Rashida Tlaib still has a future in politics

Rashida Tlaib still has a future in politics
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Rashida Tlaib still has a future in politics

By Ray Hanania

Rashida Tlaib

Rashida Tlaib, from her Michigan State House Website

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-6th MI) lost her bid to unseat incumbent Virgil Smith in the Michigan State Senate’s 4th District Democratic Primary Election Tuesday August 5.

Tlaib’s fate eliminates a legislator who championed community rights and was a strong voice for American Arabs. It raises issues about the negative side of “Term Limits,” which are imposed inconsistently across the country in several states, but not all.

In the case of Michigan, elected officials are allowed to only serve three terms. Tlaib, elected in November 2008, served her district for six years or three terms before she was forced to find a new office to run for, or end her public service. Click to view her House District website.

The Tlaib-Smith battle focused on issues and didn’t dwell on Tlaib’s Arab heritage, as it often does in other races across America. Also of note is that Tlaib won her seat in a district where the Arab vote was insignificant in numbers, estimated to be less than 2 percent of the district that she represented.

So even though Tlaib leaves the legislature when her House seat ends when new legislators are sworn in in January 2015, she still has much to be proud of as a legislator.

The Tlaib-Smith race raised some controversy when the Associated Press, counting only ballots cast at the polls, declared Tlaib the victor over Smith, a veteran legislator who comes from a family of public servants who have tremendous public acclaim.

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But according to Tlaib the Associated Press error was the result of having failed to count absentee ballots, those cast by voters before the election. At the polls Tlaib was ahead by 500 votes. But the difference was more than made up by absentee ballots.

Tlaib lost to Smith by a landslide receiving only 41 percent of the total vote, or only 8,615 total votes. Smith won an impressive 52 percent of the total votes cast, 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 vote totals without the absentee ballots had Tlaib leading by about 500 votes were 6,790 for Tlaib and 6,292 for Smith. But absentee ballots are a critical part of elections across the country intended to encourage more voters to participate in the election. Too often, voters sometimes cannot vote because they are out of the country on vacation, sick at home or are unable to make it to the voting booth.

Tlaib supporters were able to receive about 1,900 absentee ballot votes, while Smith’s campaign was able to attract more than 4,500 absentee ballots, more than twice as many.

Many pundits claimed that Howard Worthy’s votes would have also gone to Smith and that his candidacy significantly reduced Smith’s expected voter support. Tlaib had challenges trying to get her name recognition out to voters in the 4th State Senate District where only 10 percent of the voters overlapped in her district.

Tlaib thanked her supporters in an email message Wednesday, the day after the election, and explained the Associated Press mis-call which some compared to the memorable and historic error by the CHicago Tribune which declared Thomas Dewey the winner over Harry Truman in the 1948 presidential election.

“This may come as a surprise to many of you as you may have learned from one of the five major media outlets that prematurely called yesterday’s primary race for me.  While we won the vote at the polls yesterday by 500 votes (6,790 to 6,292), we lost the absentee ballots in Detroit by a significant margin and the unofficial results were 11,596 votes for State Senator Virgil Smith and 9,742 votes for us,” Tlaib wrote in her email to supporters.

“Clearly, this was disappointing news.  But I am so proud of this campaign.  We worked so hard and achieved so much.  I doubt that any state legislative primary campaign will ever knock 47,000 doors again.  You helped make thousands of phone calls.  And thousands of individual contributors provided the resources we needed.

“I can’t begin to thank the hundreds of volunteers and donors for your support throughout this year and, in particular, on Election Day. To see all your smiling faces at the polls yesterday was a gift I shall cherish for the rest of my life. You’re the bedrock as to why I’ve worked so tirelessly these past six years. I hope I’ve made you proud.  We had three great elections and yesterday was an effort of which you should all be proud.”

Tlaib said that during her six years in office she achieved many accomplishments for her district. She blamed her defeat on the power of Smith’s name, whose father was a legislator in Michigan for more than two decades, before term limits were enforced.

“The fact that media outlets incorrectly projected me as the winner is immaterial to the lost opportunity to bring my unique brand of hard-work and service to the Michigan State Senate and the over 200,000 people of the 4th State Senate District.  I congratulate Senator Smith for his hard fought victory.  I look forward to continuing my advocacy for the people of Detroit and Downriver communities, especially in regards to environmental justice, education, family, and human services.  And I know that Senator Smith will be a partner to those community voices of the 4th District that seek justice and opportunity,” Tlaib wrote.

Her achievements as a legislator, itemized on her website, included:

  • Obtained $8.2 million in funding for before and after school programs and vital education resources.

  • Funded the first ever Community Court program, providing alternatives to incarceration for our youth.

  • Required the Michigan Department of Community Health to launch the first ever cancer cluster study in our community to address the public health impact of living close to a polluting industry.

  • Advocated for $2 million for lead abatement programs to protect children from lead poisoning.

  • Passed a bi-partisan bill to combat the crime of mortgage fraud.

  • Created a law requiring consumer protection for residents that fall prey to fraudulent tax preparation schemes.

  • Founded the We Have a Right to Breathe campaign to increase awareness of high rates of asthma, cancer, and pollutants in the air and the need to hold polluting industries accountable.

  • Passed a bill assisting low income families to obtain property tax exemption status.

  • Restored over $1 million in cuts to our local health clinics.Tlaib thanked her supporters and promised that she would continue to fight for the voters of Michigan.

Click to view Tlaib’s campaign website.

The Arab Daily News has twice requested interviews with Tlaib but those requests were never answered.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. He is managing editor of The Arab Daily News www.TheArabDailyNews.com.)

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