Democratic voters in Michigan's newly drawn 6th state house district will have the unenviable choice of picking between two incumbents during Tuesday's primary. The upcoming vote pits current 4th district State Rep. Maureen Stapleton against her colleague in the 12th district, State Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Patrick D. O'Connell of Ecorse (who ran as a Republican in 2008) is also vying for the Democratic spot on the November ballot.
Due to redistricting by state Republicans, the district's new boundaries now stretch roughly from Detroit's Indian Village neighborhood along the Detroit River, down past River Rouge and into the city of Ecorse. The redrawn district includes residents from both Stapleton's and Tlaib's current constituencies.
Bill Ballenger, the editor of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, said the battle for 6th district is one of the most closely contested in the state.
"Of all the races pitting incumbents against one another -- there are three others -- this one to me is the hardest one to predict," he said.
Both candidates have reputations as tough campaigners, Ballenger added.
"Tlaib is more aggressive. She's a hard charger," he said "Stapleton had to overcome a big field two years ago to win her Democratic primary to get elected in the first place, so she's no slouch when it comes to campaigning either."
Noting that Tlaib is Michigan's first Muslim-American state representative, while Stapleton is African-American, Ballenger said demographics, particularly ethnicity, could play a role in Tuesday's primary.
The district is a 59.4% black district. Stapleton represents 30% of the district. [Tlaib] represents 38% of the district. 48.8% of the portion of the district represented by [Tlaib] is Hispanic. 57.8% of the 'new' part of the district is black.
Although this would appear to favor Stapleton, Ballenger cautions that Tlaib has a history of winning support from a diverse pool of voters. Ultimately, it may be the candidates' visions, personalities and voting records that clinch the race.
Although Stapleton, 49, has only been a state representative since 2010, she has an extensive history in public service, working as teacher for Detroit Public Schools and holding a variety of administrative positions in municipal and county government. The daughter of a Detroit teacher and Detroit police officer, she grew up on the city's northwest side.
Her priorities as a legislator include public safety, rolling back portions of the Driver Responsibility Act (which added hefty fees to various driving offenses) and fighting childhood obesity, according to a questionnaire she submitted to the Detroit Free Press.
In May she introduced legislation that would allow Detroit and 40 other Michigan communities to create public authorities responsible for municipal lighting. The measure has since passed the state house. The Detroit Regional Chamber, The Small Business Association of Michigan and the Detroit Police Officers Association have endorsed her sixth district bid.
Stapleton's opponent Rep. Talib, first elected in 2008, is a progressive firebrand who also happens to be the first Muslim woman to serve in Michigan's legislature. Born and raised in southwest Detroit, she is the daughter of Palestinian immigrant parents and the eldest of 14 children. The 36-year-old legislator got her start in politics working as a policy analyst for former Democratic Floor Leader Steve Tobocman, whose seat she won after term limits ended his House career. Prior to that she was involved in nonprofit work and grassroots activism, advocating for progressive justice issues like affirmative action.
Tlaib, a married mother of two, told The Huffington Post her highest priorities are public safety and education. Her public safety initiatives include sponsoring a bipartisan bill to address scrap metal theft and working with the 36th District Court to establish a community court in Southwest Detroit. The court, based on a model developed in Red Hook Brooklyn, would offer alternatives to incarceration for "quality-of-life" crimes like prostitution, small-time burglary and vandalism.
Not content with simply legislating from Lansing, Tlaib has also put her energy into activities that she says "raise the bar" for what people expect from a state representative.
Drawing on her background as a grassroots organizer, she has organized sit-ins, personally blocking traffic in order to raise awareness about issues like the closing of a local high school in her district. She also maintains a neighborhood service center in southwest Detroit that allows her to keep in touch with her constituents and help them with tasks like filling out taxes and navigating mortgage paperwork. And Tlaib's been one of of the most vocal critics of the Detroit International Bridge Company and its owner, Matty Moroun.
"I don't think we're cutting it, when we just go up and vote or we offer amendments," she said of her sometimes unorthodox approach to public service. "You've got to go beyond that, because [otherwise] you're not going to be able to change your neighborhood or really impact peoples lives immediately."
If there is a wild card in the sixth district Senate race, it's education. Tlaib opposes state-led efforts to tinker with Detroit's public school system and has been endorsed by the Michigan Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
Stapleton, however, faces opposition from teachers unions' because of her her support last year of Public Acts 101 and 102, Republican-sponsored measures that weakened teacher tenure.
Reports say Stapleton also has announced the recent disclosure of an independent $40,000 SuperPAC contribution from Parents And Teachers For Putting Students First, a group linked to the controversial "anti-union" and "pro-charter" education advocate Michelle Rhee.
According to Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics, the SuperPAC money could benefit Stapleton if used effectively, but could also hurt her campaign, if it rallies teachers and their supporters against her.
"$40,000 in a race like that could be a game changer," he said.
Gongwer News Service reports that the UAW has dropped its joint endorsement of Stapleton and Tlaib, and is instead only backing Ms. Tlaib, in response to the group's support of Stapleton.
Rep. Stapleton did not respond to multiple requests for an interview with The Huffington Post.
Find out more about some of Michigan's most contentious races below:
Michigan Primary 2012: Politicians On The Line
2012 will go down in history as one of Michigan's most contested primary election seasons. A Republican-led redrawing of voting districts eliminated stronghold Democratic seats and pitted party members against each other. Political careers are on the line in these important races for Michiganders voting on Tuesday, August 7.
13th District: John Conyers, D-Detroit
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, 83, is in the fight of his political life. The co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus is running against a crowded field in the new 13th Congressional District, which is now about 40 percent white. He may also be weakened by the scandal caused by his wife, Monica Conyers, still in federal prison after accepting bribes as a member of Detroit City Council. Can Conyers hang on for a 24th term? Caption: Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, attends a congressional round-table on college sports, offering their perspectives on current state of NCAA athletics, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
13th District: Glenn Anderson, D-Westland
The new 13th Congressional District's voting population includes residents from the Pointes, Detroit's East Side, and Downriver communities like River Rouge and Wyandotte. Conyers' fiercest opponent is Glenn Anderson, a former Ford employee with six years' experience in the state Senate. He says he supports urban policies like funding public transportation, improving broadband access across Detroit and working with banks to renegotiate mortgages in troubled neighborhoods.
14th District: Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Twp.
Rather than unsettle fellow Democrat Sander Levin following Michigan's new redistricting, two-term Representative Gary Peters declared his candidacy in the 14th. Long the frontrunner of the election, Peters' veritable scroll of endorsements runs the gamut, from Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper to the Detroit Regional Chamber to the Black Slate. He also leads his race in campaign fundraising for 2012.
14th District: Hanson Clarke, D-Detroit
Like opponent Gary Peters, freshman U.S. Representative Hanson Clarke jumped to the 14th in 2012, when new district lines would have pitted him against John Conyers. Clarke has made headlines by sponsoring a bill calling for student loan forgiveness, taking Fannie Mae to task over local mortgage disputes and even badgering President Obama to direct federal aid to Detroit. Yet those populist initiatives still haven't resonated with the 14th's voters, who are polling strongly for Peters. Caption: US Representative Hansen Clarke, Democrat of Michigan, speaks on June 24, 2011 during an interview with Agence France-Presse.
Michigan Senate: Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland
Pete Hoekstra's notoriety may help him clinch the Republican nomination to challenge Debbie Stabenow's Senate seat in November. Hoekstra's taken some hits this year for raking in lobbyist fees and airing a racially-charged campaign ad during the Super Bowl. And his bid for governor in 2010 didn't go far. Good pub or bad, all those things have helped make Hoekstra the only truly statewide name stepping up to challenge Stabenow. Caption: In this June 28, 2010 photo then U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra is shown in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Michigan Senate: Clark Durant, R-Grosse Pointe Farms
Cornerstone Schools CEO Clark Durant has created a successful, profitable charter education model in the city of Detroit. Perhaps it was too successful for Durant-- his $500,000 salary raised eyebrows during the campaign. And while Durant touts himself as the "Rebel With A Cause," his core issues don't stray too far from the traditional Republican platform. He still trails Hoekstra in the Republican primary.
11th District: Kerry Bentivolio, R-Milford
Teacher, veteran, Reagan enthusiast and.. reindeer farmer! There are no shortage of twists in the 11th District this year. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter suddenly resigned his seat a few weeks after it was revealed that he had turned in far fewer valid signatures than required to secure a spot in the primary election. Kerry Bentivolio, who had already entered the primary, was left as the heir apparent of the 11th District. Bentivolio doesn't have support of the state's GOP heads -- but he HAS secured the endorsement of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
11th District: Former Rep. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi
Nancy Cassis hadn't planned to run against Rep. Thaddeus McCotter. But when McCotter dropped out, leaving the 11th District with a political newbie, reindeer farmer Kerry Bentivolio, as the only Republican primary candidate, Cassis began to campaign as a write-in choice. Unbelievably, the former state representative is currently leading Bentivolio in the polls. It's reported that she has the support of the Michigan GOP party. And both Bentivolio and Cassis are running as candidates in the special Sept. 5 election to fill the last three months of McCotter's seat. The price tag for the election? A cool $650,000. Caption: This undated photo released by the congressional campaign of Nancy Cassis shows Cassis, a Republican from Novi, Mich. She is running as a write-in candidate for the U.S. House seat that was held by U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Livonia, until his resignation earlier in July, 2012.
6th District: Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit
Rep. Rashida Tlaib is facing not just an opponent, but a friend in the battle over voters within the new lines of the 6th District representative's seat. She's made her name in Detroit voicing the concerns of Southwest Detroiters caught in the bridge battle between Gov. Rick Snyder and billionaire Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. Tlaib, the daughter of two Palestinian immigrants, is the first Muslim-American woman to be elected to the Michigan legislature. However, she currently represents less than 40% of the district's total population.
6th District: Rep. Maureen Stapleton, D-Detroit
While Rep. Maureen Stapleton only has one term of experience, she's had almost two decades experience working in the city governments of Indianapolis and Detroit. This District 4 incumbent has taken Tlaib to task for opposing municipal lighting authorities to keep streetlights on -- Tlaib says she wants LED lights and guarantees that the money will be spent wisely. Stapleton's advantage may be that the new 6th District has gained a significant African-American population. Politicos say this will be one of the closest statehouse races in Metro Detroit.
Flickr Photo by kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop)
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that Rep. Stapleton's campaign had accepted funds from the Parents And Teachers For Putting Students First SuperPAC.