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News Flash: All the legislative incumbents win

Aug 3, 2016

Here’s what we learned from Tuesday’s primary election: Southeast Michigan residents love the Detroit Zoo, which is not in Detroit and is no longer controlled by the city. They overwhelmingly voted to keep supporting it.

Apart from that, it’s become clear that one of the effects of term limits is the creating of a sort of elected hereditary aristocracy. Wives are elected to succeed husbands; next year, if they win their general elections, Sylvia Santana will succeed Harvey Santana; Cara Clemente will follow Paul, and Daire Rendon will succeed Bruce.

Children are also following parents, and when direct succession isn’t in the cards, famous names are the best things to have. Ian Conyers won a primary yesterday in a special election for a state senate seat in Detroit. He has no prior political experience, but his great-uncle John Conyers has been in Congress for more than half a century.

The elder Conyers is 87 now and way past the point when some think he should have retired. But he won renomination yesterday too, easily beating a challenge from the much younger and vibrant Detroit city clerk.

In fact, it was a great night for incumbents. Every single member of the legislature who was challenged managed to win. This was sometimes discouraging; you would think the voters would want to be done with Brian Banks, who is looking at three more felony charges and just had to be defended at state expense in a sexual harassment suit filed by a former staffer.

Yet voters, incredibly, chose to nominate him again rather than choose Pam Sossi, an impressive young attorney. In both Conyers and Banks’ case, the primary is the general election; there are virtually no Republicans in their districts.

Famous names can be a mixed blessing. Up in the northwest Lower Peninsula, Democrats thought they had a dream candidate in Erin Kieliszewski. But she was beaten by someone named Robert Kennedy, a slightly more famous name than Kieliszewski.

Incredibly, much the same thing happened two years ago; Kennedy, no relation to those Kennedys, wasn’t that strong a campaigner, and the Democrats lost a seat they might have won. They are worried this is déjà vu all over again.

All this doesn’t mean the voters aren’t paying attention. Up north, there was a huge and nasty Republican primary election battle between Tom Casperson, a state senator from the UP, and Jason Allen, a former state senator from Traverse City.

There was also a political unknown on the ballot; a retired Marine Corps general named Jack Bergman. He was clearly deeply conservative, but said little, refrained from personal attacks – and won the Republican nomination for Congress in a stunning upset.

Voters at the top of the state will choose in November between Bergman and Democrat Lon Johnson, both of whom were virtually unknown in the district a year ago.

By the way, politicians may tell you that nobody is willing to pay more taxes, but that is clearly not the case. Across the state, voters approved more than 80 percent of tax increases on the ballot, especially for public safety or roads.

When people have enough time to evaluate what’s facing them, they normally make rational decisions. Which is one more argument to let everyone in the state vote absentee.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.