June 06, 2012 - Since 1984, Independence Township hasn't elected a Democrat, and of the 20 candidates running this year, there are only three of them. Trustee-hopefuls Kevin Bushroe, Jeremy Mitchell, and Joe Wauldron may all have the same "D" beside their name, but they don't all share the same perspectives.
Kevin Bushroe and Jeremy Mitchell (right) will be on the ballot for trustee. (click for larger version)
Joe Wauldron is running as a Democrat. Photos by Mary Keck (click for larger version)
Kevin Bushroe is "passionate about being a Democrat" and says as a trustee he'll operate with "one guiding principal: every decision I make will increase the township's property values."
Bushroe believes the recent "drop in property values puts quite a bit of strain on the treasurer and trying to balance our budget," and the township needs "to prepare for ups and downs" by diversifying their tax base.
Bushroe plans to draw from his experience as an account manager if he's elected, and doesn't feel there are many differences between political parties at the local level.
"Whether you pave a road or not doesn't depend on whether you're a Democrat or a Republican," he said.
Jeremy Mitchell thinks Democrats and Republicans are "just like an old married couple, and America is the car. We both hate the way the other drives when they're behind the wheel, but we both realize we should both have a say in the direction the car goes."
From his perspective, the township would benefit from having a larger variety of voices.
"We come to a better conclusion when all points of view are expressed," he said.
He thinks township government could improve in other ways, too. In his opinion, "Citizen outreach could be a bit better." Because most members of the community never make it to a board meeting, Mitchell feels sending out email updates would help residents keep up.
Mitchell also has other ideas such as a "township government summer internship program, which would allow students to learn and work in township government."
If elected, Mitchell will use the know-how he's gained as a member of the Clarkston Historical Society and Clinton River Watershed Council to guide him.
Unlike Mitchell and Bushroe, Joe Wauldron isn't quite as comfortable with the Democrat label. In fact, he wanted to run as an Independent, but could only choose between Republican and Democrat when he filled out his paperwork. Although Wauldron was born into a long line of Democrats he said, "I won't necessarily vote the way of the party. I vote for the person or the issue."
Wauldron believes his regular involvement in the community is evidence of the commitment he would have if elected to the board. He's been president of Clarkston Area Youth Assistance and is a member of the Rotary and Optimist clubs. He's currently the president of the Clarkston Center for the Performing Arts and serves on the township's Planning Commission.
To strengthen governance, Wauldron would "like to see meetings cut down to two hours" and believes "there's too much talking." He says some questions could be answered outside of the meetings, and there are too many argumentative items on the agenda.
On the other hand, Wauldron feels some trustees like Neil Wallace and David Lohmeier are doing fine work, which is where he parts ways with his fellow Democrats.
Jeremy Mitchell disagrees with Dave Lohmeier when it comes to lowering the pay of the supervisor. He also feels like "Trustee Lohmeier believes the township should be run as a corporation or business. That's one area where democrats and republican disagree." Kevin Bushroe concurs; the township is "not a for-profit business," he said.
Wauldron, Mitchell, and Bushroe describe Democrats as less business-oriented but more citizen-interested.
"Democrats have always been for the people," Joe Wauldron said.
Democrats' ability to get their message to the people hasn't always been so challenging. It's only been in the last 30 years that Republicans have dominated the board.
In 1974, The Clarkston News reported the election of "three full-time Democrat officials and four Republican trustees, whose positions are part time." After a few years, the board wouldn't be split so evenly.
A 1980 headline in CNews stated, "[Fred] Ritter Lone Democrat on Board."
Four years later, the CNews reported, "Independence Township voters followed national trends last night and sent local government rolling in the wake of Republican victories."
The 1984 election marked the end of Democrat participation in township government. Ritter, the last Democrat to successfully run for office in Independence Township, believes Clarkston "has changed dramatically since the early 80s. It is more affluent and more Republican."
Although they may be outnumbered by Republicans on the ballot, Democrats Jeremy Mitchell and Kevin Bushroe don't feel like they're alone.
"I think it's false to think that Independence is only a Republican township," Bushroe said. "A lot of your neighbors are Democrats."
The upcoming November election will reveal whether or not a Democrat can win in Independence Township, and for some, the party options make the race more interesting.
"We haven't seen an opposed race in November in years. It's going to be exciting," said Ritter, former treasurer. "I hope that these guys have the community's interest at heart, no matter who is elected."
Clarkston News reporter