US House Races/Michigan

Report by Bruce Driver from Indivisible North Boulder.

Michigan District 7:

Candidates are Tim Walberg (incumbent R) and Gretchen Driskell (D)

Walberg attended Moody Bible Institute, got a B,S. from Taylor Institute and an M.A from Wheaton Institute, a Christian College.   He has voted with Trump 99% of the time. From 2007-2009 he represented this district in the U.S. House and then, again, from 2011 to the present.   Beforehand, he was in the Michigan House from 1983-1999. He is a former pastor, is a member of the NRA and says he “loves to ride his Harley.” In the U.S. House he voted for the resolution that a carbon tax is not in the best interest of the U.S; yes on the Balanced Budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution while also voting for the tax-cut and Omnibus spending bills, which add up to $3 trillion to the national debt; yes on concealed-carry reciprocity; yes on requiring that money agreed to by the U.S from settlements in litigation on environmental and other matters be returned only to the U.S. Treasury; yes on the antiabortion Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act; yes to postpone federal ozone standards; against sanctuary cities; yes to strip certain scientists from the EPA Science Board; yes on concealed-carry; yes to overturn an Obama stream-protection rule.   He is pro-life, believes that marriage should be only between on man and one woman; and is a very strong supporter of the 2d Amendment. In short, he is a “hard-right” Trumpist. He had $1.1 million cash on hand as of late June. His major contributors include Insurance companies, Leadership PACS, Electric utilities, Oil and Gas and Automotive interests.

Driskell  is a commercial realtor in SE Michigan with a lengthy political career.   She was a two-term Member of the Michigan House of Representatives. She ran for the U.S. House seat in 2016 and was beaten by Walberg by 15 points.   Before serving in the Michigan House, she was Mayor of Saline, a town in SE Michigan, after serving on the Saline City Council for a several years. She won her 2-candidate primary on 8/7 with 85% of the vote.   She has a B.S. in Accounting from Lynchburg College and an M.B.A from George Washington University School of Business. Her website discusses four issues, which I presume are the most important to her. Jobs seems to be the most important.  She is big on vocational and technical Education and supporting public education. On Healthcare, she enunciates general progressive policy, although with little detail. On Trade she sounds like Trump, decrying the effect of trade on jobs in her district, including taking a shot at NAFTA.  To develop additional information on her positions, I referred to ratings by particular interests stemming from her time in the Michigan Legislature. Planned Parenthood of Michigan gave her a 100% rating in 2013-2014. On the Environment she has been consistently rated at or near 100% by Michigan environmental advocates.  The NRA gave her a 7% rating in 2016. Conservative groups rate her between 22%-50%. The Michigan Farm Bureau gave her a 60% rating 2016, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce gave her a 27% in 2016. I think you can characterize her as a moderate to progressive Democrat, with a dash of populism. She had $927,000 cash on hand in late July.   Her major contributors include: Democratic/ Liberal orgs; Retired; Education; Women’s issues; and Lawyers/Law Firms.

Description of District  This district is in the far SE corner of Michigan.   It contains no major cities, although it is not far from Detroit, but it does contain western suburbs of Ann Arbor and a portion of Lansing, both college towns.   Yet, its recent voting record looks like a district in rural South Dakota, Trump having crushed Hillary 56% to 39%. Cook gives it a PVI (Partisan Voting Index) of R+7 and says that, in 2018, it is “likely R.”   Its ethnic make-up suggests why: It is 89% White, 4% Black, 1% Asian and 4% Hispanic. Its HMI (Household Median Income) is $56,000, distinguishing it from the outer suburbs of NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other large cities that have HMIs of $70,000 and higher.   District 7 is mainly small(ish) towns and farms.

Summary  While Driskill may not be an Ocasio-Cortez on the issues, her positions are well tempered for District 7 (although her NRA rating may not help her).   Walberg is another “hard-right” Trumpist.

Michigan District 8:

Candidates are Mike Bishop (incumbent R) and Elissa Slotkin (D)

Bishop is a two-term incumbent in the U.S. House.  He was a State Senator from 2002-2010 and a member of the Michigan House from 1998-2002.   He has taught at MSU Law School and has other law-related affiliations. He has a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a law degree from MSU Law School.    His voting record shows a “hard-right” politician, almost identical to Walberg’s, voting with Trump 98% of the time. He voted for the House Resolution stating that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the U.S. economy.   He voted for a bill that would authorize transfer of the title of non-Hydro Bureau of Reclamation projects in the West to non-federal owners, jeopardizing the environment affected by these projects. He cast “yea” votes for both immigration bills considered in the House.   While a fiscal-sanity hawk on his web-page and a supporter of a Balanced Budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he voted for the tax-cut bill and Omnibus spending measure, which as I’ve noted repeatedly, would add up to $3 trillion to the national debt. He voted for concealed-carry reciprocity, delay in implementing federal ozone standards and for overturning Obama’s stream-protection rule.   He voted to repeal Obamacare by means of the AHCA and to strip the EPA Science Board of critical scientific opinion. He had $1.7 million cash on hand as of mid-July. His major contributors include Insurance companies, Leadership PACs, Real Estate Oil and Gas and Pharma.

Until deciding to run for Congress, Slotkin was for many years a high-level official serving in the federal government in Washington, D.C.  Her last job there was Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, a post she held until 2017.   Before that, she was Senior Adviser on Iraq in the Department of State, Director for Iraq on the National Security Council and a Team Leader at the CIA for which, as a fluent speaker of Arabic, she served three tours of duty in Baghdad.   She has a degree in Rural Sociology from Cornell and an M.A. in International Affairs from Columbia University. Her website states the following positions on key issues: (1) Healthcare: Fix Obamacare/don’t repeal it; give people an option to buy into Medicare; negotiate with Big Pharma to lower prices for drugs made available through Medicare; (2) Environment: Climate change is here, and we must deal with it (but she is not specific on what steps she would advocate); environmental protection is part of making Michigan secure; she is a vocal advocate of a renewable-energy-based green economy; (3) National debt: She lashes out against the tax-cut bill of 2017 as irresponsible; (4) Education: she is a supporter of public schools and will work to cap student-loan interest rates; (5) Campaign finance reform: We must publicly disclose the sources of “dark money”; (6) Guns: She supports the Second Amendment but does not believe that ordinary citizens should be able to obtain weapons that “enable them to outgun local police;” (6) Women: She supports paid family leave and is pro-choice; (7) LGBTQ: She strongly defends equal rights and opportunities.  In short, she is a progressive but careful in how she explains it. She has an extraordinary $2.4 million in cash on hand, some of which may be family money. Her major contributors include Securities and Investment; Retired people; Democratic and liberal orgs generally; Education and Women’s issues orgs.

Description of District  This is another district in SE lower Michigan but well to the NW of Detroit, and it extends westward toward the middle of the state.   It contains Rochester Hills, East Lansing and part of Lansing, but contains no major cities. Its ethnicity and voting record are similar to District 7 but somewhat less-challenging for a D.   It is 84% White, 6% Black, 4% Asian and 5% Hispanic. Trump beat Hillary 51% to 44%. It has a Cook PVI of R+4 and says that it “leans R” in 2018. (A district that “leans” to one party or the other is less favorable to that party than if it “likely.”)   Its HMI is $66,000.   Partly outer-suburbs of Detroit and partly smallish towns and farms, as in District 7.

Summary  With the exception of Tom Malinowski in New Jersey, Slotkin’s background is unique among candidates I have analyzed.   She’s obviously intelligent and well-informed. I think she’d make a terrific member of Congress. Her Achilles heel in the campaign may be that she has spent much of the last two decades away from Michigan, whereas her opponent has stuck around home, represented the District and markets himself as a kind of middle-aged homeboy with deeply conservative values.   Slotkin certainly has the cash to go the distance.

Michigan District 11:

Candidates are Haley Stevens (D) and Lena Epstein (R). This is an open race.   

Stevens refers to herself as a “Digital Marketing Executive.”   She was the Chief of Staff for Obama’s Auto Rescue Task Force and served as a policy adviser in the Economic Development Administration.   She also has been a consultant on “innovation” to small and medium-sized manufacturers across the U.S. She has a B.A. and M.A. in Social Policy and Philosophy from American University.   She won her primary against four other candidates with 27% of the vote. Her website contains a fulsome discussion of her “priorities,” which include: (1) Healthcare, which sees as a right, not a privilege; Obamacare should be fixed, not dismantled; there should be a “public option” and people between 55-65 should be able to buy into Medicare; (2) Economy, which should be bolstered by increasing the minimum wage (but she says only that larger businesses should be “encouraged” to support $15/hour; (3) Education: She is a proponent of vocational education, reducing the debt burden on students and increasing the size of Pell grants; (4) Environment: Climate change is real, she supports a return to the Paris Agreement—“we only have one planet”; (5) Seniors: She will oppose privatization of Social Security and turning Medicare into a voucher system; (6) Immigration, where she says she as a “plan,” but she offers only comprehensive reform and support for DACA recipients; (7) Equality: LGBTQ community must have same rights as other Americans; (8) Guns, where she says that background-check loopholes should be closed, we should crack down on bump stocks and preserve protections against silencers; she has a 7% rating from the NRA; (9) On Women, she says that we must end the gender pay gap and implement paid family leave.   She is also pro-choice. Finally, she has a brief section, with few details, entitled “Stand up to Trump,” a rarity among candidates I have analyzed. She had $182,000 cash on hand in late July. Her major contributors include Securities and Investment, Lawyers/Law firms, Retired people, Business services and Women’s orgs.

Epstein is a co-owner of Vesco Oil Corporation, a family-owned oil and lubrication services company.  She is on the Board of Kadima, which provides services to people with mental health needs and on the Board of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.   She was Co-Chair of Trump’s Michigan Campaign in 2016.   She has a B.A. in Economics from Harvard and an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan.   She won her five-candidate primary with 31% of the vote. She is largely a self-funder. Her discussion of issues on her web-page is as brief and rudimentary.   She says her “platform” consists of four topics: (1) Economic Growth: She says she’ll promote growth by reining in federal spending and cutting and reforming tax rates; (2) Education: She wants to give families the “flexibility” to choose schools for their children; (3) Healthcare: Repeal and replace Obamacare; (4) Israel: Strong support for Israel and strengthen U.S./Israeli relations.   There is no information on Women, Guns, Immigration, Equality, Environment or other issues. She seems to be a wealthy hardcore Trumpster who wants to remain in the shadows on many issues. She had $288,000 cash on hand in mid-July. Her major contributors are Real Estate, Securities and Investment, Finance and Lawyers/Law Firms.

Description of District  This district is almost completely northern and western Detroit suburbs, such as Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Livonia, Rochester Hills and Troy.   Trump beat Hillary by 5 points, and the district has a PVI of +4R, but Cook says this race is a “toss-up.” It seems to be a “toss-up” in large part because the incumbent Republican is not running this fall.   It is 82% White, 5% Black, 8% Asian and 3% Hispanic. It has an HMI of $80,000, making it a wealthy district. Like some other districts around major metro areas in the U.S, it has traditionally voted R but has been slowly changing demographically, adding support for Cook’s designation of this race as a “toss-up.”

Summary: Epstein is a troubling candidate.   She seems smart, to have an endless supply of family cash, is a very strong supporter of Trump and has good connections with Trump’s base.   Stevens is progressive, willing to be explicit on the issues, but somewhat cautious. This is likely a good stance for her district, as long as she has the resources to get her positions before the public and force Epstein to disclose her positions on all the issues.   Stevens needs our help.