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 Article of Interest - 2002 Election Results

Special Education Vote Impacts Statewide School Board Elections
A Bridges4Kids Analysis by Deborah Canja
by Deborah K. Canja, Bridges4Kids, November 7, 2002
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The power of the special education community to influence election outcomes came through loud and clear last Tuesday with the election of Elizabeth "Liz" Bauer to the Michigan State Board of Education and Richard Bernstein to the Wayne State University Board of Governors. All other education seats were won by Republicans or incumbents. Bernstein and Bauer alone bucked the trend.

Bauer, the top vote-getter in the race in the State Board of Education race, spent 20 years as the Executive Director of Michigan Protection and Advocacy, a federally mandated legal advocacy organization for people with disabilities. Bernstein, blind since birth, is an attorney and a proud product of Michigan's special education system.

Through listservs, websites, advocacy group meetings, and parent support groups, the Bauer and Bernstein candidacies were broadcast and supported. An interview with Bauer by disability advocates Tricia and Calvin Luker was widely circulated. Parents of children with disabilities held "friendraisers," using their networks and connections to introduce Bauer to a wider circle. Education professionals provided financial support. In Macomb county, where efforts by parents of children in special education were especially strong and where even Governor-elect Jennifer Granholm lost, Liz Bauer won big. She garnered 103,845 votes: 14,196 more than fellow Democratic candidate Nancy Quarles, over 1,000 more than Republican candidate Carolyn Curtin, and nearly 300 more than incumbent Michael Warren. "The bottom line is that it does take money to run a campaign," said Bauer, "but my advantage came from the person-to-person network that I found in the special education community. Everyone has that networking power and it costs nothing to use it on behalf of candidates you believe in."

Similarly, Richard Bernstein was promoted tirelessly by special education advocates. Bauer wrote a letter on his behalf to her network and his candidacy was supported by parents of children with disabilities across the state through listservs. As a result, Bernstein, who came in second behind incumbent Republican Diane Dunaskiss, garnered over 17,000 more votes than Leon Atchinson, the incumbent President of the Board.

"These results don't surprise me," said Michigan State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Watkins. "I saw first-hand the power of the special education community last spring when my predecessor tried to push through new administrative rules for special education. Many parents and educators did not feel those rules were in the best interest of children with special needs and they literally brought the process to a halt while the rules were reexamined. I spent months listening to their concerns and, as a result, the approved rules package is much different than the one first proposed. The special education community is a very committed one and we welcome their involvement as we move Michigan forward for all children."

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