Over the last couple of election cycles, Downtown Publications has been extending the slate of offices for which we provide not only coverage but also our editorial opinions or endorsements.
Until now, we have really stayed focused on purely local elections at the city, village and township level, and then county commission and the Michigan House and Senate local districts. But, for 2016, we will be extending ourselves a bit further by including the main full-time offices at the county level – county executive, clerk, treasurer and sheriff.
Against that backdrop it was interesting to see what in recent weeks has been unfolding for the office of county clerk, now held by Democrat Lisa Brown, formerly a state Representative from West Bloomfield. Not one but two candidates on the GOP side have already announced in advance of next spring's filing deadline that they are seeking to run against the incumbent – Bill Bullard Jr. (we all remember the name from any number of offices he has held) and Rochester Hills City Clerk Tina Barton, new to the world of elective offices.
I first encountered Republican Bill Bullard Jr. in the 1978-1982 period when he was a trustee and then supervisor in Highland Township in the lakes area of Oakland. I followed him as he served in the Michigan House and Senate, then during his time on the county board of commissioners, with six years spent as chairman of the board.
In 2010 he was appointed as Oakland County Clerk when Ruth Johnson exited to take the Michigan Secretary of State office after the fall elections. Bullard lost his run for election to the post at the end of two years when he was challenged by now-county clerk Brown, some say in part due to his less-than-enthusiastic campaign that year. Brown could also thank the Obama coattails in the 2012 election and the controversy, with the ensuing local, state-wide and national media coverage, surrounding her use of the word “vagina” on the floor of the Michigan House where she was opposing an anti-abortion bill. The proverbial you-know-what hit the fan when chamber leaders barred her from speaking in the House for breaking the rules of “decorum.” Yes, the same house where a noted southeast Michigan Senator, inebriated, walked across the top of a conference table during a caucus meeting in the late 1970's; the same House that in 2015 has given us the sordid controversy/affair involving Reps. Todd Corser-Cindy Gamrat, they of Tea Party fame.
So Bullard, a lawyer now doing a stint with an Oakland law firm, has decided to announce for the county clerk's post once again after having formally filed an election committee in mid January of this year. He is joined by Barton, serving as a municipal clerk in Rochester Hills since 2013, and prior to that as Bloomfield Township Deputy Clerk for eight years under Jan Roncelli, considered one of the leading clerks in the county who narrowly – and I mean very narrowly – lost out on the appointment as county clerk when circuit court judges voted to name Bullard to that spot.
As the logic goes, Republicans are expecting a stronger showing than they had in the 2012 election when President Obama took Oakland County by 53.4 percent of the overall vote. Following him into office in Oakland were Democrats Brown along with current Oakland Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash (a total shock to many in both parties), both of whom interestingly enough had nearly the same percentage of votes as Obama in the county, which clearly in recent elections, based on university board of regents numbers, is trending Democratic.
It should prove interesting to hear just why first-term county clerk Brown should not be returned to office. For the sake of the office and the service it provides to thousands in Oakland, this will be an important election that hopefully will focus more on the mechanics of running the clerk's office.
But there could be (although should not be) an idealogical side to this election, much of which is disguised under the mantel of protecting or improving the election process but really comes down to which political party – usually the one in power – can push their viewpoint to influence change that improves the outcome of future elections to benefit either Republicans or Democrats.
Bullard has already interjected ideology – you know, the sanctity of the ballot box issue (less than 20 cases in Oakland where 450,000-650,000 votes are cast each election), as someone suggested just prior to press time, in hopes of energizing the conservative base in the GOP. But he has to make it beyond the Republican primary, against a female candidate with the bonafides when it comes to training and certification as a municipal clerk and what I hear is both an ambitious agenda and an undaunted acceptance of the fact that it will take some serious cash to defeat Bullard.
I am anxious to see how the race shapes up and plays out for the county clerk's office in 2016 and whether ideology or the functioning of the office is the center of debate, as it should be.