November 17, 2022 5:21 am

Lansing | Susan J. Demas

Last week’s election results were astounding. 

For the first time in my 39 years in Michigan, stalwart allies of public education and working people are the majority in both the Michigan Senate and House and Gretchen Whitmer will be our governor for four more years. 

Moreover, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel were reelected, the Michigan Supreme Court maintained a justice-for-all majority and the majority of our congressional delegation is on the right side of issues for working families. Pro-public education and pro-labor candidates swept all eight state education boards seats. And last but not least, all three ballot proposals were adopted.

Given the historic place Michigan voters and organizers fought hard to secure, we should celebrate, analyze and build a better Michigan.

Celebrate. We don’t win every day. When we do, we should uncork the proverbial champagne and take a moment or two to cherish an incredible accomplishment. This is especially true for those who actively engaged this year and, as I will get to in a minute, in prior campaigns. Those who gave some of their hard-earned money to organization and candidate PACs, and those who knocked on doors or phone banked to persuade voters and get out the vote, have a right to celebrate somewhat longer. You were a key part of these victories.

Analyze. Winning on Election Day was phenomenal, but we also want to win tomorrow and the next day. So, it is imperative that after we celebrate, we figure out why the heck we were so successful. There is no question that the issue of reproductive rights played a major role. Exit polls indicated it was the No. 1 issue for voters, slightly ahead of inflation. All other issues were far behind. 

The amazing lack of quality on the part of those we opposed, particularly in light of the high-quality of our candidates, also played a role. Just one example: When a candidate for secretary of state believes that we transfer demonic forces within us to others through intimate relationships, well, that helps. When a governor delivers record-setting education budgets, that also helps. 

And while we celebrate, we must remember that this year’s wins were not just a result of this year’s work. Without the incredible 2018 work of Voters Not Politicians ending partisan gerrymandering and Promote the Vote which expanded access to voting this year’s success would not have been.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at the Michigan Democratic Party’s nominating convention in Lansing on Aug. 21, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

What about the infrastructure that is essential for these issues to make a difference? What worked, what didn’t? For unions and other progressive organizations, did volunteer turnout reach our goal? If not, why not? Did we not just increase political action fundraising, did we also increase the number of people who gave? Did we build effective coalitions, combining forces, supporting each other with this work? 

In addition to reproductive rights and the lackluster opposition candidates, were there other unique situations in specific districts that may not be duplicated in future elections? Voter turnout increased six percentage points from the prior mid-term election, reaching 57%. How do we reach the 43% who thought voting was not important? You get the idea.

Build a Better Michigan. We are active politically for one reason — to advance good public policy. We have spent so much time over the past decades playing defense, trying to stop bad policy or make it less bad. Now we can be proactive. We have the opportunity to reverse actions that attacked working families, our institutions and organizations that fight for equity and justice. 

For far too long, the party that used to be in control pushed through legislation that hurt everyday Michiganders in service of corporations and the extremely wealthy. Former Gov. Rick Snyder-era budgets gave huge tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, while slashing funding for Pre-K through higher education. 

Meanwhile, Snyder signed dozens of Republican-sponsored bills that attacked students and teachers, like ramping up high stakes testing which penalized students instead of lifting them up and driving teachers out of the profession by slashing health care and retirement and gutting their freedom to bargain collectively. 

Beyond public education, Snyder-era policies had far-reaching adverse effects on everyday Michiganders, like raising taxes on retirees and working families, eliminating prevailing wage, undermining increases to the minimum wage, cutting unemployment benefits, and bypassing local control through emergency manager laws. 

We can fix those misguided policies and look to the future we want to create. A future that includes enhanced public education, clean drinking water for our children, high quality health care for all residents, responsible gun violence prevention, a protected environment, addressing systemic racism, equal rights including LGBTQ+ protection under Elliott-Larsen, and more. A future that recognizes that we are of the people and for the people. 

There is much to be done.

It is said that some things come along once in a lifetime. For me it has been almost sixty percent of my lifetime for this opportunity to be before us. Working together with other unions, our progressive allied organizations and our champions in elected office, we will seize this opportunity and make a real difference.


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David Hecker
David Hecker

David Hecker was the president of AFT Michigan. Previously, he was secretary-treasurer of the state federation. A member of the AFT executive committee, Hecker was first elected as an AFT vice president in 2004.