Jeff Irwin introduces bill after Anuja Rajendra election case

    Jeff Irwin (left) and Anuja Rajendra (right)

    State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced a bill that would have helped one of his 2018 political opponents avert criminal charges.

    Senate Bill 458 would eliminate MCL 168.944, which makes it a misdemeanor for a political candidate to claim to be an incumbent in campaign advertising.

    Michelle Deatrick

    The issue came up in the four-way, open Democratic primary for state Senate District 18 that Irwin narrowly won in August 2018. He took 35.6% of the vote, followed by former Washtenaw County Commissioner Michelle Deatrick with 35.2%. Businesswoman Anuja Rajendra earned 26.3% and Matthew Miller had 2.9%. Irwin, a former state House member, easily won the strongly Democratic district in the November general election.

    During the course of the primary campaign, Rajendra issued campaign mailers that the Washtenaw County prosecutor decided violated that law, MLive reported.

    One of them included the phrase: “As your State Senator, I’m steadfast in my commitment ….” Deatrick supporters filed complaints against Rajendra. She faced two counts of false incumbency designation, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or $500 in fines.

    Political observers, by and large, were shocked that the prosecutor filed criminal charges against her. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) backed Rajendra, arguing it was a First Amendment issue.

    Michigan's Capitol
    Michigan Capitol, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

    In January, a judge dismissed the case. Now Irwin has legislation so that this doesn’t happen again.

    “Senator Irwin was made aware of regarding false incumbency because of Anuja Rajendra’s case,”  Irwin Chief of Staff Desmond Miller said in an email. “After reviewing the language of the law, he believed it needed to be repealed.”

    The bill has been referred to the state Senate Elections Committee.

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    Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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