2012: The Year of Michigan Women in Politics


Chapeau: doffed

2012 was a year full of politics in Michigan. As a political writer, particularly one writing from the progressive side of things, I never had a single day where there wasn’t something happening in Michigan worth writing about. We weren’t far into 2012 before I realized that women were standing up and speaking out in larger numbers and with a louder, stronger voice than any other group of people in our state. So much so that I have taken to calling 2012 the Year of Michigan Women in Politics.

It wasn’t all women politicians. One of most impressive voices this year was 17 year-old Katy Butler from Ann Arbor. She and her friend Carson Borbely took on the Michigan Republicans’ odious “License to Bully” bill in 2011 (read about that HERE.) However, in 2012, Katy went on to challenge the rating given to the documentary film “Bully” by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Because they had given it an “R” rating, schools refused to show the film. This presented a tragically missed opportunity to get the message of the film out to kids across the country. Thanks largely to Katy’s action, things changed and the film eventually received a less stringent rating. Since then, Butler presented at Netroots Nation 2012 and received the Special Recognition Award at the 23rd Annual Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Awards.

Early in 2012, legendary political failure Pete Hoekstra came out of the chute for his (failed) bid to become Michigan’s junior Senator with an offensive, racist ad that premiered during the Superbowl. His opponent, incumbent Debbie Stabenow remained composed, poised, and professional through it all. The result was a crushing defeat of Hoekstra while Stabenow has enjoyed national attention through her advocacy on women’s issues, this years farm bill and other important topics.

No review of Michigan women in politics in 2012 would be complete without talking about the censuring of Democratic House Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum by Republican “leadership”. Their fight to stop the incessant Republican War on Women was both eloquent and ferocious. Their fierce advocacy attracted Eve Ensler’s attention and led to the truly astonishing reading of the Vagina Monologues on the steps of the State Capitol Building.

l-r: Rep. Rashida H. Tlaib, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, Rep. Lisa Brown, Eve Ensler, and Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes

The event drew national attention and put many of Michigan’s Democratic women on the radar screens of folks nationally. Rebekah Warren, Rashida Tlaib, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, Stacy Erwin Oakes. These women were the core of the Democratic women’s voice in Michigan in 2012 and the Vagina Monologues event galvanized them and their message.

l-r, Rep. Barb Byrum, Rep. Lisa Brown, Eve Ensler, and Sen. Rebekah Warren

Here is a collage of photographs that Anne took of all the signs from the Vaginas Take Back the Capitol event last week. You can zoom in on the image to see the signs better or download the large file to print (below image).

Choose a size and download the poster to share.
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Michigan unions stepped up in a big way in 2012, as well, and two of them in particular, were incredibly active and effective: the Michigan Nurses Association and the Michigan Education Association. Although they are not unions exclusively or specifically for women, women do make up a large part of their membership and, in 2012, they let their voices be heard around the state.

The woman on the right is Julia Smith-Heck, who GOP creep Frank Foster called a “cunt” in public

I was even privileged to be awarded an “honorary vagina” from the MNA:

Another group that stood out this past year was Planned Parenthood of Michigan. When it came to organizing rallies or days of action at the State Capitol in short order, no group did it better than Planned Parenthood. They have been an important voice and a powerful force for women’s reproductive rights in Michigan.

Lori Lamerand, President/CEO at Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan

They also kept their their message in the forefront in Michigan by bringing their “Big Pink Bus” to Michigan:

One of my favorite stories of Democratic women from 2012 was the stunning defeat by fake “moderate” Republican Mark Ouimet by Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell. It was not a success that many expected and that made it that much sweeter. I was privileged to be present when Driskell’s victory was announced on Election Night and the place definitely went nuts!

Equally exciting and fun to watch was Michigan Supreme Court Candidate Bridget Mary McCormack:

McCormack not only beat the other candidates, she ran a spectacular race that was effective, professional, and creative. Her West Wing video ad went viral across the country:

Walk and Talk the Vote – West Wing Reunion

My interview with now-Justice McCormack is HERE.

Another amazing women was State House candidate Betsy Coffia from Traverse City. Though she was not able to unseat an entrenched Republican in November, she did score an upset in the primary running a campaign that refused to take PAC funding or out of state money. My interview with Betsy is HERE.

Special mention should be made of Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (our interview is HERE.) A powerful voice for women and kids this past year, Whitmer’s star is rising nationally as well as in Michigan. Though she has not yet announced her candidacy for Michigan Governor, many of us expect her to run and to win the nomination.

Not every woman in Michigan politics deserves to be lauded, of course. Many Republican women politicians, for example, voted against their own self-interest and the interests of all Michigan women on issues like reproductive freedom and equal pay. But one woman, in particular, deserves special recognition: Troy tea party mayor Janice Daniels. Actually, that should read FORMER Troy tea party mayor Janice Daniels — she was ousted from her position after just one year in 2012. Her absurd contributions to “politics” in Michigan are too numerous to mention, frankly, but she certainly helped put Michigan on the national radar screen this year.

There are two women who, although they aren’t from Michigan, played a very important role in our political discourse this year: Rachel Maddow and Maddow Show producer Laura Conaway. Without the two of them amplifying our message and getting the word out to the nation about what Republicans were/are doing in our state, much of what happened here would have gone unnoticed in the USA. I am incredibly grateful to them both.

Finally, no recap of amazing Michigan women would be complete without mention of my wife, Anne C. Savage. Her amazing photography has put this website on the map in some ways. Most of the photos in this post were taken by her, for example. Without her images, Eclectablog would be a much less rich website. More importantly, Anne has documented some of the major political events in our state far more thoroughly than anyone else.

Anne with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren

This year, she was also a White House photographer for the Obama campaign:

You can read about her latest creation, a second photomosaic poster of President Obama, HERE. And, of course, if you aren’t already, you should LIKE her Facebook page because she posts some of her amazing images there regularly.

I am proud to have her as a blogging partner and overjoyed to be spending my life with her.

So, thanks to the political women in Michigan in 2012. You shined a light on what was happening here in profound, creative and important ways and we’re all very thankful for you.

P.S. Got some amazing local women in Michigan politics to add (like Carol Kuhnke here in Washtenaw County?) Give ’em a shout out in the comments!