2024 is here, and election season will be upon us this fall. You might be thinking about (or avoiding the thought of) the upcoming presidential election. But remember: State and local politics can be just as juicy. There are many twists and turns ahead this year, including the departure of a big-name senator and a big last name that’s being resurrected in a bid for Oakland County executive. Unions are organizing; there are efforts to decriminalize a long-illicit substance and an initiative that would change elections as we know them. And how could a 2024 predictions column be complete without talking about the Lions’ chances in the postseason? For the fifth year in a row, we spoke with experts around Michigan to make sense of it all.
Can David Coulter be defeated by A Patterson? It’s Unlikely.
L. Brooks Patterson, the late Oakland County executive, was an outspoken fiscal conservative who famously delighted in bashing the city of Detroit.
In contrast, his Democratic successor, David Coulter, favors regional cooperation. Since his 2019 appointment and subsequent election in 2020, Coulter has championed the expansion of Oakland County’s public transit options and promoted a state-funded investment project in downtown Pontiac. Yet the county has maintained the AAA bond rating first achieved under Patterson in 1998.
In July 2023, Mary Margaret Patterson announced she was running for her late father’s position. She’s been critical of Coulter’s Pontiac project and believes municipalities should individually vote on whether they want to pay certain taxes (like the 2022 countywide SMART millage, for instance). A former teacher and business owner, she’s never held a political position.
“The difficulty for her is going to be her inexperience as a campaigner, and Coulter has the advantage of incumbency,” says David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University.
1992, when Brooks Patterson took office, was the last year to date that Oakland County voted red in the presidential race — but he would go on to win six more times in his near 30-year reign. Does the Patterson name have the same crossover appeal in 2024?
“There are a lot of voters in the region that look back on her father’s leadership very fondly. And I think there’s a sentiment that things ran a lot better when he was county exec,” says Jason Cabel Roe, former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party. “I do think that the changing demographics of Oakland County are fueled by younger and immigrant voters that don’t have the same attachment to Brooks Patterson that some of the older voters do. I think Coulter will take advantage of that.”
Will Michigan back a national popular vote? Maybe.
Five U.S. presidents have won the election and lost the popular vote, the two most recent being George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. A growing number of states are trying to take things in a more democratic direction by entering the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, in which participating states agree to award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote.
As of November 2023, national popular vote legislation had passed in 16 states and Washington, D.C., amounting to a collective 205 electoral votes out of 538 total.
Last June, members of Michigan’s majority-Democratic House Elections Committee approved Bills 4156 and 4440, which would allow Michigan to join the compact. Will the bills make it any further?
“I’m not sure if there is the appetite from citizens or the political muscle behind that initiative to make it happen,” says Lansing-based Democratic consultant Adrian Hemond. “It’s not a top-of-the-list issue for most people.”
Additionally, even if Michigan and other states enter the compact, Dulio says there could be more obstacles. That’s because the U.S. Constitution places responsibility on the state legislatures to dictate how electoral votes are distributed.
“This would not be through an action of the state Legislature — it would be through a vote of the people, which is arguably more democratic,” Dulio says. “I think there are constitutional questions about how it would be adopted. There are going to be opponents that would sue based on the constitutionality of an interstate compact.”
How many of our local sports teams will make it to the postseason? Three.
Almost anything would be better than 2023, when only one Detroit sports team, Detroit City Football Club, made it past the regular season — and only by the skin of its teeth. This year, our experts are expecting more, beyond the Lions, who at press time were 9-3 and closing in on a playoff berth.
Ryan Ermanni, a reporter and anchor for Fox 2 Detroit and a co-host on the Woodward Sports Network on YouTube, predicts the other teams making it past the regular season will be the Red Wings and the Tigers. Nolan Bianchi, a staff writer for The Detroit News covering sports, picks The Red Wings and DCFC.
“The Red Wings have supplemented their youth with a solid veteran cast, and the Tigers appear to sensibly be doing the same, while playing in a stinky division,” Bianchi says. “At least one of those teams will hang on and do the dang thing.”
He goes with the Wings over the Tigers because “it’s easier to make the NHL playoffs.” Ermanni says of the Tigers, “They will be a better team [than last year], and they play in one of the worst divisions in baseball.” Both men agree that the Pistons are not contenders. “They are doomed,” Bianchi says.
But back to the good news. How about those Lions? Will they make it to the Super Bowl?
“There’s nothing this team could do that would surprise me,” Bianchi says. “They’re just a regular smart, physical, contending football team that’s dynamic on offense and can stop the run on defense — which means they have as good a shot as any other top seed to go all the way.” Ermanni says: “I think they will make it to the Super Bowl! Yes, don’t rub your eyes — you read that correctly! Call me crazy, but why not!”
Will we see even more union activity in Michigan this year? Definitely.
2023 was a big year for unions in Detroit and beyond. In November, the United Auto Workers members voted to approve contracts with General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis that included wage increases and additional benefits for the first time in over 20 years.
“Clearly the UAW is going to step up its organizing activities [in 2024], but a lot of those activities will be focused in areas outside the state,” says labor expert Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University.
On the heels of its historic wins, the UAW announced plans to expand its ranks at nonunion automakers. The announcement had a preemptive impact: Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai all announced wage increases shortly after the UAW reached its first tentative agreement with GM.
At the time of publication, the Detroit casino workers’ strike had freshly ended after 47 days. MGM Grand Casino workers represented by the Detroit Casino Council voted to ratify a new five-year contract that included historic pay increases and more job protections. Union workers at Motor-City Casino and Hollywood Casino at Greektown approved their contracts two weeks prior.
“We’ve said all alonƒg, this is not just the Big Three,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a Nov. 8, 2023, Facebook livestream, referring to other unions. “Though our industries might be very different, our issues are the same. They are the issues of the working class. These members are using the working class’s most powerful weapon — the strike — to take on the most powerful opponents of economic justice: the billionaire class.”
In the wake of notable victories, there maybe more union activity in metro Detroit “parallel to the level of contract expirations you have,” Masters says. The repeal of Michigan’s “right-to-work” law goes into effect this February. For over a decade, the law weakened unions by allowing employees in unionized workforces to forgo paying union dues.
“I think unions are making an effort across the board to be more successful and organizing workers,” Masters says. “I would expect that you would see an increase in organizing activity as you have in the past couple of years, at least based on certification elections and other indicators of unions making a stronger effort to organize.”
Who will take Debbie Stabenow’s place in the Senate? Who Knows?
A year ago, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced she would not be seeking reelection in 2024 for a seat she’s held since 2001. Subsequently, several notable candidates have jumped into the race.
When it comes to the Democratic primary winner, the experts Hour Detroit spoke with seem to agree on one person: Elissa Slotkin, the centrist, ex-CIA House rep who was the first Democrat elected to Michigan’s 8th District since 2001 (due to congressional redistricting, she now represents the 7th District).
“She can raise money like nobody else in Michigan, it seems, and she’s proven to be a tough campaigner,” Dulio says.
Other Democratic hopefuls include Hill Harper, an actor and lawyer who has positioned himself as a progressive, supporting issues like universal health care and a ceasefire in Gaza. Harper received an endorsement from Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.
The Republican primary is murkier. Hemond thinks former Detroit Police Chief James Craig has the best chance of securing former President Donald Trump’s endorsement.
“He’s never said anything mean about Donald Trump, which means he’ll get the endorsement,” Hemond says. However, Craig disappointed his supporters in his 2022 gubernatorial bid — he was disqualified because he didn’t have enough valid signatures to get on the ballot (instead, his nominating petition contained thousands of forged signatures).
Moderate Peter Meijer announced his candidacy last November. He voted to impeach Trump when he was U.S. representative for Michigan’s 3rd District.
“I don’t understand the theory of the case,” Hemond says. “There’s already a non-Trumpy candidate in the primary in the form of Mike Rogers.”
Rogers is a former mid-Michigan congressman and former FBI agent who has been Trump-critical in the past but has made efforts to appeal to Trump supporters in his current bid for senator. Roe says Rogers’ past criticisms were “mild” compared with Meijer’s impeachment vote.
“I don’t know that they rise to the level that it is going to repel Trump loyalists from his candidacy,” Roe says. “Having served in a swing congressional seat for many years, he knows how to win tough races.”
Will psilocybin mushrooms be decriminalized across Michigan? No.
A few politicians and activists have made efforts to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms and other naturally occurring psychedelics at the state level. This endeavor includes a group gathering signatures for a ballot proposal this November, as well as Senate Bill 449, introduced by state Sen. Jeff Irwin, a Democrat from Ann Arbor. The bill was still in committee at the time of publication.
Luke Londo is mayor pro tempore of Hazel Park, where mushrooms were decriminalized last September, along with other entheogens — naturally occurring psychedelic substances like ayahuasca and the peyote cactus, which have historically been used in spiritual or ritualistic contexts.
Londo champions their decriminalization and favors legalization as well. He has a rare position for an elected official; he’s open about his use of psilocybin mushrooms, which he says have helped treat his depression and anxiety.
Although it’s near and dear to him, he doubts the issue will make it to the House floor or the ballot in 2024. He says entheogens lack the “charm offensive” backed by monied interests that cannabis — first legalized for medical use in 2008 and subsequently for recreational purposes in 2018 — had.
“[They were] able to move the needle by introducing it lightly through medical. And then people were able to understand that it wasn’t this massive bogeyman that they’ve been telling us it was for the last multiple decades,” Londo says.
And it should be noted that cannabis dispensaries aren’t popular everywhere in metro Detroit — last November, Birmingham, Grosse Pointe Park, Rochester, and Keego Harbor all shot down proposals to allow recreational sales within their city limits. Londo says there’s even more stigma attached to psilocybin mushrooms.
“You would need to run a solid informational campaign, showcase the studies showing the massive benefits for not only medical use but spiritual use,” Londo says. “While I genuinely don’t believe that we’re going to see entheogens or psilocybin decriminalized next year, I could not hope more that I am completely wrong.”
This story is from the January 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.