Amash wins GOP endorsement; Tlaib loses bid; Baydoun makes strong showing
By Ray Hanania
When it comes to American Arab politics, Metro Detroit and Southeastern Michigan are the center of the world. And this week, the districts there saw several important election contests with some winning, others losing and still others receiving encouragement to continue their political careers.
Many American Arabs were listed on Michigan ballots in the primary elections held on Tuesday August 5.
The most notable included the re-election campaign of U.S. Congressman Justin Amash (R-3rd) who is seeking his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Southwestern Michigan and his home city Grand Rapids.
Amash easily defeated his Republican extremist challenger, Brian Ellis, to win the Republican nomination. Amash will face Democrat Bob Goodrich in the November 4, 2014 General Election. The 3rd District is strongly Republican and Amash is expected to easily defeat Goodrich.
Amash won the Primary election with 57 percent or 39,640 votes according to the Michigan State Election Board’s unofficial vote totals with 100 percent of the precincts counter. Click here to view data. Ellis was slam ducked in a landslide by Amash and only won 43 percent of the vote, or an embarrassing 29,386 votes.
State Rep. Rashida Tlaib lost her bid to defeat incumbent State Senator Virgil Smith in a heated battle in the 4th Michigan State Senate Democratic Primary contest. Tlaib is forced to retire from her three terms in the Michigan State House representing the 6th State House District because of Michigan Term Limits. She entered the race against Smith whose Senate District included about 10 percent of her State House base.
Tlaib lost to Smith by a landslide. Tlaib received only 41 percent of the vote or only 8,615 total votes. Smith won an impressive 52 percent of the vote or more than 10,882 total votes. A third candidate, Howard Worthy, won only 8 percent of the vote or1,616 total votes, most of which many observers believed would have gone to Smith.
The election reminded people of the contest between Thomas Dewey and Harry Truman int he 1948 presidential election when the Associated Press in Michigan declared Tlaib the winner of the heated State Senate battle. But hours later, the Associated Press pulled its mistaken call, and corrected the numbers which showed Smith with a strong lead through the entire night.
The most promising, however, was the first-time candidacy of Rashid Baydoun for the 11th District Michigan State House. Baydoun lost the fight battling seven other challengers who were seeking to succeed incumbent State Rep. David Knezek, a popular freshman legislator who ran for the Michigan State Senate. In a strong boost for Baydoun was that Knezek gave Baydoun his endorsement.
Baydoun’s challengers included Ned Apigian of Dearborn Heights, Lisa Clayton-Hicks of Dearborn Heights, DeArtiss Coleman-Richardson of Inkster, Dorothy Webb Grady of Inkster, Hilliard Hampton of Inkster, Julie Plawecki of Dearborn Heights and Patricia Scott of Inkster.
Plawecki won with only 31 percent of the votes cast or only 1,838 votes, and Baydoun ran second with 18 percent of the vote, or 1,079 votes, a very strong showing that guarantees that Baydoun should consider another run at political office in Michigan.
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The Tlaib-Smith battle was not one focused on American Arab issues, however. Although Tlaib has been a pioneer in shattering glass ceilings that have held back women and American Arabs, she first won office in what was then the 12th House District in November 2008 even though less than 2 percent of the district’s voters were American Arab. Tlaib was able to prove herself to a non-Arab constituency. The district was mostly Hispanic and African American.
One of Smith’s key advisers is Chief of Staff Dennis Denno who is American Arab of Iraqi heritage. Click here to read profile.
Tlaib is one of only ten Muslims serving in state legislatures across the United States. She is the second Muslim to serve in the Michigan State House of Representatives, after James Karoub. Tlaib is the second Muslim woman to serve in a state legislature nationwide, after Jamilah Nasheed of Missouri. She shares a distinction with U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican elected to Congress in 2008. Tlaib and Amash were both elected to the Michigan Legislature in November 2008, making them the first Palestinian-American members of the state’s legislative body. Amash went on to run and win a seat in Congress in 2010.
But Tlaib is not the first Arab woman to serve in the Michigan legislature. That distinction belongs to State Rep. Barb Farrah (D-Southgate) who served six years from 2003 to 2008 representing the 13th District. Oftentimes, Christian Arabs are marginalized and not recognized for their achievements in the Arab community and often eclipsed by the activism of Muslim Americans in local politics. In 2008, Farrah was the only Arab American in the legislature.
Outside of her strong political and governmental record, though, was the divisive issue in which she became the center of accusations of Sexual Harassment targeting the former executive director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Imad Hamad. Hamad and ADC had become targets of political extremists in the community who were bent on destroying ADC and who had campaigned against ADC for more than three years.
Hamad and the Michigan ADC Chapter were among the most effective in the national organization’s structure. The battle at the national level sparked a major power fight. Tlaib revived what she asserted where subdued charges of sexual harassment that she alleged happened more than 7 years before. Click here to read her letter to ADC. Click here to read overview of accusations. Some of the most vicious advocates for Tlaib included the hate website Ikhras which fabricated stories and accusations, has a history of bashing American Arabs, funded the hate campaign against ADC, but hides behind anonymity. The Ikhras writers were believed behind the campaign.
Many American Arabs believed the Tlaib accusations were driven by politics rather than fighting for the equality of women who are frequently discriminated against in Arab society, although the issue is rarely openly discussed. Tlaib was also joined by other women who were closely allied with Tlaib in accusing Hamad of making sexual advances more than 15 years ago. Click for more details.
Many Republican leaders came out to defeat Amash after Amash became one of the first Republicans to challenge GOP Party Leader and Speaker of the House John Boehner. Amash was the first Republican to vote against re-electing Boehner for Speaker of the House in January 2013. Boehner’s supporters pushed to help Ellis unseat Amash. Ellis ran one of the nastiest and dirtiest election campaigns in Michigan history.
A wealthy Grand Rapids businessman, Ellis pumped more than $1 million of his own money into the fight, but received boosts when the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, both radical rightwing organizations that have been criticized for past stridency and vitriolic rhetoric in the past, endorsed Ellis in an intentional political slap at Amash.
Amash was elected in November 2010 as the second youngest person ever to serve in the U.S. Congress. He is only the second Palestinian American to serve in the Congress, also. His father is Palestinian and his mother is Syrian. The first Palestinian to serve in the U.S. Congress was John E. Sununu, whose grandparents were born in Acre, Palestine but immigrated to Lebanon, causing many to describe the Sununu family as being Lebanese and not Palestinians. Sununu’s father was diplomat and former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu.
Amash is the chairperson of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a Tea Party coalition of 33 congress members. Amash was inspired into politics by the work of former Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Many of Ron Paul’s supporters backed Amash.
But Amash has walked a fine line because of his American Arab heritage and the rising anti-Arab racism in Michigan and America. Although Amash has avoided high profile comments about the contentious Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he did vote against giving Israel $225 million in funding to support the Iron Dome missile system in Israel. Israel has received more than $5 billion a year in taxpayer funds from America. For Amash, the issue was about the growing American debt. He said that he felt that it was wrong to give the funds given the fact that the country continues to face growing debt. Only 7 other members of Congress voted against the funding for Israel, and 29 other congressmen avoided the vote altogether leaving the floor of the U.S. House just before the vote and being listed as “Absent” rather than abstaining or voting no.
At least, observers said, Amash had the courage to defend his principle to reduce the American Debt, something few members of Congress are willing to do. Click here for more information.
BAYDOUN MAKES HIS MARK
Baydoun, a community activist, did an amazing job in his election even though he lost. He ran second beating out six other challengers in a very close race against a well-financed contender.
Baydoun previously served as the Executive Director of the Arab Civil Rights League (ACRL) and worked as a supervisor public relations and community engagement for the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and has a degree in Communications and Psychology. He also headed the Arab Student Union (ASU) and the Michigan Chapter of Students United for Peace and Justice (SPJ) which advocates for Palestinian rights and the end to the Israeli occupation. He is also an ESL Teacher in Dearborn public schools.
The 11th House District is 71 percent Democratic and Plawecki is expected to easily win the district seat in the November General Election.
Many people believe that Baydoun has an excellent future in politics and should consider another run for higher office. His campaign remained focused on the district’s issues and he ran a campaign that reached out to voters and supporters in a tough field that faced more better known and recognized candidates.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. He is the Managing Editor of The Arab Daily News www.TheArabDailyNews.com.)