Pat O'Keefe, a Republican, won a Michigan State Board of Trustees seat last November by 48,230 votes.
That may seem like a solid margin, but 9.8 million votes were cast statewide for a pair of open seats. (Each voter could pick two names.) The Bloomfield Hills business consultant beat the two main runners-up by less than one percentage point.
O'Keefe, who made a provocative splash at a Friday board session, finished just half a percentage point ahead of Brian Mosallam, a Democrat from Dearborn who lost his try for a second eight-year term on their alma mater's governing board.
O'Keefe was eight-tenths of a percentage point ahead of Tonya Schuitmakether, a Republican from Inkster who finished fourth. (Rema Vassar, a Democrat on the faculty at Eastern Michigan University, was the other winner of an eight-year-term.)
It was a fair election, but had notably lower participation than the Biden vs. Trump main bout. As in other "down-ballot" contests for county offices, local courts and muncipal posts, voter unawareness or apathy favors candidates with name recognition, well-financed campaigns and niche appeal.
In his 2020 pitches, O'Keefe decried "censoring campus speech" and called for upholding "diversity initiatives by educating Michigan students" rather than foreigners or out-of-staters. His campaign site proclaims: "Pat is a true conservative who believes the voices of conservative students at MSU have been silenced for too long. He will protect free speech for all members of the campus community."
True to form, he used Friday's board meeting as a chance to oppose MSU's Covid vaccine mandate for students and staff, while swiping at reproductive choice advocates in the same sentence:
"As to freedom of choice on whether a mandate for a Covid drug is appropriate, I would only offer that it appears 'my body, my choice' applies only to killing babies on college campuses," he's quoted by The State News and The Detroit News as saying. Requiring shots "does not follow the science, it follows the herd," O'Keefe added.
That puts the accountant at odds with President Samuel L. Stanley, a Harvard Medical School graduate.
It also serves as a reminder that down-ballot abstinence can have long-term consequences. Pat O'Keefe, who equates pregnancy termination decisions with "killing babies," holds his seat through 2028.
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Truthfully, I'm an every-election voter who doesn't necessarily pick candidates in each race. That lazy mistake lets engaged activists elect someone like O'Keefe, founder of a financial consulting and turnaround advisory firm who graduated from MSU in 1976 and earned a master's at Wayne State six years later.
Here's a look at how tight Michigan State's latest board race was, according to the Ballotpedia database (chart below):
♦ At least 4.9 million voters participated, assuming each picked two candidates. That's 623,764 fewer than the number of presidential votes in Michigan last Nov. 3.
♦ If Brian Mosallam had received 48,231 more votes -- fewer than 8 percent of those 623,764 presidential voters who skipped MSU board choices -- he'd have been at the board table Friday on the fourth floor of Hannah Administration Building.
"Every vote matters" is one of those clichés that's true, as these tweets reinforce:
Good question. Must not have been much attention paid to the down ballot university board races.— Rick Haglund (@rhaglund) September 10, 2021