilitate government-citizen interaction.
Maynard said she is satisfied with her accomplishments as a regent.
“I have tried to be true to my values and support the administration, the faculty and the students,” she said. “That doesn’t always mean you agree with them, but it does mean that you support the job they do.”
Maynard added she was proud to be involved in the hiring of University President Mary Sue Coleman to her current post in 2002.
“I think she has been an amazing president,” Maynard said.
Maynard said she hopes future regents work together to improve the state of the University. In the upcoming election, she said she is endorsing Cherry because she believes Cherry’s knowledge about higher education is important for the position.
“He understands higher education and the value of not just the Ann Arbor campus, but also the two regional campuses,” she said.
Ultimately, Maynard said she will miss the experiences she has had as a regent.
“There are so many exciting people … that are so bright and add so much value that it has always been such a rewarding experience. I’m going to miss that.”