A week ago, east-side Detroit pastor and insurance agent DeShawn Wilkins still was seeking support for his longshot effort to unseat freshman state Sen. Dave Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights.
Now the Republican has a new opponent — Betty Jean Alexander, a fellow Detroiter who’s also a first-time legislative candidate.
The newcomer vs. newcomer election still is a longshot for Wilkins, running to represent Inkster, Redford, Garden City, Dearborn Heights and part of Detroit in a solidly Democratic district. He got 4,944 votes in last week’s Republican primary, where he was unopposed.
In the other party, 34,729 Democrats and independents voted for Knezek (who got 45.5%) and Alexander (54.5%). Her surprise victory was by 3,123 votes, just under 9% of the Fifth Senate District’s Democratic total.
That out-of-nowhere upset sparks media interest, naturally. It also burns Wilkins, who calls himself “the candidate that no one expects to win,” as he puts it today on Facebook and Twitter. The Republican’s posts in recent days seem like S.O.S. signals to voters with a message of “hey look, I’m over here.”
Here’s one from Sunday:
“The local media in their quest for sensational news are giving my new general election opponent FREE day-to-day coverage and thereby increasing her exposure (still without campaigning) throughout my district.
“You’d think that she was running unopposed after masterfully defeating (sarcasm) the incumbent state senator in the primary election. No disrespect to her at all, but they are almost ready to swear her in as that next state senator before the November election. #NotThatEasy”
Wilkins, a 1989 graduate of Murray Wright High, is a State Farm agent and senior pastor for nearly 10 years at Immanuel Outreach Cathedral, a Pentacostal church on Detroit’s near east side.
“Republicans have never had a chance like this to win this seat,” he posts two days after the primary created an race between two political unknowns for an open seat.
His Democratic opponent for the -year Senate term is a 52-year-old working mother with two youngsters. She ran for school board two years ago, puling just over 1 percent of the total vote in a 63-candidate crowd.
She’s a sister-in-law of Detroit education board member LaMar Lemmons, who encouraged her current run and guides a minimalist campaign that relied solely on volunteer phone banks so far. There have been no flyers, postcards, lawn signs, website or door-knocking.
The Republican has an attractive, professional website and casts himself as the more energetic, committed candidate:
“For several months now I have been actively campaigning, knocking doors, going to candidate forums, talking to constituents, explaining my platform, sharing my website, reaching across the aisle (talking to Democrats and independents), hoping to bring people together to effectuate real change. #WhereWasBettyJean?”
A big policy difference between the two Detroiters involves raising Michigan’s minimum wage, now at $9.25 an hour and rising in yearly steps to $12 in 2022.
Alexander advocates a $16 minimum wage, putting her directly at odds with the Republican.
“Giveaways may win some people a few votes,” he posts Sunday, “but there comes a point in society where we must consider the negative financial and economic impact to the very people that you gave it away to.”
“[A] $16 per hour minimum wage doesn’t work for the long-term financial benefit of the person, nor society. A better solution is to help these hard-working men and women to develop marketable skill sets to land the better paying jobs and careers.
“Example: There are more high-paying skilled trades positions available than qualified people [to] fill them.”
Wilkins got chances to dicuss that and other positions Monday during radio interviews with Stephen Henderson on WDET and with Kerry Leon Jackson on WFDF (910 AM).