Say what you may about money in politics — but the reality is, in the absence of serious reform, it remains a pay-to-play game. Lynn Mason, democratic candidate for the 86th House seat in Michigan, knew from the get-go that her ability to grassroots fundraise would be key to her success in unseating two-term incumbent Republican Lisa Posthumus Lyons this November.
When we met over coffee earlier this year, Mason related (without wincing) she anticipated her campaign would need to raise an amount in excess of the annual salary of the position she hopes to attain. True to her word, she recently surprised the media with a campaign finance report that bested her well-heeled opponent’s efforts. Mason raised $84,202 in this election cycle, compared to Lyons’ $70,972. That’s a whopping 19 percent differential — especially notable since her Republican adversary’s campaign finance report is a who’s-who list of big-money special interest contributors. Mason did take-in a sprinkling of union contributions — no surprise there, in light of her being a retired public school teacher and union member, yet the bulk of her contributions came from individual donors.
As a Democratic challenger, her war chest is even more remarkable when compared to other House races across the state. Rich Robinson, of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a non-partisan watchdog organization, crunched the numbers:
Among the 220 House candidates who advance from the August primary to the November general election, 41 had filing waivers which mean they do not intend to raise or spend more than $1,000.
The average amount raised by the 179 primary winners who raised money was $50,223. The average amount raised by the 68 incumbents who won was $67,224. The average amount raised by the 111 winning non-incumbents who raised money was $38,853.
Mason out-raised, by a factor of over two, the average non-incumbent primary victor.
(Update 10-20-14: Mason has now raised over $100,000 for her campaign)
Incumbent Lyons has some expensive long-term political plans of her own. She’s squirreling-away corporate cash for her next big endeavor, no doubt either the Michigan Senate, or some other elected office. She came into this election cycle with a hefty bottom-line, and as of a few weeks ago, was sporting a balance on-hand of $70,751. Combine that with her PAC booty, the Posthumus Lyons Leadership Fund, which boasted $128,820 as of mid-summer, the Republican has amassed a sizable corporate largesse for 2016 — win or lose this November.
However, Mason brings another valuable kind of currency to this race — more important than dollars — her extensive experience in public-sector, community, and union leadership roles handily trumps that of her opponent.
Mason’s no slacker — a native of Belding, she has a Masters in Education from Grand Valley State, went on to a successful 30-year teaching career in Belding Area Schools, where she served as president of the Belding Education Association, and was on the board of directors for the Michigan Education Association and the National Education Association. She is currently serving her fourth term as an Ionia County Commissioner, and is the chair of the Ionia County Democratic Party. Mason additionally leads the Clinton, Eaton, Ingham County Mental Health Substance Abuse Advisory Committee and chairs the Midwest Michigan Rail-Trail Authority.
Opponent Lyons came by her current position as chair of the House Committee on Education with no relevant experience, touting a thin resumé in real estate and a degree in agriculture from MSU. As a GOP legacy of her father, Dick Posthumus, Lyons was appointed to lead the committee after the former chair, Rep. Paul H. Scott (R-51), was drummed out of office in a recall election — financed in large part by the MEA, spurred by their concern over school funding problems under his watch.
In retaliation, Lyons was given marching orders to attack the MEA and its members at every opportunity — a goal which she clearly attempted, yet mostly failed to deliver on. Her most ignoble moment was when she referred to Michigan’s teachers as swine (employing both the words “pigs” and “hogs”) in a heated back-and-forth on the House floor over the controversial forced closure of fiscally distressed Buena Vista and Inkster school districts. The childish outburst earned the impudent lawmaker the wrath of those not typically interested in education issues.
Lyons has been pushing two unpopular pieces of legislation — expansion of the troubled Education Achievement Authority, and the implementation of a letter grading system of schools. The EAA expansion passed with different versions in both the House and Senate, yet failed to attain agreement between the houses, and the letter grading plan remains stalled in committee. In addition to attacking teachers, Lyons has focused on legislative efforts to monetize Michigan’s public school students through privatization, or public-private partnerships.
The Republican lawmaker also raised eyebrows and ire when, while supporting Michigan’s Right-to-work law in the 2012 lame duck GOP legislative orgy, she attempted to have corrections officers exempted — Lyons’ husband works in corrections.
Although, Lyons took the Norquist Pledge three years running, she still signed-on to Gov. Snyder’s tax increases on retirees and working families. Mason said of Lyons’ tax record: “My opponent has done a terrible job supporting the hard-working taxpayers of the 86th district. It’s wrong to raise taxes on citizens — at the same time cutting taxes on corporations and the rich.”
If elected, Mason hopes to sit on the education committee to turn-around Lyons’ retrograde policy path.
“When I look at students I see potential, where my opponent sees dollar signs. I believe in building-up our public schools instead of tearing them down.”
The 86th, recently gerrymandered to protect Lyons, is roughly a 60/40 Republican/Democrat mix. But that’s not standing in the way of Mason’s bid for leadership.
Mason’s also an apple farmer — 48 acres.
Find Mason’s website here.