What must the average voter think, just days before Tuesday’s Michigan primary election, as a a wave of attacks and counter attacks on candidates has overshadowed nearly everything else in the process of choosing our next crop of government leaders at the state and local level.
Despite all the talk about a “Blue Wave” led by energized Democrats or a devoted bloc of President Trump supporters on the GOP side, I wonder if the sorry state of this election may cause an unexpected number of voters to just stay home. Those who have been paying attention to the warfare of Campaign 2018 must be engaged in two things: eye rolls and head-shaking.
Typically, Michigan primaries produce an embarrassingly low turnout in the low- to mid-20 percent. Imagine, after 18 months of hyper-partisan protests and rallies and nasty online rhetoric focused on the upcoming midterm elections, if the final outcome is a turnout rate in the teens.
Numerous allegations have surfaced about candidates for governor, especially claims of jiggering the system of raising campaign bucks to the point that shifting funds between PACs, nonprofits and actual candidate committees may have made a farce of the entire disclosure process. Four of the main contenders — Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed, and Republicans Bill Schuette and Brian Calley — have all been snagged by accusations of shady, secretive methods of raising huge amounts of campaign cash.
El-Sayed deserves a special call-out after he labeled Whitmer a money launderer — which, if true, would make the Democratic frontrunner a felon — about 24 hours before a news report indicated that he may also be guilty of transferring money from place to place in order to evade election laws. Today, El-Sayed issued a feeble walk-back of his charges against Whitmer without acknowledging that he had initially called her a criminal.
The effects of this multitude of insinuations also reaches down to the local level, including to the highest-profile county race in Michigan — the intense battle to replace disgraced ex-Macomb County clerk Karen Spranger. A local Democratic Party club stands accused of participating in money pass-throughs to assist Whitmer.
We also have many candidates, or their operatives, complaining about signs or literature that do not follow the letter of the law. Campaign materials cannot falsely imply that a non-incumbent candidate holds the current office sought. The “paid for by” tags on campaign materials must spell out who financed the sign or literature and the address of the group. Candidates are also required to follow a regimen of reporting their campaign finances to the Michigan Bureau of Elections and, when they don’t, they get fined.
These duplicitous accusations have tainted not just statewide candidates but some running at the local level running for everything from county commissioner to state senator. Complaints against various candidates have been filed with federal and state authorities, an action which almost always garners a headline in the media.
None of these reporting requirements are trivial, but none of it is damning to the point that it should disqualify any candidate from consideration. Certainly, sweeping allegations cause the casual voter to wonder if anybody out there is above reproach. Yet, true to form, nearly all of these hot-button allegations will be cast aside once the primary and general elections are over, never to be mentioned again.
Perhaps the best rule of thumb between now and Tuesday might be for voters to look beyond the controversies and take a good look at candidates’ backgrounds and position statements. Project ahead and imagine this: It’s 2019 — which candidate do you believe will have your best interests at heart for your state and for your community going forward.
What happens in 2019 is what matters. Much of the unsavory electioneering in 2018 does not.