Michigan US House seat deals with quirky double election
By JEFF KAROUB
DETROIT– A U.S. House district representing Detroit and some surrounding cities has made some major news: First came last year, when longtime Democratic Rep. John Conyers resigned after being accused of groping and sexually harassing women. Then this week, when Rashida Tlaib won the primary election that set her up to become the first female Muslim member of Congress.
Amid the hoopla, however, is a quieter, quirky twist that’s leading to some unexpected questions and late-summer research in Detroit and Washington: Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones won a special primary election — on the same ballot that led to Tlaib’s win — to serve the final two months of Conyers’ term.
Will Jones take what’s essentially a high-profile temp job in the nation’s capital? Will she vacate her council job? Can she even do both? Here’s a look at the issues — and mysteries — of the Case of the Double Detroit Election.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
After Conyers stepped down in December, it fell to Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to call a special election. Snyder set it for this past Tuesday, the date for primary elections statewide.
Critics sued, hoping to get the special election moved up and claiming Snyder had discriminated against black voters. But U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in March said there was no evidence of discrimination. A state lawyer told Goldsmith that an earlier election would be “technically possible” but not “desirable” because of cost and the challenge of getting ballots to military members.
Still, it laid the groundwork for the two side-by-side elections. And different ballot questions led to different results, in part because there were fewer candidates in the special primary election.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
That’s where things get cloudy. Jones hasn’t publicly commented on what she will do, though The Associated Press left messages with her office seeking comment. Among the issues being studied: whether the council and Congress allow for someone to serve both positions simultaneously.
“We are looking at a number of questions that are not the kind you get every day,” Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said in an email. “The election results for the US Congress 13th District race pose some interesting and unusual questions. The Law Department is reviewing these matters.”
U.S. House ethics rules say Jones could not get paid for both jobs simultaneously. The rules also say “a high state office is incompatible with congressional membership,” but doesn’t spell out what constitutes high state office. It also advises a House member considering state or local office to consult with the Ethics Committee “due to the manifest inconsistency of the respective duties of the positions.”
Jonathan Kinloch, chair of the 13th District Democratic Party, said he has spoken with Jones and he understands that she “definitely would love to serve in Congress” — even for short time.
“She is concerned about having that seat remain open. She’s doing everything she can to see if it’s lawful for her to hold both seats,” he said.
HAS THIS HAPPENED BEFORE?
Something similar, anyway. Thad McCotter quit Congress in July 2012, weeks after he didn’t qualify for the summer primary election because of tainted petition signatures. A special primary election was held in September of that year for the suburban Detroit district, and an election for McCotter’s two remaining months was held in November.
WHAT’S ON THE HOUSE AGENDA?
This year’s lame duck, or postelection session, likely will be important. There’s a strong chance President Donald Trump and Congress will leave many decisions about next year’s budget until after the election, including Trump’s demand for money to build his proposed border wall with Mexico. Democrats and some Republicans oppose financing the wall. With that and other budget issues at stake, that means there could be face-offs that would raise the threat of a federal shutdown.
There could also be legislative fallout related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump’s campaign was involved. It’s unclear when Mueller will wrap up his probe.