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Detroit state Senate seat will stay empty until November

Former Detroit State Senator Bert Johnson.
Bert Johnson
Former Detroit State Senator Bert Johnson.

Voters in one Michigan Senate district will have to wait until November to get a new state senator.

Michigan’s 2nd Senate District covers parts of Detroit and some small bordering communities, including Highland Park, Hamtramck, and the Grosse Pointes.

Bert Johnson has been the district’s state senator since 2010, but resigned earlier this month after pleading guilty to a conspiracy to commit theft charge. He put a “ghost employee” on his Senate payroll after borrowing money he couldn’t pay back.

Gov. Snyder now says that instead of holding a separate special election, voters in Johnson’s district will vote for a replacement concurrent with regularly-scheduled primary and general elections in August and November.

“The timing of this special election gives residents of the 2nd District an appropriate amount of time to research and decide on who their senator should be while reducing the financial burden on taxpayers for the cost,” Snyder said in a statement.

That means voters will choose someone on the special election ballot to immediately fill Johnson’s seat in November — and at the same time, a candidate on the regular election ballot to serve out a normal four-year term starting in January.

That raises the awkward, if unlikely, possibility that voters could choose two different candidates in the special and regular elections, leading to someone serving as state senator for just six weeks between the November general election and the end of the year.

Snyder proposed the same “special election” schedule for the same reasons after former Detroit Congressman John Conyers stepped down in the wake of multiple sexual harassment allegations in December. Some were critical of that decision, because it leaves that Michigan seat in Congress vacant for nearly a year.

Both Michigan’s 13th Congressional District and 2nd Senate District are heavily Democratic, predominantly-African American, where the winner of the August Democratic primary is usually considered a shoo-in in November.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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