With term limits ensuring few politicians stay in Lansing for long, state Sen. Liz Brater is about as experienced a Michigan legislator as one will find these days. Brater is seeking a second and final four-year term in the state Senate from the 18th district, having already served in the state House for six years, the maximum allowed. She faces challenges from Republican John Kopinski and a write-in candidate, Tom Partridge.
Inside Michigan Politics editor Bill Ballenger has designated Brater as the most liberal state senator. While that might be a dangerous label elsewhere in the state, it won’t hurt Brater’s chances for re-election from a solidly Democratic district in Washtenaw County. The slant of Brater’s district gives her the freedom to voice concerns that other Democrats might avoid, such as pointing out that the state needs more revenue to provide the services that residents want from it.
Brater hasn’t had terribly much luck getting her legislation on the agenda over the past four years, but that’s life in the state Legislature’s minority party. She has some solid ideas, though, that deserve more attention than they’ve received. Brater has proposed a package of voting reforms that would allow separate addresses for voter registration and drivers’ licenses. Currently, they must be the same, a restriction that keeps many college students from voting. She wants to see more mentally ill criminals receive treatment rather than jail time, and she has constructive ideas for developing a land-use policy different from the status quo of urban sprawl and neglect of core cities.
John Kopinski, Brater’s Republican challenger, is running in part to encourage more young people to become involved in politics. You can even find the 25-year-old Michigan Tech alumnus on Facebook and MySpace.
A political newcomer, Kopinski is refreshingly willing to ignore the typical partisan divisions. He’s happy with his opponent’s environmental advocacy. Kopinski is downright enthusiastic about improving public transit – an awfully rare quality for a Michigan Republican seeking public office.
The Elliott-Larsen Act, Michigan’s primary civil rights law, currently protects against unfair treatment based on height or weight, but does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Kopinski is open to changing that. In other areas, however, Kopinski adheres to his putative party line all too well, staking out hard-right social conservative positions on abortion – he opposes it even in cases of rape and incest- and on embryonic stem-cell research.
Kopinski is an interesting candidate, and government would work better if our political system were more amenable to candidates like him who aren’t easy to paint entirely in red or blue. His lack of experience and his social views, however, compare unfavorably to the Democratic incumbent, and the Daily endorses LIZ BRATER for state Senate from the 18th district.