Yes, it’s true that at the local level, incumbents are defeated more frequently. For example, in the Aug. 2, 2016, primary election, four of the nine Genesee Co. commissioners were ousted at the polls. In Emmet County, all incumbent county commissioners lost.
But the last incumbent federal and statewide officials to suffer defeat at the ballot box in Michigan were James Blanchard for Governor in 1990; Richard Austin for Secretary of State in 1994; Spencer Abraham for U.S. Senator in 2000; Mark Schauer and Mike Bishop for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 and 2018, respectively; and Alton Davis for the state Supreme Court in 2010.
Michigan provides other options for removing public officials besides defeat for re-election.
Recall is one of them. In fact, Michigan and Oregon were the first two states to provide for recall of elected public officials in 1908. Today, 17 other states also provide for recall of state officials.
But it’s now tougher to recall state officials than it used to be. Under amendments to Michigan’s recall law enacted in 2012, approved petition language has a shelf life of only 180 days. Signatures must be collected within a 60-day time frame within that 180-day window. How has that worked? One example would be the 180-day window for recall petition language approved by the Board of State Canvassers half a dozen years ago for Gov. Rick Snyder and state Senators Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) and Arlan Meekhof (R-W. Olive). All three efforts expired before a ballot proposal could materialize..
Only three state legislators in Michigan have ever been recalled: state Senators Phil Mastin and David Serotkin, both in 1983, and state Rep. Paul Scott in 2011.
Recall under both the 1908 and 1963 Michigan Constitutions excluded judges. Impeachment was the only way to remove a sitting judge until the adoption of a constitutional amendment in 1968 creating, in Article VI, Section 30, a Judicial Tenure Commission which may recommend to the Supreme Court that a judge be censured, suspended, retired or removed from the bench. That diminished chances that the Michigan Legislature would feel the need to move against a sitting judge, but — who knows? — it could still happen.
What about expulsion? The current (1963) Michigan Constitution, in Article IV, Section 16, provides that each legislative chamber may expel one of its members with concurrence of two-thirds of all members elected and serving. Four lawmakers have been expelled in Michigan history: state Rep. Milo Dakin in 1887; state Rep. Monte Geralds in 1978; state Senator David Jaye in 2001; and state Rep. Cindy Gamrat in 2015. Yes, that could happen again, even this year with state Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg), who has been subject to a House resolution urging him to resign as he awaits possible federal charges on attempted extortion and bribery.