Nessel, Benson claim wins in races for Mich. AG, secretary of state
Female Democrats have risen to two of Michigan’s top offices: Secretary of state and attorney general, according to unofficial results from Tuesday’s election.
Dana Nessel won her bid over her opponent, Republican Tom Leonard, to replace term-limited Attorney General Bill Schuette. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the Plymouth Township attorney had 48.8 percent of the vote compared to the DeWitt House speaker’s 46.5 percent.
In another statewide race, Jocelyn Benson defeated GOP opponent Mary Treder Lang to replace outgoing Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. She was leading 52.6 percent to Treder Lang’s 44.2 percent, according to the Associated Press on Wednesday.
Nessel took to Twitter on Wednesday to acknowledge her win. “Tom, you ran a great race. It has been an honor to run against you these last 4 months,” she said. “To all of my supporters, thank you. We made our dream a reality. I’m ready to do the work.”
Wednesday morning, Leonard conceded the race, saying the former Wayne County prosecutor and defense lawyer “ran a smart campaign and earned the voters’ trust.”
She is best known for defending lesbian couple April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, whose case helped to topple the gay marriage ban in Michigan and other states.
Nessel has pledged to address water contamination issues, protect affordable health care and focus on consumer protections, earning union and environmentalist group backing.
Her victory encouraged LGBTQ activists.
“Dana has shattered a lavender ceiling in Michigan and achieved what only one other openly LGBTQ person ever has — being elected attorney general of her state,” said Mayor Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund. “Dana’s struggles and experiences as an openly lesbian woman has forged in her a commitment to fairness and equal rights — and her tremendous passion and energy for uplifting those values will be invaluable in the attorney general’s office.”
Trevor Thomas, Equality Michigan Action Network board chair, said: “It’s been decades since Michigan’s LGBT community had an advocate in the attorney general’s office. To have not just an ally, but a fighter who truly gets it, who lives it, means so much.”
Schuette said Wednesday he directed his staff to reach out to Nessel. “My staff and the entire department are committed to establishing a smooth and effective transition," he said in a statement.
Nessel is a former Wayne County prosecutor and defense attorney. She spent 11 years in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office until she moved into private practice, where she handled indigent defense, probate law and cases related pertaining to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
She helped start the Fair Michigan Justice Project, a task force that specializes in and trains other prosecutors in addressing hate crimes against the community.
Benson, the 40-year-old former dean of the Wayne State Law School who lives in Detroit, campaigned on a 30-minute guarantee, promising to get residents in and out of the Secretary of State Office in less than a half hour. This is Benson’s second time running for the position, which she lost to Johnson in 2010.
Reached Wednesday night, Benson said her first order of business in preparing for the role was working to implement the half-hour service pledge. “I take seriously the need to improve that and work with our branch employees to get there,” she said.
Benson also said she plans to build a diverse team, map out her legislative agenda and explore ways to enlist experts to implement security provisions as well as administer successful Proposals 2 and 3, which will create a citizens redistricting commission and expand voters’ rights.
“I’m going to work hard to make (supporters) proud and demonstrate that leadership should and can be about bringing people together from both sides,” she said.
Treder Lang said in a statement Wednesday: “Early this morning I called to congratulate Jocelyn Benson on her election as Michigan’s next Secretary of State. I am humbled to have met and earned the support of so many Michigan families, and am grateful for the team around me who worked so hard over the course of the campaign.”
Staff Writer Jennifer Chambers contributed.