Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has set the election to allow voters to select a successor to former Michigan Senator Virgil Smith in the 4th District. But he should immediately name former State Rep. Rashida Tlaib as Smith’s successor, given the history of the district’s past elections. Tlaib has announced she will not run for the senate seat again, but she should reconsider
By Ray Hanania
Two years ago, State Rep. Rashida Tlaib entered the Democratic primary battle to unseat incumbent Democrat, Virgil Smith, as the State Senator from the 4th District and lost.
Tlaib won more than 41 percent of the district’s vote, but lost the election. Smith, who has been in Michigan’s legislature since 2003 as a state representative and later as state senator, received 52 percent of the district’s vote in that election. Howard Worthy, a 3rd candidate in the race, drained 8 percent of the votes from the contest.
Even if Worthy had not run and Tlaib had received all of Worthy’s votes, she would still would have lost the contest. Since then, Tlaib, who served in the Michigan House from 2009 until 2014 when she chose to run for the Senate seat, has worked with the prestigious Sugar Law Center fighting for social justice and fighting corporate and government abuses. Tlaib is the Community Partnerships & Development Director at the agency.
But Tlaib is the best qualified to represent the 4th Senate District. She knows the issues. She has a proven track record of representing not only the American Arab and Muslim community, but all of the region’s citizens regardless of race or religion.
Now that Smith has been forced to step down from the seat, Tlaib deserves to be put into that seat and given the chance she earned to represent the district’s citizens.
Gov. Snyder, a Republican, might be trying to leverage the state’s politics by not appointing someone to the seat, although technically Michigan law does not permit an appointment. But, that doesn’t mean the Governor can’t appoint Tlaib either.
The district is overwhelmingly Democratic and not having a Democrat in the seat gives Snyder more power. But he has a bigger responsibility to ensure the rights of the district’s residents are represented in the Michigan legislature. Forcing voters to wait until the election process is complete means the district may not have a representative until January 2017.
Smith’s resignation took effect on April 12 and is the result of a domestic violence dispute he had with his wife, Anista Thomas, that took place last year. Smith was convicted of firing a weapon in the direction of his wife, hitting her Mercedes Benz, but not injuring anyone. Thomas said she had gone to the home that night and found another woman in her bed. Smith was accused of hitting his wife, but he claimed his wife attacked the other woman. who was in her car near their home. Smith was not ordered to resign by the judge, but he took a plea deal with prosecutors that allowed him to serve 10 months while resigning his office.
Michigan has an unusual election calendar, and its political system is whacky, compared to other states. The state held it’s presidential primary on March 8, 2016, but has a statewide primary election on August 2. Why does the state separate Presidential elections from state elections during the same year? Because presidential elections bring out more people than statewide elections. The lower the vote, the more influence the party establishment, insiders and the political Machines have. (Other states like Illinois separate the national and statewide elections by years with presidential elections held one year and statewide elections held two years later.)
The Michigan General election is set for November 8. Snyder said candidates seeking to fill the Smith seat will run in the state primary August 2 and the winners of the primary races will face-off in the November 8 General Election. Smith’s successor will be sworn into office in January.
Michigan politics is never simple. Smith’s rise and fall is typical of the state’s dramatic political history.
Tlaib is more than just an icon of the American Arab and Muslim community, though she was the first Muslim American woman to serve in the Michigan legislature, and only the second Muslim woman to be elected to any state legislature in the country, which today numbers 10 total.
Tlaib’s parents are Palestinian immigrants. Her mother was born in Beit Ur El Foka, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. Her father was born in Beit Hanina, a suburb of occupied Jerusalem.
She entered politics in 2004 as an intern in the office of State Representative Steve Tobocman. When Tobocman became Majority Floor Leader in 2007, he recruited Tlaib to be on his staff. and in 2008, he encouraged her to run for his seat when he was term limits forced him to vacate the seat and not seek re-election.
In 2008, Tlaib won 44 percent of the vote in a crowded, 8-person Democratic primary battle and then went on to take the seat with 90 percent of the General Election vote. She won re-election in 2010 and again in 2012 with more than 90 percent of the general election votes.
The Arab population of the district was only 2 percent proving that Tlaib is a very capable mainstream Democratic contender. She would be a formidable candidate in the senate race, too.
Tlaib has until May 10 to turn in her candidacy petitions to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, should she change her mind and enter the election contest to succeed Smith.
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