Misleading campaign flyers. Mudslinging robocalls. A surprise visit from the governor.
These are just some of the factors leading some to believe the race for the 52nd House District between Republican incumbent Mark Ouimet and Democratic Party challenger Gretchen Driskell is heating up.
Driskell, Saline’s longtime mayor, said her polls tell her she’s running neck and neck with the incumbent. Ouimet, as he has since before Driskell even entered the race, continues to portray confidence.
“All I would say is, show me the poll,” Ouimet said, when asked about Driskell’s numbers.
As one of the few contested races in the state, it’s drawing attention and money. All that money means potential voters are being inundated with signs, flyers, advertisements and telephone calls. Many of these messages are drawing the ire of Saline area residents.
Conservative Saline Area Schools Board of Education Trustee David Holden is unhappy with a Michigan Democratic Party flyer distributed in support of Driskell. The flyer credits Driskell’s leadership for making Saline High School one of the top rated schools in the state. As a city mayor, Driskell has no authority in the school district.
“Saline Area Schools was brought back from the brink of financial disaster by a committed school board, parents, administration, support staff, and faculty. Sacrifices were made by all collective bargaining units. Parents have paid more in participation/student activity fees. Even the school board eliminated discretionary spending. On a personal level, I have not accepted one taxpayer dollar for professional training.....to the tune of $1,500,” Holden wrote.”I hope that during the remaining weeks leading up to the election you will be forthright and correct the misstatements attributed to your name.”
Driskell said she doesn’t control literature distributed by the Michigan Democratic Party, but said she did play a role in advancing the school district.
“I was very involved in the community-wide planning process in the late 1990s that enabled us to build the new high school, elementary school, and additional significant improvements to school campuses around our school district. This process enabled the schools to pass the successful bond millage, to invest in our schools and get our kids out of portables,” Driskell wrote. “I appreciate the work the school board is doing currently to address the financial duress our school is going through. As you know I am an active supporter of the school district, and I believe as a community it is our number one asset.”
The Michigan Democratic Party defended the flyer, fired back at Holden and took a shot at Ouimet’s record on school funding.
“"The idea that a supporter of Mark Ouimet -- who voted to slash funding for our kids' schools by $1 billion -- is criticizing Gretchen Driskell's leadership and commitment to Saline Area Schools is laughable,” said Kirstin Alvanitakis, spokesperson for the party.
Alvantakis also pointed out Driskell’s role in the district’s planning process.
“As mayor, Gretchen has steered Saline ably through tough economic times and helped to preserve the high quality of life -- including top-notch schools -- that Saline is known for. The city of Saline works hand-in-hand with the school district, and Gretchen has been a passionate advocate for the schools in her role as mayor,” Alvanntakis said. “Finally, Gretchen has been an active and involved parent of three graduates from the Saline schools."
On the flipside, Driskell has been the subject of a negative robocall campaign. One of the calls criticizes Driskell for voting to give herself a raise eight times as mayor. But the call neglects to mention that even after all those raises, she makes just $4,000 annually.
Calls like that anger Saline residents like Anne Brandon.
“You must be pretty low to say she voted to increase her salary by 25 percent. It went from $3,000 a year to $4,000,” Brandon said.
Driskell said the calls have done her a favor, because she’s received support as a result.
“People in this district are smart They see right through these calls,” Driskell said. “I’m going door-to-door with my message about the things people care about, like the unnecessary decision by Mark Ouimet to raid the school aid fund and hurt our schools.”
Ouimet said his campaign isn’t the source of the calls and that he’s not sure who is, because he hasn’t heard them.
The recent, hastily-planned visit by Gov. Snyder, held on the same night as a city council meeting, also raised eyebrows.
Was it a sign that Ouimet’s campaign needed help?
Driskell said so.
“"If Mark Ouimet needs Gov. Snyder to come to Saline and help his campaign it shows what I've been hearing for weeks from voters. I'm out on the doors, talking and connecting with residents and they all say the same thing -- the Republican agenda in Lansing hurts our middle class families, seniors and kids," Driskell said.
Ouimet laughed off the notion. He said Gov. Snyder has been having these events since he took office.
“His office called and asked if we wanted to do one of these events. They gave us a couple of dates, and that’s what it is,” Ouimet said. “I feel good about our campaign and really comfortable. The message of what we’ve accomplished over the last two years is clearly resonating.”
Bill Ballenger isn’t using any polls, but the former state representative and editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter recently told AnnArbor.com that this race was winnable for Driskell. He explained his comments to the Saline Post Wednesday morning.
“It’s a marginal district that slightly favors the Republican candidate. Washtenaw County is a Democratic area. This district is the most Republican district in the county,” Ballenger said. “Gretchen Driskell is a strong candidate from everything I’ve seen. This is also a presidential year. Depending on how President Obama does, he may have coat tails. This is winnable.”