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Democrats roll to control of MSU, UM, WSU boards

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Candidates for the MSU Board of Trustees, from left: Mike Miller, Dave Dutch, Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott.

Democrats were poised to hold majorities on Michigan education boards, apparently clinching seats on the state's Big Three public universities and theMichigan Board of Education.

Wins would give Democrats majorities on the governing boards of Michigan State University and the state Education board, and amp up their majorities at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

Democratic candidates ousted two longtime Republicans at UM, two GOP incumbents at Wayne State and on the state education board, unofficial election results showed Wednesday. Meanwhile, Democratic candidates were elected to the two open seats at MSU as it works to create a new culture after the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. 

Long-running UM Regent Andrea Fischer Newman conceded early Wednesday after what appeared to be a razor-thin loss. She expressed her gratitude to voters for allowing her to serve for 24 years.

"Together, we fought to keep tuition low and standards high," wrote Newman, first elected in 1994. "We grew the campus. We grew aspirations and opportunities for both students and faculty ... I leave the university knowing it will continue to prosper ... My heart will always be in Ann Arbor."

Only Wayne County had not reported results to the Michigan Secretary of State, but incorporating Wayne's unofficial totals suggests Democratic victories at MSU and UM.

The Democratic wins of Brianna Scott and Kelley Tebay in the closely watched race of the MSU Board of Trustees gave hope to some that culture change is on the horizon after the Nassar sex abuse scandal.

Unofficial counts of Wayne County combined with the Secretary of State vote totals showed that Scott of Muskegon and Tebay of Pittsfield Township won with 1,801,747 votes and 1,728,323 votes, or 25.7 and 24.7 percent, respectively. Republican Mike Miller of Okemos garnered 1,517,739 votes, while Republican business executive Dave Dutch of Traverse City captured 1,485,226 votes, meaning they had garnered 21.7 and 21.2 percent of the vote, respectively. 

"To all of you Voters and Supporters of Brianna Scott 4 MSU, I say thank you for sharing your stories and hope for a better Michigan with me and giving me the opportunity to do my part as a Trustee of Michigan State University!," Scott said in a statement Wednesday morning. "I look forward to serving and restoring the trust, integrity and pride back to MSU."

Tebay said she was humbled that voters chose her to represent them.

"I am looking forward to getting in there and working with students, faculty and staff," Tebay said. "We have a lot of work to do as a community and I am looking forward to being part of it."

Morgan McCaul, one of Nassar's hundreds of accusers, said she looks forward to a new future at MSU.

"For years, my sister survivors and I have been calling for a radical change in the structure and culture of the MSU Board of Trustees," McCaul said. "I’m ecstatic that the candidates who enthusiastically support the Reclaim MSU policy proposals will be representing students and faculty for years to come."

The state's largest university has been embroiled in controversy this year, with its response to Nassar's crimes prompting the resignation of top officials, including former president Lou Anna Simon and former athletic director Mark Hollis.

The university's handling of allegations against Nassar also led some to call for the resignation of the entire Board of Trustees, while others unsuccessfully called for the ouster of Interim President John Engler, a Republican former governor.

The leading trustee candidates all seemed to agree that keeping tuition affordable, selecting the right person as president and restoring trust in MSU's leadership are key issues in the wake of Nassar, who sexually assaulted hundreds of women over two decades while employed as a sports doctor at the university.

The board was split between four Democrats and four Republicans, butChairman Brian Breslin and Trustee Mitch Lyons, both Republicans, did not seek re-election.

Democrats will now have the majority, 6-2. 

In the UM race, Democratic newcomers Jordan Acker, an attorney, and Democrat Paul Brown, a UM adjunct professor, ousted Newman and longtime Republican Regent Andrew Richner in a tight race.

Combined vote totals of the Secretary of State and Wayne County showed that Acker and Brown secured 1,738,962 and 1,649,171 votes, or 25.2 and 23.9 percent of the vote, respectively. Meanwhile, Newman garnered 1,592,478 votes, or 23 percent, while Richner got 1,463,851 votes or 21.2 percent.

Brown, who grew up in Northern Michigan, said he admired the work that Richner and Newman did over the years, but added that voters wanted a change and he is pleased to be the only regent representative of a community north of Flint.

Brown also said he wants to make UM more diverse and open to more of the state's high school graduates.

He said UM has become a "wealthy white school," with more than half of the students enrolled coming from outside of Michigan.

"We need to educate students from all over our the state," said Brown. "Students from every community need to have an opportunity to go to get an education here."

Acker also thanked Newman and Richner for their service and said he was looking forward to the future.

“I am honored and humbled to be the first regent elected who graduated in the 21st century," said Acker. "We have a lot of work to do, and I look forward to getting started in January. "

Richner, first elected in 2002, said that serving as a UM regent for for 16 years has been "an honor and a privilege of the greatest magnitude." 

"The University of Michigan is a special place, made that way by the extraordinarily talented people who are part of the University community," he said.  "I share their love and passion for our University.  While my service as a regent will be ending, my commitment to, and support for, the University’s success will never end." 

Democrats will now have a 7-1 majority on the UM Board of Regents.

For two seats at Wayne State University, unofficial election results show Democratic newcomers Bryan Barnhill and and Anil Kumar of Bloomfield Hills clinched the race with 1,704,460 and 1,576,474 votes, 25.6 and 23.5 percent, respectively. They ousted the incumbent Republican governors Diane Dunaskiss of Lake Orion and David Nicholson of Grosse Pointe with 1,534,195 and 1,440,692 votes, 23 and 21.6 percent, respectively.

Democrats will now have a 7-1 majority at Wayne State. The lone Republican on the WSU Board of Governors will be Michael Busuito.

In the race for two seats on the State Board of Education, Democrat Judy Pritchett, former Center Line superintendent, and Tiffany Tilley, a Southfield Democratic activist, garnered 1,805,054 and 1,719,079 votes, respectively. Meanwhile, Republican accountant Tami Carlone and Republican board member Richard Zeile of Dearborn received 1,592,605 and 1,457,206 votes, respectively.

In the MSU race, Tebay, 31, said she ran because she's a recent graduate who's far removed from the university, should sit on the board. She works in development for United Way for Southeastern Michigan in Detroit.

The Democrat's bid for a trustee seat is also personal. Tebay said she was sexually assaulted on campus. She said the university failed to show compassion to the victims of Nassar and admit mistakes were made at the height of the scandal. She hopes to change the distrust in the board by making it more accountable, accessible and transparent.

Miller, 70, said he decided to run for trustee because he has been an East Lansing resident his entire life and a supporter of the university. He retired from running the orthopedic business he started in Holt. 

It was also personal for him, too. His daughter, who doesn't want to be identified with the Nassar crisis, was a competitive gymnast and recruited to play volleyball at MSU and was treated by Nassar. Miller said he knew all of her friends, who were also treated by Nassar.

Scott, a lawyer based in Muskegon and the other Democratic nominee, said she was running because so many people in the MSU community supported her through graduation after she got pregnant at age 20 during her junior year. Many also encouraged her to go on to law school at Wayne State University, she said, something she might not have done without their nudging.

She emphasized her 18 years practicing law, including three years as a prosecutor in Muskegon County. Plus, she noted that she is the only African-American woman running and would represent a new point of view on the board.

Scott, 43, said the top issue is selecting the right leader to be president. College affordability is also critical, Scott said, because tuition hikes are putting college out of reach.

Dutch said he ran because he's been on boards and understands billion-dollar budgets and organizations.

Now semi-retired at age 53 after being a business executive, Dutch was born and raised in East Lansing. His family has worked at and attended the university for decades, with his father working for 52 years as a personnel administrator. His parents met there, and seven of his 10 siblings attended MSU.