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Whitmer, Stabenow win as Democrats take key Michigan races

November 7, 2018
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Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, right, answers questions with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., after casting her ballot Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

DETROIT (AP) — Gretchen Whitmer won the race for Michigan governor on Tuesday and Debbie Stabenow won a fourth term in the Senate as the Democratic Party took aim at the Republican Party’s hold on most statewide offices with a slate of female candidates.

Whitmer pledged to fix the state’s rickety roads and reverse a retirement tax, while her opponent, Bill Schuette, had hoped a solid economy would convince voters to stick with a Republican. GOP Gov. Rick Snyder couldn’t run because he reached a two-term limit. Stabenow turned aside a challenge from Republican John James, a businessman and Iraq War veteran who was making his first bid for political office.

Democratic women ran against Republican male incumbents in two closely watched U.S. House races in eastern and southern Michigan. Three statewide ballot questions were approved, including one that legalizes recreational marijuana.

Here are some key races:

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CONGRESS

Michigan’s delegation could be split 7-7 after the votes are counted. Republican Rep. Mike Bishop in the 8th District conceded defeat to former CIA analyst Elissa Slotkin, who pounded the incumbent with TV ads highlighting his opposition to the Affordable Care Act. The Associated Press had not called the race. Republican Rep. Tim Walberg again defeated Gretchen Driskell in the 7th District. Democrat Haley Stevens, a key government staffer in the bailout of the auto industry, captured an open seat in the 11th District over Republican businesswoman Lena Epstein. Democrat Rashida Tlaib also won an open seat in the Detroit area’s 13th District to become one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, joining Somali-American Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

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LEGISLATURE

Democrats have long been outnumbered in the Michigan House and Senate. They’re poised to make gains, though they conceded that Republicans will retain control of both houses. Republicans have benefited for years because they controlled how districts were drawn after the 2010 census. The GOP held majorities of 63-46 in the House and 27-10 in the Senate before Tuesday, with one Democratic-leaning seat in each chamber vacant.

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ATTORNEY GENERAL

Democrat Dana Nessel is best known for representing two women who successfully challenged Michigan’s ban on gay marriage. She has promised to shake up the attorney general’s office, especially how it handles Flint water cases. She says the special prosecutor is overpaid and that criminal charges were influenced by politics. The Republican candidate, Tom Leonard, wants to put more emphasis on how local courts and law enforcers handle people who are mentally ill. A wild card: Will an independent candidate and the Libertarian Party nominee get enough votes to influence the result?

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SUPREME COURT

The two candidates with the most votes in the six-person race will get seats on Michigan’s highest court. Justices Elizabeth Clement and Kurtis Wilder were appointed by Snyder and are seeking to stay in office. Democrats nominated University of Michigan law professor Sam Bagenstos and appellate lawyer Megan Cavanagh, the daughter of former Justice Michael Cavanagh. Republicans have a 5-2 majority on the Supreme Court, though candidates aren’t identified by party on the ballot.

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MARIJUANA

Michigan residents age 21 or older now will be able to buy, grow and use marijuana for recreational purposes. The state legalized medical marijuana 10 years ago. The nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan says police and jails might save money by not arresting people, but it also notes there will be a cost for abuse and other public health issues. Marijuana sales will carry a special 10 percent tax, with 70 percent of revenue going to schools and roads, on top of Michigan’s 6 percent sales tax.

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VOTING PROPOSAL

Proposal 3, which allows people to register to vote as late as Election Day and immediately get a ballot, easily passed. Absentee ballots will be granted without voters having to provide a reason they’re requesting one. Straight-party voting — a single mark for candidates of one party — will also be revived. Supporters, including the American Civil Liberties Union, civil rights groups and unions, say it will make voting more accessible. Opponents included Republican secretary of state candidate Mary Treder Lang, who said some provisions will “add more bureaucracy, red tape and government regulations.”

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DRAWING DISTRICTS

Voters overhauled the way seats in the Legislature and Congress are drawn every decade. The job now will go to a 13-member commission picked at random after the next census. It’s an extraordinary change now enshrined in the state constitution that snatches power from lawmakers and the governor. Republicans drew the maps after the 2010 census because they were in control of the state Capitol and have remained so, at least partly because of how those seats were drawn. Critics of the proposal say a commission won’t be accountable to the public. Supporters, however, say representative democracy is at risk in a process soaked in politics.

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An earlier version of this story was corrected to reflect that the Republican majority in the Michigan House is 63-46, not 63-47.

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For the AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

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