GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Big races and strong emotions drove Michigan voters to the polls Tuesday, where they cast ballots to elect Gretchen Whitmer the state’s next governor and pass three proposals.
The big race was the one for the governor’s office, which former state Sen. Whitmer won back for the Democrats. Her lieutenant governor will be Garlin Gilchrist, a former staffer for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
“Wow,” Whitmer said when she addressed supporters at her election night party at Motor City Casino in Detroit. “I guess we’re going to have to fix the damn roads now, right?”
She thanked her supporters and promised to serve all the people of Michigan.
“Early results to appear to be a record turnout, so this victory belongs to you,” Whitmer said. “We may have all gone to the polls for very different reasons, but today, we as Michiganders came out because we all love this state and we want a Michigan that works for every one of us.”
She stressed a message of unity and bipartisanship to reach solutions.
“Now is the time for us to come together and remember that our governor’s office does not belong to any one person or any political party, it belongs to all of us, the people of Michigan,” she said. “We have so many challenges in front of us and now more than ever, we need people on both sides of the aisle to work together in Lansing so we can focus on what really matters, and that’s getting things done that will improve people’s lives right now.”
Among those things were items she had campaigned on: improving water quality, expanding access to affordable health care, cutting automotive insurance rates and fixing the roads.
Whitmer defeated Republican Bill Schuette, the state’s attorney general. In conceding the race, Schuette thanked his family, supporters and running mate Lisa Posthumus Lyons, a former state legislator and the current Kent County clerk. He said he had called Whitmer to offer his best wishes.
.@SchuetteOnDuty: “It was a tough year. Tough political environment. Look across the country. There are a lot of bumps out there and some closes races and races that didn’t go the Republican way.” @WOODTV pic.twitter.com/yPjhLSBMnY— Evan Dean (@_EvanDean) November 7, 2018
Democrat Dana Nessel earned a narrow victory over Republican Tom Leonard, making her the first openly LGBTQ person elected to statewide office in Michigan.
Jocelyn Benson became the first Democrat to win the secretary of state’s office in 28 years.
Michigan voters also passed all three proposals on the ballot. Proposal 1 will legalize the recreational use of marijuana, Proposal 2 will establish an independent commission to draw legislative districts and Proposal 3 will set rules for voting registration, absentee voting and straight-ticket voting.
Under Proposal 1, recreational marijuana will be regulated essentially like alcohol. Users will have to be over 21 and you still won’t be allowed to drive under the influence.
“We’re wasting $90 million a year enforcing a failed policy of marijuana prohibition and polls across the country show that 66 percent of voters want to see marijuana legalized and regulated,” Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the group backing Proposal 1, said before polls closed. “If we don’t get on top of this now with some strong regulations, it’s going to get too far beyond us.”
There were also a number of local issues on West Michigan ballots. In Ottawa County, voters passed a regional enhancement millage for all of the schools included in the intermediate school district. In Kent County, they said yes to a millage to fund early childhood education programs.
The following candidates were elected to the Grand Rapids Board of Education: Kimberley Williams, Kymberlie Davis, Jose Flores, Tony Baker and John Matias.
The race in the U.S. House of Representatives 6th District in southwest Michigan was close, but Republican Rep. Fred Upton ultimately beat Democrat Matt Longjohn to win a 17th term.
“Let’s put these campaigns behind us. Let’s focus on what matters to people here: jobs, the economy, the Great Lakes. The things that we care about and why we want to live in this neck of the woods,” Upton told supporters around 12:30 a.m. at his election night party in St. Joseph. “As I heard on the campaign trail over and over … forget if you have an ‘R ‘or a ‘D’ next to your name: Let’s work it out. Let’s figure out what it is where we can work together to take this poison out of politics and poison out of trying to govern, and really figure out how it is that we can move that car forward.”
He promised he would continue to work for bipartisan solutions to help all of his constituents.
But Lonjohn said he wasn’t ready to call it quits Tuesday night.
“There are still a number of precincts out, precincts with big vote counts in them. There were voting irregularities that the clerks are sorting through and we’re conceding nothing,” he told 24 Hour News 8. “This is too important. Too many people would have suffered too much from what Mr. Upton was willing to do on health care. And they are begging me in this district to concede nothing and we won’t.”
Lonjohn finally conceeded to Upton shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, saying volunteers with his campaign worked until 5 a.m. to ensure all ballots in Allegan and Kalamazoo counties were properly counted.
“None of us left anything undone in our efforts to retire Mr. Upton,” Longjohn said in a statement that also congratulated Upton on his victory.
In the 2nd and 3rd Districts, U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga and Justin Amash both won a fifth term. Huizenga beat Dr. Rob Davidson and Amash beat Cathy Albro. In the 4th District, Rep. John Moolenaar won re-election by defeating Jerry Hilliard. In the 7th District, Republican Rep. Tim Walberg won a sixth term with a win over former state Rep. Gretchen Driskell, Democrat.
All the seats in the U.S. House were up for grabs, and Republicans are expected to lose control there. They should hold the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, overcame a challenge by Republican John James, a former combat pilot. James conceded the race shortly after 11 p.m., thanking the supporters who gave him a late surge in the polls and promising they hadn’t seen the last of him.
In the Michigan Senate 29th District, which had long been held by Republicans, Democrat Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids defeated Republican Chris Afendoulis. That seat is currently held by Republican Sen. Dave Hildenbrand of Lowell, who could not run again due to term limits.
Despite those wins, Republicans will retain control of the state Senate. They have held it for 34 years. They also held on to the state House.
Across the state, voter turnout was the highest of any midterm in 56 years.
As predicted, turnout in Grand Rapids was above 53 percent as of 7:30 p.m., much higher than the 36 percent from the 2014 midterm. Turnout was 63 percent in the 2016 midterm.
>>Online: Grand Rapids voter turnout by precinct
VOTES HAND-COUNTED IN BARRY COUNTY
Barry County had technical problems with the machine that tabulates votes. Attempts to fix the problem failed, so ballots had to be counted by hand. It took crews all night and into Wednesday.
Ottawa County had problem with the website it uses to post results, and Newaygo County had trouble with the election software it uses; both issues were ultimately resolved.
>>App users: Photos of the vote in West Michigan