State Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, formerly kicked off likely one of the more competitive local primary races this summer when she announced her candidacy for Ingham County clerk on Tuesday.
Standing in front of the Veterans Memorial Courthouse in downtown Lansing, Byrum took a few digs at the current officeholder, retiring Clerk Mike Bryanton, who is backing Lansing Clerk Chris Swope as his successor in the Democratic primary.
During the event, Byrum promoted her experience as the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Redistricting and Elections. She’s also been a small business owner for 11 years, working with the public on a daily basis.
“As Ingham County clerk, I will continue to advocate for critical election reforms,” Byrum said. “After all, we should be encouraging more people to vote — not silencing citizens’ voices.”
But Byrum made sure she hit on some upgrades, the first being that transactions for concealed weapon permits should be done in Lansing without needing a trip to Mason.
The term-limited state legislator from southern Ingham County also called the current Clerk’s Office’s website “clunky” and made it clear that every customer who goes to the Clerk’s Office should be “treated with respect.”
Asked if that meant customers are not being treated with respect at the Clerk’s Office, Byrum said:
“I think customer service needs to be the focus. And owning a hardware store for 11 years, I’ve been on the sales floor. I’ve worked with customers, and we need to make sure that every single customer is treated fairly and nicely.”
Asked again how the current clerk was doing on this front, Byrum replied:
“We need to make sure that every person that walks into the County Clerk’s office has a positive experience.”
Last May, when I first wrote of Byrum’s interest in the post, she told me, “It’s time to bring integrity back to the office,” a reference to the suit brought against Bryanton by former Clerk’s Office employee Nicole Anderson. The allegation was that Bryanton made her go through a polygraph test to determine if she had left a telephone message in which the caller claimed the clerk was having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer he had recently promoted.
The two parties settled in October for $80,000.
Told of Byrum’s critiques today, Bryanton said the Clerk’s Office recently upgraded its gun permit processing system, but even if Byrum wanted to go back to the “antique, antiquated” system of processing gun permits, applicants would still need to drive to Mason anyway to get fingerprinted by the county sheriff.
“She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know,” Bryanton said.
As far as customer service, the clerk said that’s an area that can always be improved. “It’s always a focus of mine and it will be until the day I leave.”
Bryanton returned fire by noting that he, too, believes in many of the same voter reforms Byrum is pumping — more early voting, no-reason absentee voting and the repeal of the new picture ID requirement at the polls — but she was serving in a body that could have done something about it.
“I’ve been banging the drum on no-reason AV (absentee voting) since I got here,” he said. “She keeps touting herself as the leading Democrat on election reform — why hasn’t she gotten anything passed? She was in the Legislature. If she wasn’t able to do it there, I donīt know how she’s going to do it here.”
To that, Byrum said if elected as clerk, she would make sure that all of her campaign workers know that if voters show up at the polls without an ID, they can still vote by signing an affidavit. She said she’s received information that this hasn’t always the case in Lansing and Ingham County.
Bryanton is leaving his post after 18 years, saying, “It”s time for me to do something else” and “maybe it’s time for a fresh set of eyes” in the Clerk’s Office.
But he said he’s supporting Swope as his replacement because “Chris has actually run an election and knows election law. He knows the responsibilities and duties of a clerk. While the duties of a city clerk and a county clerk are not the same, they’re similar enough that his expertise will suit him well.”
So the back-and-forth between the current clerk and the woman who wants to be clerk continues. For Bryanton, he said the race isn’t personal. He’s supported Byrum in the past and Byrum has supported him.
But with these two prominent political figures getting ready for a high-profile race, these types of back-and-forth remarks may be only the beginning.
On the air
Hear Byrum on “City Pulse on the Air” at 7 tonight on 88.9 FM The Impact or on the podcast at www.lansingcitypulse.com