Yes It’s True: County’s ballot racism was showing in ’86

James Blanchard
William Lucas

I hear tell former Wayne County Executive and Sheriff Bill Lucas, the first black man to run for Michigan governor, died Monday.

He was 94, and frankly, I didn’t even know he was still alive until today.

Lucas took the bold step of running as a Republican for governor in Michigan in 1986 against incumbent Democrat James Blanchard. His run was so bold that former State Rep. Paul Hillegonds, who served Allegan County for a long time before being term limited, declared to me, “This could change the face of politics in Michigan for a long time.”

Indeed, it could have. But it was not to be. And frankly, the cause was racism, whether we admit it or not.

I met Lucas at an Allegan County Republican Party dinner in Wayland in June 1986, an event that also included Hillegonds and former Congressman Mark Siljander. The really awful musical entertainment for the evening was two women doing karaoke to a taped Christian rock song.

No matter. I found Lucas to be a predictably affable politician while Siljander seemed all too aware that his time in Washington was coming to an end because of an upstart GOP primary opponent in the person of Fred Upton. Lucas talked the talk and walked the walk for the crowd.  Rusty Dutkiewicz, wife of longtime Democratic Dorr Township Clerk Dick Dutkiewicz, made an impassioned plea on behalf of this black man very simply because he was Pro-Life. Dorr Township, after Dick died and several other colleagues stepped down, went from being all Dems to all Republicans, entirely because of the abortion issue.

The dinner and GOP event was my first in Wayland since coming back after spending 10 years on the east side of the state. Earlier that week, Ypsilanti Press City Editor David Miller, while consuming beer with me at a local pub, said Lucas didn’t stand a chance.

Miller acknowledged that West Michigan was famous for being staunchly Republican, but flatly asserted that white GOP voters wouldn’t bring themselves to support a black candidate. He was right.

Though the GOP faithful, like those who showed up to the GOP dinner at Wayland High School, publicly demonstrated support, voters, using secrecy of the polling booth, did the near-unthinkable. Not even a TV commercial with Ronald Regan’s endorsement could save him. A majority in Allegan County supported Blanchard.

I found this to be significant because Blanchard in 1983 had shepherded a state income tax increase from 4.6% to 5.8% in order to erase a budget deficit. He promised to restore the 4.6% in later years, and he did, but the damage had been done. Two Democratic state senators were recalled in 1984 and the Senate since then has shown a Republican majority — for 38 years.

My point here was that Blanchard had two strikes against him in Allegan County — he was a Democrat, almost a dirty word in these parts, and he raised taxes. Not to worry, he carried Allegan County and statewide cleaned Lucas’ clock in a landslide.

This was the only time in history that Allegan County went for a Democrat in a gubernatorial election.

So the question had to be, was it because Lucas was black? Does a bear defecate in the woods?


  • Mr Annable:
    What type of comment are you expecting? Don’t most knowledgeable voters vote for the most qualified candidate? (not always along party lines).
    It seems today if one is a Republican you are automatically labeled a racist, you are a gun toting Christian, with a great love for your country. You dislike the fact of killing the unborn, know firearms should be kept out of hands of the mentally ill, have logical regulatory gun laws with enforcement from the judicial system.
    Of course, being a liberal is so much easier. You can sit back gather “free money “since working is foolish, jump on the nearest and newest “bandwagon ” especially if you can label it racist, climate change or gun control.

    • Mr Smit I only call it the way I see it and Im fine
      with my comments that’s my perspective and many others, and I give you a example I had to end my relationship with one of my family members because of her racist husband who is a life long wayland resident. So you can keep playing the I’m a good guy card with your comments that’s your perogative.

      • Mr Annable
        I feel quite sad for you that you would end a relationship with a family member because of their spouse. It seems that many persons can not except racist will take possibly thousands of years to eliminate from this world. If it can every be eliminated.
        Am I foolish enough to believe I’m a “good guy “? NO!!! But I usually know enough to keep it to myself and use the politically correct words.
        Growing up in the time of racism being generally accepted ( though wrong) changing is not so easy for some. Sadly these traits are passed down from generation to generation. Until thru education those undesirable traits and traditional vocabulary are finally gone. There will always be a seed of racism ready to “sprout”.
        Giving up on our fellow human beings only lets those seeds of racism produce more and more,to once again sometime in the future overtake the slow progress made so far.
        Hence, in my opinion casting aside family, friends, and those you work with. Because they may be or make racist remarks, with out politely stating it offends you and others is only helping grow that racist attitude.
        Casting aside a sensitive issue never helps to produce a cure. That’s basically what politicians do, and why we are in this confused mess called the United States of America.

        • Mr Smit, don’t feel sad for me. I’m the one who should feel sad for people like you. I’m choosing to change the people and family members who are racist and my family member chose the side she is on, not me, and I called her out on it.
          I told them when I left their house that I’m trying to live in a better world, not the one they’ve chosen and like I said before, I’m fine with it. I feel a lot better knowing I’m taking the high ground.

    • Not sure what kind of “gotcha” moment you’re looking for? Do you think we would say racism wasn’t an issue in our history? Honestly, I read only a bit of the article before I realized its only purpose was to dig up a 35 year old story to wave the racism flag. And I remembered what liberal rag I was reading.

      Since this was a bit before my time, and being certain there must be more to this man’s legacy than for the local gossip blog to just use to stir the race pot 35 years later, I instead looked the man up to learn more about who he was and what he accomplished. And sure enough, I learned he had a long and eventful career. He lost against a popular and successful incumbent, but he certainly didn’t play the victim like the editor is playing on his behalf.

      Was race a factor? Given the era, probably. But that’s the difference between you and I. You use this man’s death to try to prove that racism existed 40 years ago (duh), and I choose to celebrate this man’s life and contributions.

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