MichMash: ‘The Ballad of Betty Jean,’ Michigan’s Real Life Political Mystery

The August 7 primaries saw one of Michigan Democrat’s biggest rising stars unseated by a no-name candidate who ran no campaign.

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WDET Digital

One result from Tuesday’s primary elections has local reporters and political watchers scratching their heads.

One of the biggest rising stars in state politics was defeated by a candidate that mounted no campaign at all. It has sparked wide ranging speculation — from questions about Wayne County’s widespread election night problems to theories that it could have something to do with Russian hacking. There’s no evidence yet to back those theories. But the result has raised many questions that have so far gone unanswered.

As part of the weekly series MichMash, WDET’s Candice Fortman joins hosts Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth to talk about Michigan’s new unsolved political mystery.

Click on the audio player above to hear that conversation and the hosts’ lessons for reporters, candidates, and voters (also listed below).

Here’s more background on the situation from WDET’s Laura Weber Davis:

The Wayne County Clerk’s office faces scrutiny for a series of mishaps on primary election night, including inaccurate vote totals on the clerk’s website. The results of one state Senate race are drawing particular interest among critics.

State Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) was the incumbent candidate in the Democratic primary against an unknown challenger named Betty Jean Alexander. Alexander, a resident of Detroit, reportedly spent no money on her campaign, had no campaign website or presence in the community, and has never held public office. Alexander beat Knezek by a couple of thousand votes.  

Alexander appears to have been put up for election by a relative – longtime Detroit political operative LaMar Lemmons. Lemmons says he wanted to see a challenger from Detroit on the ballot, and he told a reporter that Knezek probably lost because “he had a name that is not common among African Americans.”

Betty Jean Alexander has an extensive civil court record, and one criminal charge, with numerous evictions, liens and bankruptcies between Detroit and Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s unclear where she lives in the city of Detroit. 

 

Here are some of the lessons Fortman, Neher, and Roth have taken away from the situation:

A Lesson for Reporters

“How did everyone in the media miss this story?” says Fortman, who went to the address listed as Alexander’s house with WDET’s Eli Newman the day after the primary election.

“It tells us an important lesson about how we have to be checking every single candidate that ends up on the ballot. And between all of the different media entities, nobody had covered the Betty Jean story until the next day (after the election) when we went out to her home.”

A Lesson for Candidates

“If you are a candidate, you feel like your district is safe, you’ve got your safe seat and I’m just going to sit back and not do anything — rethink that,” says Neher. “Even just for the fact that going out and talking with your constituents is worth while for everyone involved, including yourself. But, also, we now know this kind of thing can happen.”

A Lesson for Voters

“It’s also a really a good reminder to voters how important it is to research your candidates,” says Roth. “Those votes do matter. And if you just go there and you just fill in a bubble and you don’t do that research, we could have another Ballad of Betty Jean.”

 

Authors

  • Cheyna Roth

    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.

  • Jake Neher

    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.