Though State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) claims he is friendly with his colleague State Rep. Mark Ouimet (R–Scio Township), Irwin spent much of the summer campaigning for Ouimet’s opponent in the 52nd district election, Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell.
To Irwin, the Republican incumbent has given up his moderate values to side with the ranking Republicans in the state legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on issues like education cuts.
At a rally co-hosted by Driskell and the University’s chapter of the College Democrats Sunday night at Circus Club in Ann Arbor, Irwin emphasized the opportunity for Democrats to re-claim the state House of Representatives as his reason for endorsing Driskell.
State Democrats need 10 seats to gain a majority in the legislative chamber, and the party has been pressing the importance of winning elections across the state, such as the contest between Ouimet and Driskell, in an effort to reclaim control.
At the event — which featured U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.), his wife Debbie Dingell and State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) — discussion of the House races overshadowed the presidential election, even as polls show a narrowing presidential race in the state.
“This is ground zero,” Debbie Dingell told the crowd of about 100 people. “We have so much at stake.”
According to the Democratic officials at the rally, the future of state politics is at the forefront of the state House races.
“You’re here because you already know that the future of this state hangs in the balance right now,” Warren said. “This is a big election.”
Officials at the rally also emphasized how establishing Democratic leadership of the state House could establish easy access to the state’s public universities, provide equal rights for women and members of LGBT community and enact economic fairness.
“Part of the problem right now is that there’s no balance; the governor and the House and the Senate — they’re all Republican, so there’s no dialogue, there’s no public process, things go really quickly,” Driskell said in an interview after the event. “If we had the House back in Democratic hands, we would actually be able to make some momentum on that, and (the state government would) be more moderate.”
Both the Michigan Republican Party and statewide Democratic Party have targeted the 52nd district election as a critical battle.
Matt Frendewey, the spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, told The Michigan Daily last week he believes Ouimet will retain his seat, and Republicans will retain their majority in the state House.
“When you compare what the Republican leadership has done in the House now, compared with the Democratic leadership two years ago, there’s just absolutely no comparison,” Frendewey said. “The Republican majority has the best interest in mind for middle class families.”
Speakers at the event focused particularly on Driskell’s election, deeming it one of the most important races in the state.
When former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer (D–Mich.) noted Driskell would be one of many Democratic leaders headed to the state House this year, he was met with some of the loudest applause of the night from the audience.
Referencing the need to oust Ouimet, Irwin said he agreed that Driskell’s election would be an indispensible part of the Democrats’ effort to gain the majority in the chamber.
“I’ve been working real hard with (state Rep. Kate Segal (D–Battle Creek)) to try to get Democrats elected all over the state, but when you look at the statewide map, it becomes clear that the path to the gavel goes through western Washtenaw,” he said.
The rally also served as a get-out-the-vote effort, coming a little more than a week before Election Day. Segal, who could become the first female Speaker of the state House if the Democrats win a majority, told the audience to bring friends with them to the polling stations.
“November 6 is our day. Get out the waders, get out the ponchos, get out whatever you need to get out there and hit the doors, because the only thing that will beat us is ourselves if we don’t go out and vote,” she said. “We have to do everything we can to make sure no voter stays at home.”
Debbie Dingell echoed Segal’s sentiments, urging the audience to vote and reverse the losses of Democrats in state governments and Congress in the 2010 midterm elections.
“We need you,” Dingell said. “We just need you these next eight days.”