From his Michigan Medicine office, Justin Hodge acknowledges that his campaign for Washtenaw County Commission “is real now.” It is April 25, 2018, and the filing deadline to run was April 24. The candidates running in the Democratic Party primary include himself, and the incumbent. With the field set, Hodge will now have to “introduce” himself to voters in the district ahead of the August 7 primary.
To that end, Hodge has already developed some promotional materials including a campaign logo, slogan, headshot, and a list of issues he thinks will be important to the campaign. One aspect of introducing himself to voters is his identity as a social worker. His slogan, “Putting people first,” he says, is a reflection of this identity. As a social worker, he argues, his campaign is about “putting the people of southeast Washtenaw County, and their issues first.”
Social workers should be aware that campaigns for seats on the county commission do not generally require paid staff, and Hodge’s campaign is no exception. He serves as his own campaign manager and treasurer. Around him, though, are several social workers volunteering for his campaign. (We will meet a few of these volunteers in future “Campaign Chronicle” posts.) He anticipates needing roughly $5000 to run. While he acknowledges that the incumbent in the race can out-raise him, Hodge feels that by spending his money wisely he can overcome financial disadvantages. For example, he foresees his most effect method of introducing himself to voters will be going door-to-door and speaking directly to them. Paid forms of advertisement, such as mailers and yard signs will come later, closer to the election.
Hodge is not flying blind in this campaign. That is, some of the money he has raised thus far has been used to purchase data on voters in his district. This allows him to more accurately target which doors to knock on, for example, as well as identify who might be more receptive to his campaign. The 5th district of Washtenaw County Michigan includes
portions of Ypsilanti Township and Willow Run, as well as all of Augusta Township. Hodge knows that for him to prevail over the incumbent he needs to get as many votes from Augusta Township that he can, and turn out as many voters as possible in Ypsilanti and Willow Run.
Hodge developed an interest in social work practice volunteering with disabled children as a middle schooler. He has a clinical license and works with children, adolescents, and adults through Michigan Medicine. He credits policy coursework in his social work training at the University of Michigan with helping him connect practice to public policy. While his parents were voters, he cites the historical work of social workers in the New Deal era for his interest in politics.
Now, most of his free time revolves around politics. He was elected to serve on the Washtenaw County Democratic Party’s Executive Board as Vice Chair of the Legislative Programs Committee in 2017, and was elected chair of the Eastern Washtenaw Democratic Club in 2018. observed increased Democratic enthusiasm since the 2016 election.
Elections for open seats are considered easier to win, so Hodge’s decision to challenge a sitting incumbent of the same party carries risk. He freely admits she has greater name-recognition, which counts for a lot in elections at the county level. But the decision was not reckless nor impulsive. He approached the incumbent about his interest in running, a courtesy he says is observed when challenging someone of the same party. He says she liked him personally and encouraged him to run for Ypsilanti Township Trustee in two years.
While many social workers feel they have insufficient knowledge and experience to run for office, Hodge has been paying attention to Washtenaw County government for some time. He is “shocked” at how poorly mental health professionals he interacts with understand the importance of county government, especially to mental health policy. Public safety, he cites as an example, often becomes mental health policy when offenders have mental health and substance use disorders.
Future entries in the “Campaign Chronicle” blog will follow the details of Hodge’s campaign, including recruiting and managing volunteers, planning and conducting campaign events, developing a campaign strategy, raising money, going door-to-door, etc. Please follow the blog on Twitter, Facebook, or through email to get the latest entries in this series.