These three female candidates could be some of the most interesting leaders in Michigan

Jul 24, 2014

Unless you’ve been trapped in a coal mine, you may have noticed that this is an election year.

We’re less than two weeks from Michigan’s statewide primary. Once we get through that, we may have a few weeks before the airwaves are again dominated by commercials for various candidates for various offices.

I’ve been telling you about some of these, and I expect to be talking more about them before November. But I was thinking that three of the most potentially interesting leaders in the state are not on the ballot this year.

They are all women, all young, charismatic, intelligent, competent and highly educated. They also all happen to be Democrats, but that is almost a coincidence. 

Republicans have some rising women leaders as well, two of whom, Lisa Posthumus Lyons and Tonya Schuitmaker, are running for reelection to the Legislature.

But here are three women to keep your eyes on for the future: 

1. Jocelyn Benson, the dean of Wayne State University law school, has an amazing resume. She has degrees from Harvard Law School, Oxford University and Wellesley College. She’s worked as an investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

She’s written a well-reviewed book on secretaries of state and four years ago, was the Democratic candidate for secretary of state in Michigan. She lost, but ran far ahead of the rest of the ticket.

But what’s most remarkable is that she is just 36 years old – the youngest woman ever to head any law school.

However, a woman who is technically one of her bosses is also highly impressive.

2. Sandra Hughes O’Brien, known as Sandy, was elected to the Wayne State Board of Governors two years ago, getting more votes than any other candidate that year.

She is a successful estate planning attorney, but what makes her unique is that despite her name she is Hispanic, and very active in mentoring college-age Hispanic students, especially women.

I’ve known her for years because she, her husband and four kids often sit behind me at Detroit Tigers games, where she talks to Miguel Cabrera in perfect Spanish. There was some talk of running her for lieutenant governor this year; my guess is that in the future, she would be a compelling candidate for just about anything.

My guess is that in the future, Sandra Hughes O'Brien would be a compelling candidate for just about anything.

Finally, one of the officeholders who impresses me most is another high-powered woman in her late forties who, as far as I know, has no interest in running for other office.

3. Bridget McCormack, a highly regarded law professor at the University of Michigan, was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court two years ago, also leading that field.

Though she is a Democrat, her opinions, whether in the majority or dissent, have not been notably partisan at all. When I once asked her to explain her reasoning in a case, she not only did so, she defended the thinking of her colleagues who decided the other way.

My belief is that she has helped make Michigan’s highest court not only less partisan but a far more collegial body than it has been.

There are those who say we no longer have leaders who can inspire us. I’d say keep your eyes on the women I’ve just described.

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