State House Democrats yesterday elected Rep. Samuel “Buzz” Thomas of Detroit as their new minority leader, replacing Rep. Kwame Kilpatrick, who is resigning Jan. 1 to become mayor of Detroit.
Thomas, 32, a former home builder and congressional aide, defeated Rep. Jack Minore of Flint to become the second black legislator to lead either party in the Legislature, after Kilpatrick.
Unlike most leaders, however, Thomas will serve for only a half-term. He is term-limited after this, his third term, and is running for the state Senate in 2002.
It was a sweet victory for Thomas, said Rep. John Hansen (D-Dexter). In 1998 Thomas lost to Kilpatrick for the post of minority floor leader, which is considered a stepping stone to the top leadership post.
Several House Democrats yesterday said they were pleased with Thomas” election and are looking forward to continuing good relations with the majority Republicans. Kilpatrick and House Speaker Rick Johnson (R-LeRoy) have both drawn high marks for their ability to work together. Thomas said he wants to maintain those good relations on the public television show “Off the Record” last week. Republicans currently hold a 57-52 majority in the House, which they have controlled since 1999.
“To me, the first item on the agenda is the relations with the other side, and I think I have every reason to believe Buzz will be someone who can work very well with the other side,” said Hansen, who represents northwestern Washtenaw County and northern Ann Arbor.
Rep. Doug Bovin of the Upper Peninsula”s Gladstone, who dropped out of the leadership race and endorsed Thomas just before the Democratic Caucus was to vote, echoed Hansen”s remarks and praised Thomas” ability to compromise.
“I consider Buzz a very strong moderate within the caucus,” said Bovin, who will continue as assistant minority leader. “He”s been willing to work with and listen to everybody.”
Democrats and Republicans have worked together on some issues such as election reform and land use, but issues such as bills in the Legislature to curb living wage laws are still issues of contention between the two parties.
“There”s been times we”ve had to draw the line and say, “Looking out for future of Michigan requires us to oppose certain legislation,”” said Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor), a Thomas supporter.
The defeated Minore, however, did not rule out another run after the 2002 elections, but remains optimistic about the Democrats” future.
“We”re in a much better condition that anyone thought we”d have. I think we have a real shot at taking over the House,” he said.
All offices are up for election in 2002, including the House, Senate, governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and Supreme Court. Republicans currently have majorities in or otherwise control all of those bodies except the attorney general”s office.