Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) stands in solidarity with with Everytown for Gun Safety. Bayer has her sights set on education for the next legislative session. (Senator Rosemary Bayer via Facebook)
Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) stands in solidarity with with Everytown for Gun Safety. Bayer has her sights set on education for the next legislative session. (Senator Rosemary Bayer via Facebook)

MICHIGAN—The decision to run for state Legislature isn’t a simple one. Recently, The ‘Gander talked with seven of the women running for Michigan’s House and Senate about what motivated their campaigns—and during those conversations, a familiar theme emerged: frustration with what had become the status quo, and a desire to change it. 

By the Numbers

  • In 2014, 24% of the candidates who ran for major statewide offices were women. 
  • In 2018, 40.6% of candidates were women—and about a third of the winners were women, including the governor, attorney general and secretary of state. 
  • In 2022, 119 Michigan women are running—that’s 39.4% of all candidates running for statewide office. 

Sen. Rosemary Bayer 

State Senate Candidate, District 13 (Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield, Plymouth, Northville, Novi) 

Facebook/Rosemary Bayer

Sen. Bayer was part of the wave of Michigan women who ran for office in 2018. 

The former computer engineer and analyst decided to run when, in the aftermath of the Trump victory, she reached out to her state representative. He never called her back. 

“I just kept thinking that the guy that never called me back doesn’t deserve to be there,” she said. 

Kristen McDonald Rivet 

State Senate Candidate, District 35 (Midland, Bay City, Saginaw) 

Facebook/Kristen McDonald Rivet

This mother of six decided to run because she worried about her seventh-grade son’s safety when she dropped him off at school, and her adult children’s ability to buy a home and pay off their student loan debt. 

“What I was hearing from political leaders in the state,” McDonald Rivet said, “really didn’t include the issues that are important, that I deal with on a day-to-day basis.”. 

An education policy and nonprofit advisor, McDonald Rivet said in her view,  it’s not that women are jumping in because men aren’t getting the work done. 

“I think it’s indicative of a frustration with current political leadership,” she said. “And a strong, deeply-felt desire to try to provide leadership that is practical, that is pragmatic, that’s committed to getting something done that isn’t about political footballs and political games.”

McDonald Rivet’s opponent is Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland), an “extreme” candidate with anti-abortion and transphobic stances. Whatever the outcome on Nov. 8, the winner  will be the first woman to represent the area in the state Senate. 

“The importance of that moment doesn’t escape me,” McDonald Rivet said. 

Betsy Coffia

State House of Representatives Candidate, District 103 (Grand Traverse and Leelanau County) 

Facebook/Betsy Coffia

Coffia started her work in politics in 2018,  on the Grand Traverse County Commission—where she was the first Democratic woman elected in more than 30 years. 

“I’m running for state House for many of the same reasons I ran for County Commission,” she said. “I come from the working class, my mom cleans houses for a living and works her tail off, but we struggled. And things like regular access to healthcare, dental care and housing have been an issue. I have a lot of lived experience with some of the things that I know we need to do better on as a community and a state.”

Coffia, whose race is in one of the state’s most competitive districts, said she’s seen a political shift in Northern Michigan.

“… What I’m seeing from a lot of women is that 2016 ripped a veil back for a lot of us on what we were dealing with.” 

With the election of Donald Trump, women—who often underestimate their qualifications—increasingly decided to run. 

“So, I think a lot of us, as Democratic women, thought we clearly need a spot at the table,” she said. “We need strong, progressive women in elected office at every level.” 

Denise Mentzer 

State House of Representatives Candidate, District 61 (Macomb, Sterling Heights, Mt. Clemens, Clinton Township) 

Facebook/Denise Mentzer

Mentzer said she thinks more women are running because they’re tired of the constant stalemates in the House and Senate, and the refusal to reach across the aisle. 

“Things are in a frozen standstill because you’ve got men posturing for who’s right and who’s wrong,” she said. “…And women are looking at this and they’re saying, men aren’t getting it done, and that’s why we’re running.” 

Mentzer has served on the Mount Clemens City Commission for nearly a decade, and said she’s been criticized for wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes—a common experience for female candidates

Men often don’t expect her and other female candidates to understand complex issues like manufacturing and the environment when making policy, she said—all while women’s rights, like abortion access, are being legislated by men.

Mentzer said the prevalent line of thought she sees is the traditional line that “women belong in the kitchen.” 

“Hell no we don’t. We belong in the House and we belong in the Senate.” 

Jaime Churches 

State House of Representatives Candidate, District 27 (Wayne County, Gibraltar, Riverview, Southgate, Trenton, Wyandotte, Grosse Ile) 

Facebook/Jaime Churches

As a teacher, the COVID-19 pandemic made Churches realize how quickly things like societal norms could change. It gave her hope that maybe politics could change, too.

“I think women across the world are standing together. We have abortion rights on the chopping block. We can’t sit idly by and let that happen.”

While running, Churches has been the subject of negative ads by both her opponent and the Michigan Republican Party, including one that encouraged people to call her personal cell phone. Churches thinks such extreme behavior stems from a fear of progress. 

“I totally believe that growth is coming,” she said. “Growth happens in uncomfortable situations. I see that as a teacher. I know all learning occurs from being uncomfortable.” 

Jennifer Conlin

State House of Representatives Candidate, District 48 (Jackson, Livingston, Washtenaw, Ann Arbor) 

Facebook/Jennifer Conlin

Conlin was one of the first reporters on the scene of the Oxford High School shooting. Witnessing the impact of the shooting on the community pushed Conlin to step beyond writing about the issues—to try tofix them.

“Once I learned I was in this district that’s a swing district, it felt particularly suited to me as a journalist because I know how to hear different sides of issues,” she said. “I know how to listen well, I know how to amplify voices and dig deep into issues”

With the rise in female candidates over the past several years, Conlin thinks the expectations of women running for office have changed.  

“But I don’t think we have to act more like men either,” she said. “I think the empathy that I bring to the doors and my nurturing spirit is really what’s helping me as I campaign.” 

Shadia Martini

State House of Representatives Candidate, District 54 (Oakland, Auburn Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Lake Orion) 

Facebook/Shadia Martini

When Martini was growing up in Syria, her mother was a “trailblazer”—the first female dentist in her hometown, and the first oral surgeon in northern Syria. She raised Shadia with feminist values, but as the little girl grew up, she realized many of her friends didn’t get the same education. 

“And then when I came to this country, I noticed that even here we weren’t there yet,” she said. “We weren’t at a point where we’re truly equal.” 

For Martini, one of the most glaring examples is the state of reproductive rights in the US—where men who often don’t understand reproductive health are making laws regulating women’s bodies, she said. 

“It goes without saying that women are not only half of society, they’re also the people who raise society,” she said. “So it’s very important for women to be involved and as we evolve as human beings, we notice that if we’re not represented, we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu.”