Transgender bathrooms early focus of Michigan race

Detroit News staff

Transgender bathroom policies will not be on the Michigan ballot this fall, but the debate may be a major factor in the State Board of Education race.

Republican nominee Tom McMillin, a former legislator from Rochester Hills, made clear Saturday that he will target Democratic board President John Austin for supporting still-unfinished and optional recommendations that public schools allow bathroom use consistent with a student’s gender identity.

In a statement released just hours after the GOP nominating convention, McMillin suggested Austin is trying to “force schools across Michigan to allow boys to go into girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms,” calling it a “bizarre agenda” he believes voters will reject in November.

Austin, perhaps anticipating the attacks, spoke in broad terms about acceptance and diversity on Saturday as he accepted a spot on the ballot during the Democratic nominating convention and spoke at an annual gay pride rally outside the Michigan Capitol.

“We must work together to reject those who want to sew hate and fear of people who are different among us,” Austin told supporters. “…We have to be the most inclusive state, where all people are celebrated and educated, and we can’t let the haters win.”

Austin and McMillin will be joined on the ballot by Democrat Ismael Ahmed of Novi, Republican NicoletteSnyder of Whitmore Lake and several third-party candidates competing for the two Board of Education positions.

‘Walking while black’ call disputed

State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo said Friday police briefly questioned her and others campaigning for a fellow House candidate in predominantly white St. Joseph Township, saying she suspected a resident had called the police on them for “walking while black.”

“The area we were in ... there was a little tension,” Gay-Dagnogo told The Detroit News that evening. “Some people were very receptive, and some people were like, what are you doing here?”

The group continued to canvass the southwest Michigan district after explaining their purpose to a responding officer and sheriff, she said, calling the situation more surprising than humiliating.

But St. Joseph Township Police Chief Ross E. Bates on Monday denied any race-related implications.

“It was a black man that called us,” Bates said. “We know the individual. He stated he thought they weren’t allowed to go door-to-door to solicit. We got called, checked it out and that was the end of it.”

The group was campaigning for Democratic Berrien County Commissioner Marla Seats of Benton Harbor, who is running for an open state House seat against Republican teacher Kim LaSata of St. Joseph.

Upton wades into EpiPen tiff

Chairman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and other members of the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee wrote to the Food and Drug Administration this week to raise concerns about the lack of generic drug competition to the EpiPen – the price of which has soared from $100 to more than $600 in recent years.

Upton and his colleagues asked FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf to address a series of questions about the generic drug approval process and agency policies.

The committee in 2012 passed a bill aiming in part to clear the backlog at the agency of applications for generic drug approval and, thus, ultimately lower the cost of prescription drugs by promoting competition.

“EpiPens are a critical and often only option for saving kids from the brink of death during severe allergic reactions. And the soaring costs that patients are now facing for EpiPen Auto-Injectors is cause for alarm,” Upton said last week.

Upton’s challenger, Democrat Paul Clements, has seized on the issue to criticize Upton for not doing more to reduce prescription drug costs.

“This week’s EpiPen controversy is only the tip of the iceberg,” Clements said in a Facebook post.

He called on Congress to allow Medicare officials to negotiate prices with drug companies, allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from trusted markets such as Canada and boost oversight of drugmakers that “gouge consumers with monopolistic practices.”

Working Class Party recognized

The Board of State Canvassers has officially certified the Working Class Party for the November general election.

The board recently certified the party’s petitions, which has ideological roots in the socialist tradition and labor movement, said Working Class Party member Mary Anne Hering. It turned in more than 50,000 signatures, and got more than the needed 31,566 valid signatures to make the ballot.

Hering, who is running for the State Board of Education, said the party is unlikely to receive support from the state’s major unions, who back mostly Democrats.

But Hering said she’s confident that once people hear its platform, the party’s popularity will grow.

“We have confidence that workers would do a better job of using the budget for what it is that the laboring population needs,” Hering said. “… The mainstream political parties really do not serve the interests of the working class.”

Contributors: Jonathan Oosting, Melissa Nann Burke and Michael Gerstein