Jul 29, 2022 - Politics

Detroit voter guide: What to know about the Aug. 2 primary

Illustration of a pattern of checkmarks, some blue, some red.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

It may just be a midterm primary, but there's big decisions being made Tuesday.

  • Michiganders are picking who will run for governor in November.
  • Detroiters are voting on members of Congress, state legislators, a new sheriff and more.

Why it matters: With district lines redrawn, there's major shifts afoot in who represents Detroit, which brings up questions about residents lacking Black representation in Lansing and D.C.

What we're watching: Election officials say they expect some counties to refuse to certify election results, bringing chaos that could undercut the legitimacy of the elections.

Before you go: Find what precinct you're in and where to vote.

The top races:

GOP candidate for governor
Illustration of several versions of the elephant from the Republican Party logo stampeding and kicking up dust.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Days away from the polls opening, the Republican gubernatorial primary is finally getting clearer, Samuel Robinson writes.

  • In a messy race that lacks a clear front-runner, the deciding factor may come down to former President Trump endorsing a candidate.

The ballot includes candidates who all wrongly believe the 2020 election was stolen:

  • Tudor Dixon, conservative commentator from Norton Shores
  • Kevin Rinke, self-funded businessman from Bloomfield Township
  • Garrett Soldano, chiropractor from Kalamazoo County
  • Ryan Kelley, real estate broker from Allendale who was recently arrested over a Jan. 6 charge
  • Ralph Rebandt, pastor from Farmington Hills

What they're saying: "It's quite clear that the Michigan Republican Party has been dragged to the right," Rodericka Applewhaite, a Michigan Democratic Party spokesperson, tells Axios. "It's not just that these five candidates running for governor have adopted these stances on the 2020 election, they're running because of them."

  • "I'd be surprised if (Trump endorsed) anyone other than (Dixon)," GOP consultant Jason Roe tells Axios.

State of play: Dixon has the support of legislative and business leaders as well as Republican donors including the family of former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which has drawn the ire of Rinke and Soldano.

  • She's being supported by a Super PAC, Michigan Families United, that raised $2.5 million for her from June 6 to July 19, per campaign finance records.

Between the lines: While Rinke and Dixon have been tagged as appealing to moderate voters, both have controversial pasts and no experience holding office.

Rinke was accused in 1992 lawsuits of making racist and sexual comments to his employees at a Metro Detroit car dealership, allegations he's denied.

  • In December 1991, Rinke allegedly told an employee "You mean you aren't like the rest of the (N-word)" when that employee said he didn't steal, the Detroit News reported.

Dixon made insensitive comments on Real America's Voice, a conservative commentary network where she worked after she served as a sales executive at her father's steel company.

13th Congressional District

There's a wide open race for Michigan's new 13th Congressional District, which could be the only one to send a Black Detroiter to Congress this year, Sam writes.

Why it matters: Black leaders are pushing to elect a Detroiter to the office without an incumbent after the retirement of U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence.

  • The winner of the Aug. 2 primary in this solidly Democratic district is expected to win the Nov. 8 election against Martell Bivings, the lone Republican in the race.

Context: Nine Democrats are on the ballot to represent the redrawn 13th — the only majority-Black congressional district under the state's new district map. It makes up most of Detroit, part of western Wayne County, the Grosse Pointes and some Downriver communities.

  • Stagnant population growth from 2010 to 2020 lost Michigan a congressional seat in the latest redistricting process.

What's happening: The race still doesn't have a front-runner despite a big fundraising lead by Sen. Adam Hollier.

  • The big money disparity hasn't diminished the confidence of Portia Roberson, CEO of Hope: Focus.

Roberson's campaign has noteworthy endorsements from Lawrence, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Emily's List, a major D.C.-based fundraising group that supports progressive women candidates.

  • The former President Obama administration employee is the only candidate with experience in bringing federal resources to Detroit.

Hollier, the race's current lead fundraiser, has the support of the region's Democratic establishment. He's endorsed by Mayor Mike Duggan and supported by D.C.based Democratic Majority for Israel and the United Democracy Project.

  • Hollier has received criticism from challengers for his non-local financial support as well as his support for Michigan's controversial auto-insurance reform.

💭 Sam's thought bubble: Hollier and Roberson will likely receive the most votes, but with so many candidates, how much they pull ahead of the pack is difficult to forecast.

  • Name recognition could boost several candidates, including Sharon McPhail and John Conyers III — who appears on the ballot without his suffix. But it likely won't be enough to move ahead of the more organized campaigns.

👀 The full list of 13th District candidates:

  • State Sen. Hollier, who reported almost $413,000 in the latest filing period, with more than $371,000 on hand, campaign finance records show.
  • State Rep. Shri Thanedar, a wealthy businessman who ran for governor in 2018.
    • Campaign finance records show Thanedar has the most cash of any candidate, reporting $5 million at the end of March.
  • Portia Roberson, the Michigan Civil Rights commissioner whose late candidacy was boosted by endorsements from AFT-Michigan, which represents Detroit public schools teachers.
  • Sharon McPhail, a former Detroit council member who's been part of the city's political scene for decades.
  • John Conyers III, the son of the longest serving Black congressman in U.S. history.
  • Former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, an educate advocate and Detroit Public School Board Member.
  • Michael Griffie, a civil rights attorney who currently heads external affairs for Teach for America's Detroit chapter.
  • Sam Riddle, 910 AM Superstation radio host and political consultant.
  • Lorrie Rutledge, the owner of a hair product company.
  • Bivings, the only Republican on the ballot, tells Axios he's a non-traditional Republican who supports school choice and reparations for African Americans.
12th Congressional District
Janice Winfrey and Rashida Tlaib are both pictured speaking at microphones in separate images.
Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey (left) and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Photos: Elaine Cromie/Getty Images and Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Take Back the Court Action Fund

Well-financed incumbent Rep. Rashida Tlaib is the favorite in the race for Michigan's new 12th Congressional District.

Why it matters: Money from pro-Israel interests headlines the discussion as outspoken "Squad" member Tlaib runs against Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, considered her top competitor in the Aug. 2 primary.

  • Lathrup Village Mayor Kelly Garrett and former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson are also running.

Context: The recently redrawn 12th District, described by Michigan Radio as "one of the safest" for Democrats, includes part of Detroit's west side, as well as Dearborn, Livonia and Southfield.

State of play: Winfrey is a well-known name in Detroit — but not the suburbs. She won a fifth term as clerk in November despite criticism over various election administration problems.

  • Winfrey's well-publicized outside campaign interest includes a PAC of Black and Jewish business leaders that said it would spend up to $1 million on ads helping her unseat Tlaib, per Politico.
  • Tlaib, the lone Palestinian American in Congress who is seeking a third term, actively condemns Israel for its conflict with Palestine.

By the numbers: Tlaib's $2.79 million raised since January 2021 gives her a drastic lead over Winfrey ($295,000) and Garrett ($266,00). Jackson's funding reports are not available.

The big picture: The 12th is one of just two redrawn districts that include Detroit. Considering Tlaib's popularity and Lawrence deciding not to seek re-election in the 13th race, it's possible the largest Black-majority city in the U.S. could come out of the 2022 elections without any Black representation in Congress.

What they're saying: The 12th exemplifies a "quandary" Black voters can face to "balance out need for Black representation with the desire to have effective representation, even if that person isn't Black," Greg Bowens, a local political consultant, tells Axios.

  • The recent redistricting process shows "we need to have a more serious discussion about race in the Democratic party," he says.

The other side: A Republican is not expected to win, but three GOP candidates are running for the 12th:

  • Steven Elliott, a veteran and business owner; James Hooper, a building tradesman; and Hassan Nehme, an entrepreneur, per MLive.
Wayne County Sheriff

Wayne County voters are electing a new sheriff next week to finish the term of Benny Napoleon, who died in December 2020 from COVID-19 complications, Joe Guillen writes.

Why it matters: The office is responsible for operating the county jail system, which has been plagued by poor conditions, overcrowding and low staffing levels — all exacerbated by the pandemic.

  • Napoleon's death left an unexpected vacancy. As sheriff for more than a decade, he built a reputation as a beloved community figure and keen politician.

State of play: With no Republican in the field, this is a winner-take-all primary for an unusually short cycle. Napoleon's term doesn't officially end until December 2024, so the victor won't earn the normal four years of county sheriff.

  • Raphael Washington was appointed interim sheriff in January 2021 and is running to keep the job.
  • Two other sheriff's office retirees, Walter Epps and Joan Merriewether, are also running.

What we're watching: Washington has the advantage, but the race appears up for grabs, Deadline Detroit reports.

  • All three candidates lack strong name recognition and none have been elected before.

The intrigue: Proper jail management is a key issue. The county is building a new $533 million criminal justice complex north of downtown.

  • Last week, the family of a deputy strangled to death by an inmate sued the sheriff's office, claiming mismanagement of the jails.

What they're saying: Merriewether, 62, worked in the Division One county jail before retiring last year. Jail staff is burned out and 16-hour shifts are common, she tells Axios.

  • Washington, 61, was the deputy chief of jail and courts before his interim appointment. He tells Axios jail conditions "have never been great" but he's working with county leadership to implement programs that help inmates.
  • Epps, 53, tells Axios he's recruiting from local veterans groups to ease deputies' long hours. The goal is to have 150 new deputies qualified to start when he takes office.
State Legislature races

Michigan's redistricting process means Detroit's state Legislature districts are now more mixed in with suburban cities, Annalise writes.

What they're saying: The new districts are "creating an opportunity for regional connection between the city and suburbs that hasn't existed in generations, if at all," Sheila Cockrel of Citizen Detroit tells Axios.

Yes, but: The new districts could also mute the voices of Detroiters.

  • "It's going to be important that the new delegation, which is going to have suburban people … work very closely with the city administration to ensure Detroit's interests are protected," Cockrel says.

Races of interest:

🗳️ 8th state Senate district: This new district, which runs from Birmingham along Woodward through Royal Oak and Ferndale into northwest Detroit, is the only race where two incumbent senators are going head-to-head. The Democratic victor is expected to win in November.

  • Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak gained national attention for a viral speech this election cycle and raised $1 million in its wake.
  • Marshall Bullock of Detroit, a former city district official and the Legislative Black Caucus chair, is known for staying out of the spotlight and "developing relationships behind the scenes," per news service Gongwer.

🗳️ 7th state Senate district: The new area ranges from a piece of Detroit along 8 Mile up to Auburn Hills — meaning the city with huge public transit need is paired with a community that opted out of regional bus system SMART earlier this year.

  • Democratic Sen. Jeremy Moss of Southfield is running against Ryan Foster — a former Southfield council candidate, per Hometown Life.
  • Republican Corinne Khederian is unopposed.
What else is on the ballot?

Detroiters' ballots differ depending where you live, but we'll all be voting on:

  • Proposition J: Wayne County is asking for a 10-year renewal of a millage — essentially a property tax — started in 2012. It would pay for jail operations and help fund a juvenile offender work and training center, the Detroit News reports.
  • County executive: Incumbent Warren Evans is being challenged by Mohammed Alam. The winner will most likely face Republican candidate Mark Ashley Price in November.
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