Michigan's Secretary of State Office must find itself with an identity crisis at times. On one hand, it serves the somewhat mundane function of renewing drivers licences, license plates, registration tags, etc.. On the other hand, it serves the very critical role of overseeing Michigan's election laws & ensuring everyone has access to a voting booth on election day.
When it comes to electing someone to run this office, however, it isn't the voting rights issue that usually comes front and center, it's the ongoing issue of why the lines are so long at the branch offices, and why, in the year 2010, I still can't pay with my credit card once I get to the front of that line.
So be it. Voters tend to react to what annoys them most. But the reality is that with obscene amounts of money being poured into elections today from untold sources of funding, it is more important than ever that we have someone in the Secretary of State's office that understands the importance of voting access and campaign accountability. Lucky for us, we actually have that candidate running for Secretary of State this year in Jocelyn Benson.
The Secretary of State office is a high prize for an aspiring politician. It gives the office holder statewide name recognition and can be a good springboard to a higher office. Candice Miller was elected to Congress after serving as SOS, and the current office holder, Terri Lynn Land, "explored the possibility" of running for Governor this year, only to instead sign on as Mike Bouchard's running mate in his ill-fated campaign for the job. Ruth Johnson, the Republican nominee for SOS this year, fits with that mold perfectly. She served in the state legislature until being term limited out in 2004 at which time she ran for Oakland County Clerk, and was then selected as Dick DeVos' running mate in the 2006 Gubernatorial elections.
Savvy political experience? Maybe. Fit for the job? Maybe not. The Secretary of State office is perhaps the one office in Michigan that, more than any other, does NOT need a "career politician" at the helm. Instead, it needs someone that puts voters ahead of special interests, and campaign laws ahead of campaign results.
Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic nominee, is seemingly the ideal candidate for this job. She even wrote a book about the importance of the job! She's been an Elections Law professor at Wayne State, was the Voting Rights Policy Coordinator of the Harvard Civil Rights Project (where she helped work on the passage of the Help America Vote Act in response to the mess that was the 2000 presidential election), and has fought for voting access rights throughout her career.
If you were simply hiring someone for this job, and had both candidates' resumes sitting in front of you, there's seemingly little question about which one you would hire. Even beyond their histories, however, their actions during this campaign speak volumes about their motivations for running for this office in the first place.
While Benson has called for comprehensive campaign finance reform at the state level and voluntarily released her personal finances, Johnson has refused to do so. Michigan is one of only 3 states that doesn't require public officials to file personal finance statements, and Johnson is apparently ok with that lack of transparency.
Further, if you look at Johnson's website, you'll find little to no information about what she would do as Secretary of State, only generic Republican talking points including her campaign motto: "Pro Life, Pro Family, Pro Constitution".. Very helpful, thanks Ruth.
Benson's website, in contrast, has an overload of information on her positions ranging from the SOS Branch Offices (she's promising credit card acceptance!) to election integrity to campaign finance reform. You know, the stuff that someone should actually know something about going into this job.
Benson's biggest obstacle this election will likely be the general anti-Democrat feeling heading into the voting booth and a relatively weak candidate at the top of the ticket (Bernero's poll numbers aren't looking too good). This is why it is critically important that voters, whether they be Democratic, Republican, or Independent, share information about this race with others to show the real differences between the two candidates.
Tell Republican friends to avoid voting straight ticket. Tell Democratic friends to show up and vote, even if they think other races are a lost cause! Benson can win this race, but she will need the help of Michigan voters who believe that fair elections and honest campaigning are more important that partisan battles.
So let's help Save our Secretary of State Office by voting for Jocelyn Benson!