The Michigan Democratic Party's 2016 campaign effort kicked off this weekend at Cobo Hall, site of the 2015 Michigan Democratic Convention.
Far from discouraged, Michigan Democrats were fired up and ready to win big in 2015 and 2016.
*Some pretty strong hints were made as to the likely 2016 presidential nominee. Note the pronoun in what Senator Peters said: "I don't know who she's gonna be, but we need to elect a Democratic President." Senator Stabenow referred to the growth of the 1990s, noted that President Clinton was in office, and said, "Hmm... a President Clinton... Hmm..."
*By my count there were ten speakers at the main session: all of Michigan's congressional delegation (minus Sandy Levin); Greimel; Bieda; Meisner; and Brenda Jones. I'm not sure they all needed to talk, especially since it was well over an hour before we got to the actual business of the convention, but it was good hearing from them.
*African-Americans played a big role in the main session. The invocation was given by a pastor from Detroit, while the convention itself was chaired by a black female. In nominating Lon Johnson for Chair, WSU Governor Dana Thompson noted that while relations between the MDP and the African-American community haven't always been the best, Lon is making strides.
*Key themes of Lon's speech included setting bigger goals (i.e. raising the number of MDP members from 21,000 to 50,000); giving precinct delegates tasks and the tools to achieve them; and offering bold ideas as a Party. He cited passenger rail as an example of the latter.
*There was some talk - both at the main session and at the caucuses - about this year's local elections, especially as they relate to building a bench for the future.
*Rep. Jeremy Moss said at a caucus meeting that people didn't care about his sexual orientation - they cared about things like roads and education. This is quite consistent with what I've seen and heard both qualitatively and quantitatively - that being LGBT does not hinder ones ability to get votes.
*After the convention adjourned, the first state Central meeting of the new term took place. A proposal was made to add endorsement conventions to the MDP Rules; under this proposal, endorsement conventions would automatically take place every two years unless State Central decides otherwise.
*All of the incumbent MDP officers are staying in office, with one addition: Rosendo Rocha is a Vice Chair. A member of AFGE, Rosendo has chaired both the Hispanic Caucus and the Allegan County Democratic Party. I'm glad West Michigan is once again represented among the officers (my friend Lupe served as 2nd VC under Brewer).
Oh, and one more thing: I am pleased to announce my election as 2nd Vice Chair of the 2nd District Democratic Party! I am also rejoining the Justice Caucus Board and am continuing on State Central. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to using these roles as a means to help boost the Democratic Party's brand and secure victories for Democrats up and down the ballot.
The Michigan Democratic Party's 2016 campaign effort kicked off this weekend at Cobo Hall, site of the 2015 Michigan Democratic Convention.
(This is part 2 of a series on Michigan's role in the 2016 Democratic presidential nominating process and the 47th Democratic National Convention.)
How does a political party decide who will carry its torch into a presidential election? In the Democratic Party, the process for selecting presidential nominees is quite complex. It needs to be in order to ensure that the process is fair and inclusive to all Democrats.
While the nomination will be settled long before the convention - and maybe even sooner, if Hillary runs - there's still a lot of thought and planning that each state must undertake as part of this process. With fewer than 18 months to go until the Democratic National Convention convenes in July 2016 - and with just three more months before each state Party decides how its delegates are selected - now's a good time to consider how many delegates Michigan will have at the convention.
Number of Delegates
Michigan will have between 150 and 190 delegates. The exact number depends on three factors: the timing of our primary or caucus; whether we hold our primary or caucus on the same date as neighboring states; and the exact number of superdelegates, who are automatically delegates based on offices they hold.
As I said recently, holding a May caucus does come with its advantages - including the right to send more delegates - but in the event of a contested nomination battle, we may opt for a March primary or caucus in order to gain some influence on the nominating process.
Types of Delegates
Delegates are divided into four categories:
- Superdelegates - They are automatically delegates based on positions they hold in the Party or in elected office. They include:
- Distinguished Party Leaders (such as current and former Presidents, Vice Presidents, House and Senate Democratic Leaders, and DNC Chairs);
- Members of the Democratic National Committee;
- Democratic governors; and
- Democratic US Senators and Representatives.
- Party Leader and Elected Official (PLEO) Delegates - The term "elected officials" seems more or less clear-cut, but the DNC doesn't really define what constitutes a "party leader." Regardless, these seats are awarded to candidates based on how well they did in the statewide caucus or primary vote.
- At-Large Delegates, whose seats are are awarded to candidates based on how well they did in the statewide caucus or primary vote (though in a separate calculation from PLEO delegates).
- Congressional District Delegates, whose seats are awarded to candidates based on their performance within that congressional district.
How Many Pledged Delegates Does Each State Get?
To apportion delegates to the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the DNC uses a formula that equally weighs two factors:
- 1. The number of electoral votes the state (or DC) has, divided by 538; and
- 2. The total number of votes cast in the state for Obama in 2012, Obama in 2008, and Kerry in 2004 compared to the number of votes cast for those candidates nationwide.
Michigan’s allocation factor is .03618; multiply that by 3,200 and you get 116 “base” delegate votes. That gives us 29 at-large delegates and 87 district delegates to be divvied up among 14 congressional districts. We then add 17 PLEO delegates to give us 133 pledged delegates which will be allocated to presidential candidates according to the results of the primaries and caucuses.
When you add on the 17 superdelegates, that gives a total delegation of 150 delegates (which must be evenly divided between men and women; more on that in another post).
Ah, but Michigan might have more delegates than that.
In the past, states used to try to rush to be among the first to have primaries or caucuses. To alleviate this, starting in 2012 the DNC is offering states “bonus” delegates if they hold their primaries and caucuses later in the cycle.
For any state that holds its primary or caucus in April will get a 10% bonus in its "base" delegate total. A state which holds its primary or caucus in May or June gets a 20% bonus. Those bonus delegates and the base delegates are then allocated either at-large or district-level delegates. (PLEO delegates are not added.)
Holding a caucus in April will give us a base delegate total of 116 x 1.1 base delegates, which rounds to 128. A May or June caucus will give us 116 x 1.2 base delegates, or about 139. So the actual number of pledged delegate votes Michigan gets will be:
|Date||District||At-Large||PLEO||Total Pledged||+17 Unpledged|
There's another chance for bonus delegates as well. If a "cluster" of 3 contiguous states holds its primaries and/or caucuses on the same day - and if that day is March 24 or later - those states get an additional 15% bonus in base delegates. (That 15% is calculated separately from the other bonus delegates.) So holding a late March primary or caucus as part of a cluster will result in Michigan getting 133 base delegates. For an April contest, that goes up to 145; for May, 156.
How many delegates would we get if we took part in a regional cluster?
|Date||District||At-Large||PLEO||Total Pledged||+17 Unpledged|
A Word about Superdelegates
As you see, Michigan has 17 unpledged delegates, or "superdelegates."
- 5 members of Congress who are not DNC members;
- 10 members of the DNC who are not in Congress; and
- 2 who serve in both Congress and the DNC (Debbie Stabenow and Debbie Dingell). (While they hold two positions that would give them a superdelegate vote, they each only have one vote.)
What ended up happening is that the 80 add-on delegate spots were removed, and the "base" number of delegate spots allocated to states increased from 3,000 to 3,700 in 2012. (That base number is going back down to 3,200 for the 2016 convention.) There are 733 superdelegates for the 2016 convention, or about 16% of the 4,502 total delegates. That 4,502 does not include bonus delegates for states that cluster or hold later primaries or caucuses; as base delegates are added to those states, the total number of delegates will go up, while the share of superdelegates to total delegates will go down.
- His poll numbers weren’t the right height.
- Not sure he can get binders full of votes.
- 47% of corporations are dependent on the government for corporate subsidies. He’s not going to get their votes.
- Jeb Bush promised him he’d be ambassador to the Cayman Islands.
- Speaking of which, Chris Christie threatened traffic problems in the Cayman Islands if he ran.
- He lost a $10,000 bet, so the poor guy is down to his last $250 million.
- Big Bird advised against it.
- Training to beat Paul Ryan’s marathon time.
- Rather than Mitt himself running, he’s getting Bain Capital to run instead. They’re people, my friend!
- Wants to spend more quality time with his money.
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson is running for a second term - and I'm supporting him.
There's no doubt that the MDP continues to deal with a number of challenges, from low turnout in midterms to declining union membership. It's easy to look at the issues that still exist and blame the person at the top.
The reality is, for all the prestige that people associate with chairing one of the state's largest political parties, the Chair must deal with a ton of pressures that most people can’t fully appreciate.
Johnson has made a number of improvements in the MDP, while beginning the process of making other improvements. For instance:
1. Lon has stepped up the MDP’s data game. The more we know about voters, the better we can target out messaging. In fairness to Mark Brewer, some of that work started under his chairmanship, but Lon has really scaled this effort.
2. Our ground game was the best I’ve ever seen. It was about as good as - and maybe even better than - I’ve seen even in presidential years.
3. We’re progressing toward Howard Dean’s vision. The good doctor said we must reach out to every voter and contest every seat. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving in that direction. For instance, I live in Republican congressional and legislative districts, but Democrats ran great campaigns for these races. Around here you had folks like Dean Vanderstelt, Jim Walters, Kemal Hamulic, Franklin Cornielle, Sarah Howard, Jessica Hanselman, Lynn Mason, and Deb Havens. Of course, the candidates themselves - and their supporters - were largely responsible and deserve the most credit. But the MDP did put some effort into helping them with many of the basics, including websites and literature.
4. We did better than the rest of the country. Michigan is home to the only new Democratic US Senator, Gary Peters. Our state also elected seven Democrats to the eight education-related statewide boards last year. Four years after Virg Bernero's 18-point loss, Schauer came within four points of beating Snyder. All of this is due, in large part, to the MDP's ground game.
5. It takes time to right a ship. For many years, the MDP has dealt with a wide range of issues, most of which are still there. Lon has started a years-long process of making needed changes. You don’t fire a coach after one season, especially when improvement has been made during that time.
Progress has been made - and more is needed. If the MDP is to grow as a Party, we must:
1. Keep data in the right perspective. We need quantitative data - but we also need qualitative info to put that data into the proper context.
2. Work more closely with local Party units. A top-down approach can backfire. Some decisions do need to be made without feedback, but most of the big decisions should involve at least some input from local stakeholders - they know the area better than folks who aren’t from the area.
3. Broaden the state party’s revenue streams. The MDP cannot count on labor's money - not only because there are fewer union members, but because it's never good to count on one sector of supporters for such a significant share of your money.
In 2005, when Rosalynn Bliss was first elected to the City Commission, many - particularly in the progressive community - saw her as a rising star in civic leadership. Today, their feelings have been confirmed.
Bliss plans to kick off a campaign “based on creating opportunity for a broader range of citizens,” according to a statement.
“We are on this incredibly positive trajectory, but I think we have more work to do,” Bliss said by phone. “There are many places that are thriving, but there are also places that aren’t.”
Bliss cites her track record of working with constituents in the Second Ward as evidence that she can bring people together on matters that affect the city as a whole.
Bliss's ability to bring people together will be crucial - both in the campaign and as mayor. She already has the support of many people:
- Elected officials Brandon Dillon, Winnie Brinks, Dave Bulkowski, Mary Hollinrake, and Peter MacGregor
- Education leaders, such as State Board of Education member Lupe Ramos-Montigny and a majority of GRPS School Board members
- Many in the African-American community, including former Commissioner Jim White (who served together with Bliss for eight years) and Johannah Jelks.
- Business owners like Tyler Nickerson, Guy Bazzani, and Bill Lewis
- Civic leaders from surrounding communities, such as East Grand Rapids Mayor Amna Seibold and former Lowell Mayor Charles Myers
Given this broad base of support, other would-be contenders may think twice about running. That raises the possibility that she will win a majority in the August primary and therefore be elected automatically.
But for now, suffice it to say that many people have been waiting for today's announcement for years.
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson announced his in tent to run for a second term as MDP Chair. For a number of reasons (which I'll discuss in the coming days), I'm supporting Johnson.
Johnson chairs the Michigan unit of the However, like any entity, there is room for improvement within the MDP. There are also questions that both the party and its strongest partner - organized labor - must consider as we head into the 2016 election:
1. How will we, as a Party, brand ourselves? People don't like political parties. Many people blame them for a lot of the problems we as a country face - and Democrats get unfairly blamed for things that are largely the responsibility of Republicans. But we Democrats have so much to be proud of - the New Deal, the Great Society, civil rights, Obamacare, and economic prosperity, among other things.
2. What role should labor play in the MDP? Ah, yes, the eternal question. This is important for two reasons: One the one hand, union membership in Michigan is down - quite a bit last year, in fact. On the other hand, labor's influence on Democratic politics is still undeniable. It has been suggested that labor leadership has too much a say in the Democratic Party. (To be clear, union members who want to advance the best interests of the Democratic Party must always be welcome in our Party.)
3. Where's the money going to come from? As union membership decreases, so does dues revenue. I hope for a coming resurgence of organized labor; certainly, economic conditions are prime for it. But until that happens, the Party and candidates need to be expanding their revenue streams. It is a good practice for any entity to be able to count on multiple sources of revenue.
4. How will labor reach out to younger workers? They have the most to gain from being in unions. Yet few young people realize the need for unions - many think they're passe, when the opposite is true. There's evidence of that in the above link.
5. Do we put an RTW repeal on the 2016 ballot? The above might add urgency to that.
6. Whom will we recruit as candidates? Speaking at a meeting I attended in 2013, Lon said we needed to recruit more young, African-American, and Latino candidates. I'm not sure how close we came to meeting those goals, but we have more young lawmakers (Robert Wittenberg, Jeremy Moss, Jon Hoadley, Kristy Pagan, Vanessa Guerra, Stephanie Chang) and more non-white lawmakers (Guerra and Chang). Other improvements in candidate recruitment are also needed. For one, folks need to stop worrying about whether LGBT candidates can do well. Moss and Hoadley - both young, both openly gay - got more votes than Schauer in their respective districts. And in swing districts (or districts that are at least remotely winnable), we need a candidate lined up well before the filing deadline - not be scrambling in the days leading up to the deadline (as I saw happen last year).
7. How will the MDP work with county and district Democratic organizations? This has been an Achilles heel for the MDP. The MDP's style lately has largely been top-down; rank-and-file Democrats are often left confused, hanging, and with little or no say in big decisions. Some decisions do need to be made without much input, but we need to build trust between the MDP and local Party leaders, who know the neighborhoods and communities where they live.
8. Primary or caucus? Republicans have the votes to set whatever primary date works for them. Should Democrats go with the Republicans on having a primary? Or do we have a May caucus (like in 2012)? The former would give us more influence in the event of a contested nomination battle (which might be over if Hillary clears the field or sweeps the February contests). The latter would allow Michigan to send more delegates (the DNC adopted incentives, such as bonus delegates, to states that hold primaries and caucuses after March.) There are many factors for Michigan Democrats to consider when making this decision; some of those factors are discussed here. The MDP must decide soon; the Delegate Selection Plan is due at the DNC in early May.
About 18 months from now, the Best Damn Political Party on the Planet will meet for its 47th National Convention to nominate a ticket which will ensure the White House stays blue and the economy keeps growing.
It’s already time for state Democratic Parties - including Michigan's - to consider how they will go about selecting its delegates to the Convention. By early May, all state Democratic Parties must submit Delegate Selection Plans to the DNC, which will then undertake a months-long due diligence process to ensure that each state conforms to the myriad delegate selection rules designed keep the process fair and open to all.
The first - and arguably most important - decision that must be made is whether to allocate our delegates via a primary or a caucus. That decision requires the MDP to consider a number of factors and trade-offs, while keeping in mind the long-term interests of the Party.
These factors include:
1. The state of the race
To meet the May deadline, the MDP State Central Committee will likely meet in late April 2015 to approve the Delegate Selection Plan. By that time, we’ll have a better idea of how the presidential race is unfolding.
If Hillary jumps in - and if she’s able to clear the field by mid-April - the race may appear to be settled early on (as with Al Gore in 2000). In that case, Democrats will want a caucus for reasons I explain below. On the other hand, if we appear to have a competitive race on our hands - almost certain if Hillary doesn't run and still possible even if she does - Michigan will want (and need) to have influence in the nominating process. A March primary will draw the candidates to our big, diverse state.
2. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada
Four states - Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada - are being allowed to hold their primaries and caucuses in February. Al Gore's wins in Iowa and New Hampshire cemented him as the nominee, while John Kerry's early victories gave him the momentum he needed to win the 2004 nomination. No candidate has ever won both Iowa and New Hampshire and gone on to lose the nomination.
If a candidate is in strong enough position to sweep the February states, the race will probably be settled before any of the other 46 states (including Michigan) weighs in, negating any influence that could be gained with a March primary.
Gathering data has been a priority for the MDP for a number of years, especially under Lon Johnson’s leadership. The more candidates and parties know about voters, the more targeted their messaging can be. Under the current presidential primary law (in place for 2008 and modified for 2012), the parties learn not only which voters vote in the primary, but also whether they voted Democratic or Republican.*
Remember the primary foul-up of 2008? Remember the uncontested nomination of 2012? In both of those years, we didn't have Democratic primary campaigns rallying, organizing, knocking doors, and calling voters to goad them to the polls. Our voters didn't have a reason to come out and vote.
Yet some of them did. And if you're the type of person who votes in a Democratic non-primary while Republicans have a contested race, the parties will know that - and they'll assume you’re a Democrat.
In 2016, Republicans will almost certainly have another competitive primary. If Democrats do too, Democratic voters who may have stayed home or "crossed over" in 2008 or 2012 will likely "come home" and vote in the Democratic primary, providing more accurate clues as to the voter's political leanings. (Given the choice between two competitive primaries, you're probably going to choose the party with which you more closely align.)
On the other hand, if 2016 is quiet on the Democratic side (i.e. Hillary has it wrapped up), don't expect our voters to come out and vote in what amounts to a meaningless primary. The MDP will be much better off getting data via other means.
These days, the later a state holds its primary or caucus, the more delegates it gets. It would benefit both the delegates and the MDP to have more delegates representing our state, making connections with Democrats from around the country while getting fired up for the fall election.
Knowing that Obama was a lock for renomination, Michigan held a caucus in early May 2012, allowing us to send 203 delegates to Charlotte. On the other hand, if we follow a March primary, we'll have fewer delegates.
5. The Legislature
Both Democrats and Republicans are looking to increase the state's influence in their party's nominating process without breaking their party's rules. Under current law (passed for the 2012 cycle), a primary is to be held the last Tuesday in February (i.e. February 23, 2016). A February primary would penalize both the MDP and MRP, so any primary would have to be in March at the earliest.
With bipartisan support, the state Senate (including all Republicans and all but three Democrats) voted to move the date to March 15; the House didn't take it up before the end of the session. With a new legislature in office, look for the push to be made once again. If Democrats are to use a primary, it would be at the mercy of the Republicans, who will likely have the legislative votes to set whichever primary date they feel is best for their party.
6. No More 2008-like Messes
We all remember what happened in 2008: In search of influence, the MDP moved from having a February caucus to a January primary - one which violated DNC rules and resulted in a demoralized base, a protracted battle over seating delegates, and a feeling of being left out compared to Democrats in other states.
And no influence.
The MDP better not tempt fate again.
7. Ruth Johnson
In 2012, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson put President Obama's name on the presidential primary ballot despite the fact that Democrats decided to allocate delegates based on a caucus. Look for her to do the same again in 2016, giving Democrats a primary whether we want it or not - but also giving the MDP the data as to who voted in our (yet-again-meaningless) primary.
But it will still be up to us whether we want to choose to allocate our delegates according to the results of that primary. Hence this discussion.
8. Is a Caucus Worth It?
Holding the caucuses will require a lot of legwork. We'll need help with site selection, running the caucuses, tabulating, and more. In 2012, caucus turnout was relatively small - only about 4,000 people showed up, thus calling into question whether or not these caucuses really serve to "fire up" the base. (At some caucuses, turnout was in the low single digits.)
But we'll at least be able to decide when to hold the caucus.
It should be noted that the 2012 Delegate Selection Plan required at least 200 caucus sites statewide. Take the number of Democrats who voted in the caucus, divide that by fewer caucus sites, and you have more people per caucus.
9. Unity or Disarray
In the 2012 Democratic primary - a nonbonding contest between President Obama and Uncommitted - Obama got 89.3% to just 10.7% for Uncommitted. But in the 1st and 10th Districts, Uncommitted got more than the 15% threshold needed to get a delegate at either the state or district level. If we'd allocated delegates according to the primary, Obama would've had 181 of 183 pledged delegates; Uncommitted would've won two; and the other side would've won the right to brag about disarray among Democrats.
Since we used a caucus - where hardly anyone voted Uncommitted - all 183 pledged delegates went to Obama.
What if the race is still unsettled in March? Voters will come out to vote for their favorite candidate - but they won't vote Uncommitted. Uncommitted will still be an option, but people won't flock in droves to vote Uncommitted unless we see a repeat of 2008.
Which Will It Be?
A primary gives us the potential - but only the potential - for more influence and more data, but at a cost of fewer delegates. And we have little to no say on when that primary will be.
A caucus would require planning and volunteer effort. But we'll be able to decide when it will be held - and more Democrats will be able to attend the Convention.
Whichever route the MDP takes, its critical that we live up to the traditions, values, and promise of our Party. The more we can respect, empower, and include Michigan Democratic activists and voters in the process of choosing our Democratic presidential nominee, the better for all of us.
*Note the difference between a presidential primary and the August primaries for congressional, state, legislative, and county seats; in those primaries, you pick up a ballot and choose whether to vote for Democratic candidates or for Republican candidates. In a presidential primary, when you sign in to vote, you declare whether you want to vote in the Democratic primary or the Republican primary. You're then given the ballot for that party.
Just two men have served as mayor of Michigan's second-largest city since 1992.
2015 marks the 24th and final year of an era in which the mayor of Grand Rapids has been either John Logie (1992-2004) or George Heartwell (since 2004). By comparison, Kalamazoo have each had six mayors in that time, while Lansing and Kentwood have had five.
After the passage of a charter amendment limiting mayors and city commissioners to two terms, Grand Rapids's top job will be up for grabs for only the second time since 1991. Many people are said to be interested in the job, but no one had actually jumped in - until yesterday.
A 24-year-old has announced his candidacy to succeed term-limited George Heartwell as the city’s mayor.
Jared Funk, who is unemployed, is trying to generate support from “people of all types, of all races and creeds, sexual orientations and beliefs” for his campaign.
It's certainly unconventional for a 24-year-old to run for mayor of a city of almost 200,000. At this point, it's unclear what kind of constituency might line up behind him. His natural base of support might be among young people, but it would seem even they would be more likely to back someone like Rosalynn Bliss.
That said, I'll give the guy credit for two things: First, he's running for office - a step not many people are willing to take. Second, he's got quite a solid platform - as solid as one can expect from a mayoral candidate, even though I don't agree with it in its entirety.
Still, he'll have to convince voters that rather than choosing someone with whom they're more familiar, they should give him one of the most important municipal offices anywhere in Michigan. (Being mayor of Grand Rapids is much different than being mayor of Hillsdale, after all.)
The mayor chairs City Commission meetings and represents the city at events, on boards and committees, and in other capacities. The mayor also shares in the responsibility for setting a vision for the city and for attracting residents, visitors, and businesses to the city. However, the day-to-day-operations of city government are overseen by the city manager, who answers to the entire City Commission as a whole (not just the mayor). In reality, the mayor doesn't have much formal power beyond those of his colleagues on the City Commission.
One might say, then, that the mayor's duties are leadership-focused while the city manager is, well, a manager. As I said earlier, Funk has some good ideas, and while I don't know him well, it's possible that he's an outstanding leader. But it might be more practical for him to run for City Commission, where he'd have almost as much power as he would as mayor - without having to campaign in the entire city.
Who else might run for Heartwell's job? Two current city commissioners - Bliss and Walt Gutowski - are mentioned as potential candidates. Bliss is thought to be the front-runner; if she runs, she'll have a lot of support, particularly among progressives. Gutowski has a natural base on the West Side and may draw support from the business community.
Other potential candidates, according to the Press, include:
- Sam Cummings, developer
- Dan Koorndyk, chair of the Kent County Commission
- Johnny Brann, restaurateur and son of John and nephew of Tommy
- Rick Treur, former Ehlers staffer who works for Calvin College
- Michael Sak, former state representative and county commissioner who ran for Comptroller in 2011
- Bing Goei, owner of Eastern Floral and two-time candidate for state representative
- Roy Schmidt, former city commissioner, state representative, and guy who has no business running for anything after what he did in 2012
A long-sought expansion of the state's civil rights law to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Michiganders — supported by the business community, LGBT activists and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — seems to be dead in the water. Who needs equality, anyway?
But name any piece of irrelevant, unnecessary legislation, and hoo boy, it's on the move.
Perhaps this is Lansing's new motto: We solve problems you didn't know you had.
More like "making problems you never had," but I digress. Anyway:
Better still, let's hope this class of legislators has more in mind for its swan song than peculiar, small-minded acts that only cement its legacy as one of the least useful groups of lawmakers in Michigan history.
There's a fear in some Democratic circles that LGBT candidates can't win swing seats.
There are many possible reasons for this. Some of it may be attributed to the fact that, until recently, some swing voters (and even a few Democrats) opposed marriage equality.
It may also have to do with a couple of losses by LGBT candidates in state House races a few years back. In 2008, Garnet Lewis lost to Jim Stamas (son of the area's then-state senator) in the Midland-based 98th District seat. Two years later, Toni Sessoms lost to Kevin Cotter in the Mt. Pleasant-based 99th District seat - a seat held by Republicans for as long as anyone can remember.
Yet this year saw the election of two young gay Democrats to the Michigan Legislature - Jeremy Moss and Jon Hoadley. While they ran (and were elected) in solidly Democratic districts, the performance of both Hoadley and Moss should assuage Democrats' fears about the electability of LGBT candidates in less blue districts.
Young + Gay = Success
If there was any merit to concerns about the electorate's views of LGBT candidates, we would've seen evidence of that in the seats where Hoadley and Moss were elected. There was no question that Hoadley and Moss were going to win these blue districts. However, it's in the margins of their victories - particularly compared to other Democratic candidates - that we'd detect any evidence of apprehension toward LGBT candidates. (And make no mistake: both Hoadley and Moss are openly gay, so their orientation isn't exactly a state secret.)
Since down-ticket races* don't get much attention, the number of votes cast for various down-ticket races and candidates will usually be lower than for the top of the ticket (in this case, Schauer and Brown).
Despite that, Hoadley and Moss outperformed a number of "up-ticket" candidates in their districts, including Schauer and Attorney General nominee Mark Totten.
Here are the results for the races for Governor, Attorney General, and State Representative in the 60th House District (the City of Kalamazoo plus most of Kalamazoo Township):
Think about this for a second. Totten has run for office in the area a couple times before; he ran for State Senate in 2010 before being elected to the School Board in 2011. Schauer has been elected many times by voters in neighboring Battle Creek. By contrast, Hoadley is young, gay, and a first-time candidate.
Yet he still got 1,199 more votes than Totten and 912 more votes than Schauer.
Moss racked up even more impressive margins in the 35th District, which includes Southfield, Southfield Township, and Lathrup Village:
That's a 2,224-vote difference between Moss and Schauer and a 2,276-vote difference with Totten.
It should be noted that, unlike Hoadley, Moss ran for office before. He was elected to the Southfield City Council in 2011 (in and of itself, that's impressive for a young, gay candidate, especially given that in his Council run he didn't have the advantage of being listed as a Democrat).
Hoadley and Moss didn't just win their primaries, however. They got majorities. 59% for Hoadley, 51% for Moss.
Not bad for young LGBT candidates who, between the two of them, had run exactly once before.
A Swing Seat Letdown
If Hoadley and Moss can do well, then surely someone like Garnet Lewis - seasoned campaigner, accomplished professional, community servant, and 2014 State Senate candidate - could do well in a general election in a swing seat, right?
We'll never know.
Most of the 32nd Senate District is in Democratic-leaning Saginaw County, so Democrats needed to win the seat in order to make inroads in a Republican-dominated Senate. In the spring of 2013, Lewis began a quest to win the seat vacated by term-limited Sen. Roger Khan (R). Financially, her efforts paid off. In 2013 alone, she raised nearly $56,000 - all of it from individuals.
But that wasn't enough for some insiders. Never mind the work Lewis had put in - work that must be done in order to win an election. Never mind that Lewis eagerly wanted the seat** - a must for any candidate in a close election. Never mind that other districts went without recruited candidates until just days before the filing deadline. She was still a lesbian - or, as it was often whispered, "she can't win" - and they needed to find someone else.
Finally, in 2014 - a year after Lewis started her campaign and just months before the filing deadline - they got a candidate. As soon as Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes got into the race, the establishment got behind her. Boy, did they ever get behind her. Bankers. Lawyers. Lobbyists. Healthcare companies. Matty Moroun. PACs. All funded Erwin Oakes's primary campaign. And it paid off in the primary.
But Erwin Oakes lost the general election, 55-45%. She even lost Saginaw County by a 53-47% margin.
How bad is it that she lost Saginaw County? Not only did Saginaw go for Schauer, but even Godfrey Dillard beat Ruth Johnson there. In fact, in this Republican year, 11 of the 13 Democratic nominees who were on the ballot in all of Saginaw County*** finished ahead of their Republican opponents in the county. Only Totten and Erwin Oakes underperformed Republican opponents in Saginaw County.
Why did Erwin Oakes lose? Besides the obvious (that it was a Republican year), I can't tell. Why did she underperform the rest of the Democratic slate? I don't know. Had Lewis been the nominee, would she have won the seat? We'll never know. One thing's for sure, though: had Lewis been nominated, the worst that would've happened is that we would've lost the general.
We lost anyway.
Lessons to Learn
Every election has its share of lessons to teach us. This year, we learned a lot of lessons the hard way. But our victories have plenty to teach us as well.
By their strong showing relative to other Democrats in their districts, Hoadley and Moss have shown us that Democrats need not worry about a candidate's sexual orientation affecting their chances at victory.
Being gay didn't hurt Hoadley or Moss in either the primary or the general.
And it won't hurt future LGBT candidates.
Be not afraid, fellow Democrats. Be not afraid.
*After the straight ticket option, the #1 race on the ballot was Governor/LG. Attorney General was #3 (after Secretary of State), while State Representative was #7.
**The same could not be said of certain other swing seats, in some of which nobody seemed willing to take on the immense task of running a competitive campaign.
***The 13 are Peters, Schauer/Brown (counted as one here), Dillard, Totten, Erwin Oakes, and the statewide education board candidates.