Speak Out: The top four statewide elections

by Eric Rader

With all the excitement about this year's campaign for governor in Michigan, it is easy to forget that there are other important statewide political races coming up in our state.

Michigan's constitutional term limits are not only forcing the retirement of Gov. Granholm and Lt. Gov. John Cherry, but they are also causing Attorney General Mike Cox and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land to seek other employment.

This means that all four of Michigan's top statewide offices will be vacant for the first time in eight years, creating many political opportunities for people aspiring to higher office. The offices of attorney general and secretary of state exercise important powers in Michigan government, and recent experience proves that the LGBT community needs to pay attention to the candidates running to fill these vacancies this year.

In 2004, Attorney General Cox supported the discriminatory Proposal 2, the initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage in Michigan. In his official capacity as the state's chief law enforcement officer, Cox later issued a legal opinion stating that this proposal not only prohibited gay marriage in Michigan, but also prevented public institutions in the state from offering domestic partner benefits to their employees. This extreme reading of an already-discriminatory policy has resulted in great harm to LGBT families in Michigan.

Most people don't think about the Michigan secretary of state's office as a hotbed of political controversy. However, one of the Republican candidates for that office is proposing that secretary of state branch offices be allowed to discriminate against transgender citizens.

Currently, the Michigan secretary of state's office requires that a person go through gender reassignment surgery before that person's gender designation can be changed on state identification cards. Secretary of State candidate state Rep. Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc) would like to make this highly restrictive policy even stricter: he has stated that one of his top priorities if elected would be to prohibit transgender citizens from ever changing their gender designation with the state of Michigan, even if they have gone through the medical transition process.

In an era of campaign finance abuses and voter intimidation, it is breathtaking that Rep. Scott has chosen discrimination against transgender Michiganders as one of his priorities. Rep. Scott has injected his hateful views into this year's campaign in an effort to win support from the religious right in his quest to win his party's nomination for secretary of state. The Michigan Republican Party will select its candidates for both secretary of state and attorney general at a party convention in August.

Several weeks ago, Michigan Democrats, in an effort to give their candidates more time to raise money to compete with the Republicans, held a first-ever endorsement convention for the attorney general and secretary of state positions. At that convention, the Democrats chose Genesee County prosecutor David Leyton to run for attorney general, and Wayne State University law professor Jocelyn Benson to be the party's candidate for secretary of state.

Over the next few months, LGBT voters will get a chance to find out what these candidates believe in and whether they deserve our support. At this point, neither Democratic candidate has taken a position on our issues that would be cause for concern.

Benson has been an articulate advocate for integrity in government and expansion of voting rights in this state, and her progressive positions indicate that she favors inclusion of all Michigan citizens in our democracy. Leyton's record as a prosecutor should be examined, but at this point, it appears that he would not politicize the attorney general's office.

After the Republicans select their candidates for these offices in August, we will be able to compare their positions with those of the Democratic candidates. We must make sure that the next attorney general and secretary of state do not allow bigoted political agendas to color how they interpret and apply the law. Discrimination has no place in state government, and our votes for secretary of state and attorney general can help to ensure that we have leaders who will respect our basic rights and dignity.

For more information on the candidates for Michigan Secretary of State and Attorney General:

Jocelyn Benson's website: http://www.votebenson.com

David Leyton's website: http://www.davidleyton.com

Triangle Pride-PAC: http://www.trianglepridepac.org/action/join.html

Eric Rader teaches political science at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn. His courses focus on American government and state and local government. From 2003-2004, Rader served as an assistant policy advisor in the office of Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, focusing primarily on education and civil rights policy, including LGBT issues. He currently lives in Ferndale and is proud to be part of Michigan's LGBT community.
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