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"Hire" the best candidate: Understand local politicians’ jobs

Outlier Media

Campaigns might be “a race,” but after the election is won, candidates must get down to the business of governance, whether they are in the legislative, executive or judicial branch. These roles can involve specialized skills or knowledge that aren’t required to run for office. Here is more about the responsibilities of some of the key positions you’ll find on the Aug. 2 ballot, which may help you assess which candidate you want to vote for. To check all the offices you’ll be voting for, preview your ballot by visiting Michigan.gov/vote and looking up your voter information.


Michigan governors are elected in “off year” elections, two years after U.S. presidential elections.

The governor must be an effective administrator and someone who can bring different people and positions together to govern effectively and make good on their promises to voters. The governor should also be someone you trust to make decisions on their own because they can use executive orders to proclaim or end an emergency, or to reorganize state agencies, create task forces and scale back spending the Legislature approves.

Most governors come to the office with government experience but management and negotiation skills can also be gained in the private sector. The governor does not need to be an expert in every aspect of running the state. The governor does need to be able to delegate responsibility, take the counsel of experts and come to an independent decision. Department heads may disagree on a course of action, and an effective governor must be able to parse the information and make the best decision.

The state constitution lays out the governor’s responsibilities, which include: signing into law or vetoing bills passed by the Legislature; commanding the state’s National Guard; reorganizing state executive agencies and departments; and appointing department heads for state agencies (but a majority of the state Legislature can vote to disapprove of one of the governor’s picks within 60 days of the appointment).

Candidates for governor or lieutenant governor of Michigan must be at least 30 years old and have been a registered voter in Michigan for the four years before they run for the office. The governor is limited to two terms of four years each.

United States House of Representatives

Members of the U.S. House are part of the legislative branch. They are responsible for writing and passing federal laws, they serve on committees, and they answer questions from and provide services to their constituents trying to navigate federal systems or issues.

U.S. House members serve in a body where they are one vote out of 435, but even if they are not a member of the House leadership, they are a leader. House members should be able to work with others and be able to negotiate to get laws passed. House members maintain an office in Washington D.C. and an office in their district.

Elected officials in the U.S. House of Representatives must be at least 25 years old, a citizen of the United States for seven years before they run, and a resident of the state they represent at the time of their election. While it is not required, most members of the House live in their districts.

Every state will have at least one member of the House, and the number of seats each state gets depends on population. Michigan has 14 seats in the House. Because the 2020 Census showed Michigan lost population, the state will lose one House seat, going from 14 to 13 House seats, starting with this election. There are currently seven Republicans and seven Democrats serving.

Members of the House serve two-year terms and are not term limited.

Michigan State Senate
State senators need to have similar qualities as their federal counterparts. Michigan has 38 State Senate districts.

State senators have to write and pass legislation, collect taxes, propose the state’s budget, provide oversight of the executive branch and serve on committees that can investigate issues like the state unemployment system, the integrity of the 2020 election or the conduct of elected officials. They should be interested in getting things done and willing to work for their constituents. Leadership and the ability to work with people across political lines are great skills for state senators to have.

To serve in the State Senate, candidates must be a U.S. citizen, be at least 21 years old, live in the State Senate district they represent, be registered to vote in the district they represent, never have been convicted of subversion, and never have been convicted of a felony involving breach of public trust in the 20 years before they’re elected.

State senators serve four-year terms and are limited to two terms.

Michigan House of Representatives

The requirements to serve in the State House are identical to those for the State Senate, but State House members serve two-year terms and they are limited to three terms.

There are 110 house districts in Michigan and along with state senators, they make up the Michigan Legislature and participate in all the activities of Michigan senators. Once again, as elected officials, state representatives must be leaders in and advocates for their community. The ability to work with others to achieve the common good and compromise are necessary skills for legislators at any level.

Wayne County Executive

Candidates for Wayne County executive have to be registered to vote in Wayne County and at least 18 years old. The county executive — a position introduced less than 40 years ago in 1983 — serves a four-year term, and there are no term limits. There have been only 4 Wayne County executives so far, William Lucus, Edward H. McNamara, Robert A. Ficano, and current incumbent Warren C. Evans.

The county executive oversees all county departments and appoints unelected department heads. Leadership skills and the ability to negotiate are important skills for this relatively new position.

Read the rest of the Detroit Documenters Voters Guide and look up any unfamiliar terms in our vote with confidence glossary. Still have questions about voting in Detroit? Email us at documenters@outliermedia.org

Be Informed