2016 (and 2015) State House races starting to take shape

We're just 60 weeks away from the 2016 election, so it's not too early to take a look at some of the candidates who are planning to run for State House next year.

In fact, if you want to be among such candidates, you probably should be thinking about it right now.

At least 40% of Michigan voters (from 44 districts) have been represented by a lawmaker who is either term-limited (40), resigned (2), been expelled (Gamrat), or is running for higher office (Driskell). Not surprisingly, many candidates have begun to toss their hats into the ring. Here's a look at a few such candidates. Note that the candidates mentioned here have filed campaign committees; few of them have actually filed the affidavit needed to get on the ballot. Candidates have more than seven months to get their name on the August 2016 primary ballot.

The following districts have special primaries on November 3 and special general elections on March 8 (in conjunction with the presidential primary):

District 75 (Grand Rapids) - Safe Democratic - Brandon Dillon (D) resigned to become Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. A special primary will be held ANovember 3 in conjunction with municipal elections.

  • David LaGrand (D) - Christian Reformed minister, owner of two bakeries, Grand Rapids Public School Board member (since 2013), former City Commissioner (2008-2010), two-time State Senate nominee (2010 and 2006) 
  • Michael Scruggs (D) - Chairman of the Kent County Black Caucus; ran for Sheriff in 2012 and Senate in 2014
  • Blake Edmonds (R) - House staffer
District 82 (Lapeer County) - Safe Republican - The winner gets to succeed Todd Courser (R). Those won't be big shoes to fill.

  • Jake Davidson (R) - Consultant who had planned on primarying Courser
  • Gary Howell (R) - Lapeer County Road Commissioner, attorney, and Lapeer ISD board member
  • Chris Tuski (R) - Former Hadley Township firefighter and former automotive employee
The following seats will be open in 2016:

District 9 (Detroit) - Safe Democratic - Democrats will be thrilled to see Harvey Santana go. From almost starting a fight in the House floor to taunting Emily Dievendorf to accepting Kevin Cotter's appointment as ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, Santana has been bad news for House Democrats in an era when we already have enough bad news. The good news: He's term-limited. The bad news: His wife is running.
  • Rowan Latif (D) - Pharmacy employee and former Stabenow and Lawrence intern
  • Sylvia Santana (D) - Wife of Harvey Santana
District 23 (Downriver) - Tossup - Formerly held by Kathleen Law and Deb Kennedy, this seat has been held by Pat Somerville since 2011. With Somerville termed out, this seat is a top target of Democrats wanting to take back the House.
  • Sherry Berecz (D) - Brownstown Township Clerk
  • Darrin Camilleri (D) - Teacher and former President of the Michigan Federation of College Democrats
  • Steve Rzeppa (D) - Trenton City Council member

District 52 (Ann Arbor area) - Leans Democratic - Gretchen Driskell gained this seat in 2012 by defeating Mark Ouimet. Now that she's running for Congress, this seat could be a free-for-all.
  • Barbara Fuller (D) - Director of MI List and longtime political staffer
  • Donna Lasinski (D) - Ann Arbor School Board member
District 53 (Ann Arbor) - Strong Democratic - With Jeff Irwin (son of Mitch Irwin) term-limited, look for any number of Democrats to run to succeed him.
  • Yousef Rabhi (D) - Washtenaw County Commissioner and arboretum employee
District 101 (Northwestern Lower Peninsula) - Tossup - Dan Scripps narrowly lost to an incumbent in 2006, won the seat in 2008, and lost it in the 2010 drought. Democrats came just a few hundred votes shy in this seat in 2014.
  • Dan Scripps (D) - Former State Representative (2009-2011)
District 108  (Middle Upper Peninsula) - Tossup - Democrats will want to target this seat won by the late Judy Nerat in 2008. Nerat lost to Ed McBroom in 2010 and ran to reclaim her seat in 2012 before passing away at the end of that year. One Democrat has formed a campaign committee:
  • Scott Celello (D) - Dickinson County Sheriff


Cotter's grand marshal invite tarnishes CMU's image

It was announced this past week that Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter would be the grand marshal at the Homecoming festivities for my alma mater, Central Michigan University.

On the one hand, you can't begrudge University administrators for this. As long as I can remember (going back ten years now), alumni who have done well in their fields have been grand marshals - TV personalities like Larry Joe Campbell, Amy Roloff, and Carter Oosterhouse; CMU officials like ex-Trustee John Kulhavi; and even another State House Speaker, Craig DeRoche. So at first glance, Cotter is the kind of person you might expect to be grand marshal.

Except, well... he isn't.

See, unlike even DeRoche - whose stint as grand marshal came just weeks before the 2006 election - Cotter is leading (and responsible for) a House in more chaos and controversy that I can ever remember. The Courser-Gamrat affair, the ability to find a road-funding solution, the desire to repeal prevailing wage, the deep chasm between Lansing politicians and ordinary Michiganders - all are taking place under Cotter's watch.

And he's done next to nothing about any of these problems.

Tony Trupiano this week laid into the mess that has become of the House under the speakership of Kevin Cotter:

The failed attempt to find and fund a roads package that all can find acceptable was never realistic. I am not suggesting that he was assuming that, not even he is that naïve, or so I believe. But I am suggesting that the Speaker, who himself does not seem to be dealing with reality these days, and I will get to that shortly, is once again in the sights of both parties for very good reason: he is not only NOT leading, he seems to not have the support of his Republican colleagues, the Governor, his much needed partners in in Democratic House and anyone else, for that matter. Why? That is something that he needs to answer to but I will say from where I am sitting it is because he allows his mouth to work much faster than his brain.


Back in 2002 then-student Kevin Cotter was pulled over for speeding in Gratiot County and was found to have open intoxicants in the car, for which he paid a fine and admitted guilt. I think we can all agree that is a crime, a misdemeanor, but a crime nonetheless, right? Fast forward to 2014 and when asked through his survey through MLive.com if he had ever committed a crime, he answered no. When further given the opportunity to clarify his statement that he had never committed a crime, well, click through here and read his statement. Denial, classic Republican denial.

But, it does beg the question: If he is willing to lie about this, and clearly he did lie, is he capable of lying about anything else? That I will leave to your own filters. But, in my world, once a liar. Or at least the potential exists to be a liar once again. Just a real thought about someone who has a whole lot to lose.

Progress Michigan’s Hugh Madden, who is their Communications Director, wrote a blog post back in April of this year, wisely suggesting that Mr. Cotter was NOT ready for prime time as the House Speaker, and his vision is proving to be not only accurate, but potentially career ending. Think about that as he twists and turns and as the mainstream media continues to ignore his role in this horrific scandal, and again, what he knew and when he knew it.


CMU administrators, are you sure you still want this guy as Grand Marshal?


Bullying Is Bad Politics

As you may know, during the 2008 election cycle I had the privilege of serving as Deputy National Communications Director for the College Democrats of America. As the official branch of the Democratic Party on college campuses, CDA has traditionally stood up for Democratic policies and principles. Though I've been out of college for a few years now, I still follow the activities of the College Democrats at a national, state, and campus level (particularly at Central Michigan University, my alma mater).

The vast majority of the College Democrats I've known are passionate about their campus, community, and country. They want the best for their classmates, roommates, friends, neighbors, and relatives. They know that Democrats are the only party that cares about the issues facing young people - and they want to elect Democrats to office.

Earlier this week, reports began to surface surrounding events at last weekend's CDA National Convention. Those reports accused Natasha McKenzie, just re-elected as National President of CDA, of intimidation and threats. Those reports did catch my eye, but for a variety of reasons I didn't put too much stock in them. Nor did I put much stock in the rebuttals, at least one of which - I kid you not - complained that proponents of McKenzie's impeachment used the word "promulgated" twice in one letter.

Later in the week, however, it became evident that these accusations weren't isolated - there were serious issues surrounding McKenzie's handling of events at the Convention. Soon, many great people I respect began to speak out. Seven of the ten CDA officers issued articles of impeachment. After McKenzie accused her critics of racism and sexism, some 30 women - including two I personally know and respect - signed their names to a letter condemning these tactics.  That letter reads in part:

Furthermore, Natasha McKenzie used her identity as a woman of color as the reason that members of our organization have asked her to step down; quite frankly, we are offended. Co-opting the struggles of minority female leaders for personal salvation is insulting and demeaning to our cause.

It escalated further when Jade Reindl, a College Democrats leader in Florida, wrote this powerful editorial in which she states that she was raped.

A few weeks before I left D.C., I heard something from a trusted friend. A CDA state federation leader was telling people I had lied about being raped.

And, wait, wasn’t she good friends with Natasha? And, wait, I’ve only told five people I trust a whole lot about this? And, wait — oh god — who knows I’ve been raped? Does she know? Does he know?

But the situation only continued to escalate. In March, I was asked to run for Vice President of Florida College Democrats, and promptly entered the race on a ticket. My running mate, unbeknownst to me, reached out to Natasha for an endorsement. The following is her account of the situation:

“Natasha originally agreed to endorse my Unify FCD slate, until she saw who I was running with. When she realized that I was running with Jade, she immediately changed her tune. She started telling me that I had to drop Jade as my VP or she wouldn’t endorse me. When I asked why, she was pretty vague, saying that Jade had gone behind her back and done “some stuff.” She also suggested that I ask her myself. When Jade told me the truth, I knew that dropping her from the ticket simply wasn’t an option, despite the loss of a valuable endorsement. When I continued campaigning with Jade and the rest of the ticket, I started to get pressure to drop out of the race. In the end, I dropped out of the race for President of the Florida College Democrats with a promise from Natasha of a position on the CDA executive board. But, to be honest, College Democrats is no longer an organization that I want to be a part of at the state or national level. I will continue to make a difference in my community by staying involved in local politics, but I cannot be a part of an organization that sabotages elections and make people fear that they will no longer have a political future if they challenge the status quo.”

Is that the kind of person we want leading and representing our Party? Especially at a time when the other party is enacting requirements for rape insurance?

As I said, when I first heard about all of this, there were a number of reasons I didn't pay much mind to it. The biggest reason, I suppose, is that I'm so used to intimidation in politics.

I've been denied opportunities because I used to work for a gay candidate for office. (Not because I'm gay, mind you, but because my former boss is gay.) A friend of mine wanted to work for the same candidate, but she was told that anyone who worked for him would be blacklisted from working for any campaigns.

In 2012 I interviewed for a job at a Michigan political organization. The interviewer, whom I'd known vicariously for a few years, was eager to meet with me. Long story short, they almost hired me. Two years later, that same person was hiring for a similar position with a campaign. I didn't even get an interview. Instead, a former colleague of theirs was hired. Chalk it up to the good old boys club, or chalk it up to my being blacklisted because my ex-boss is gay - but either way, I was denied an opportunity.

We lost that election by a narrow margin.

Sadly, even a few Party leaders have resorted to these tactics. Many good Democratic candidates over the years have been told that the Party will not support them if they don't support certain candidates in primaries or at conventions. I won't go into details here, but suffice it to say it has happened - and some such candidates haven't been heard from since.

Heck, just within the past month, people have spread rumors about me that have turned out to be false. I'm just an ordinary person who suddenly became the subject of rumors from people who've never even met me.

We can sit around and say that it's "just politics." But the reality is that these tactics chase away volunteers, donors, and candidates.

And now that we see it happening at the college level, it's time to stand up and put a stop to it before Democrats lose another election.

At this point, whatever one thinks of McKenzie's behavior as CDA President, her continuing in office is only damaging CDA - and the Democratic Party - with fifteen months to go before a critical election. It's also clear that if I - a former national-level leader in CDA - keep quiet, I will have blood on my hands, so to speak.

Therefore, with a heavy heart, I, Scott Urbanowski, former Deputy National Communications Director of the College Democrats of America, am calling for the resignation or removal of Natasha McKenzie as President of the College Democrats of America.

To those College Democrats who support this motion to impeach McKenzie, I support you. Thank you for leading the way and showing the rest of us how to stand up to bullying.

May we all grow as a Party as we prepare to keep the White House, win seats in Congress, and score victories at the state and local level in 2015 and 2016.


It's official: Brandon Dillon running for MDP Chair

Michigan Democratic State Central Committee members (including myself) just received this email:

We respectfully request your support for Brandon Dillon for Michigan Democratic Party Chair and Lavora Barnes for MDP Chief Operating Officer

Given the challenges facing the Michigan Democratic Party and the urgent need to rebuild for 2016 and beyond, we believe our aggressive approach, deep experience at winning campaigns and complementary skill set create a strong partnership capable of bringing our party together and moving us forward. Our partnership can also unite the rich and diverse elements that make up our party, as well as the diverse geographies which make our party great.

A little about us:

Brandon Dillon serves as a State Representative from Grand Rapids. A former Kent County Commissioner, Brandon has been a leading voice on and strong advocate for progressive causes, labor, women’s issues, public education, LGBT rights and Michigan’s middle class. Brandon previously served as the campaign chair for the Michigan House Democrats, where he recruited top-notch candidates and oversaw competitive races in districts across the state. He is a strong fundraiser with a deep understanding of local issues from Marquette to Muskegon to Monroe. Having himself won a hard-fought race in a highly-competitive seat, Brandon has the experience and attitude necessary to win tough campaigns in tough areas.

Lavora Barnes is a veteran political strategist and operative with extensive leadership and management experience in public relations, communications, politics and media at the national, state and local levels. An appointee of Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, she serves as deputy clerk and register of deeds. Before serving in that position, Lavora was state director for Obama for America and served as a director in the White House Office of Media Affairs during the Clinton Administration and a press secretary for the Clinton-Gore campaign. As communications director for the Michigan House Democrats, she oversaw a team of more than 40 people and led the political operation.

Because our partnership is based on trust, a clear understanding of our roles and a willingness to work together, we believe we represent the strongest team to move our party forward. As State Central Committee Members, you have the responsibility to elect a new Chair. Should you elect Brandon, we will work shoulder-to-shoulder together as a team of equals, using our complementary skill sets and our shared commitment to rebuilding the Michigan Democratic Party to succeed.

We respectfully ask for your support for our partnership. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. We are available to meet with you and answer any questions you may have.

We appreciate your consideration and look forward to the opportunity to work closely with you as we move the Michigan Democratic Party forward.




Exhale: Court protects Obamacare subsidies in Michigan, 33 other states

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans - including myself - can be confident that a serious illness won’t force us into bankruptcy. Subsidies are an important part of the ACA’s formula for success.

Three years after losing a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of Obamacare - and with the help of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette - conservatives made another attempt to gut the law through the Courts.

So much for that.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Court found that, yes, the subsidies do apply to states which take part in the federal exchange.

A couple of key liked from the ruling:

So when deciding whether the language is plain, the Court must read the words “in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme.”
Here, the statutory scheme compels the Court to reject petitioners’ interpretation because it would destabilize the individual insurance market in any State with a Federal Exchange, and likely create the very “death spirals” that Congress designed the Act to avoid.
That's what the plaintiffs were trying to go for - at least that's what the cynic in me thinks. But despite the Court's known conservative lean (the majority from Citizens United is still there in its entirety), the latest attempt to dismantle life-saving Obamacare has run out of steam.

I stand by my prediction that in 40 years, the Tea Party of the 2050s will be holding up signs that say, "Get your government hands off my Obamacare!"


Cotter vs. Jesus and Reagan

Last month, State House Speaker Kevin Cotter announced his attempt at a road funding proposal. It's about what you'd expect: Accounting gimmicks, high-minded rhetoric, and other malarkey we've come to expect from the Party of Palin.

Perhaps the worst aspect of Cotter's "plan" is the elimination of the state-level Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The plan would "save" $117 million dollars - a tiny fraction of what is needed to fix our infrastructure - by taking that money away from the working poor. With less money to spend, the working poor would be unable to spend more money - which would hurt the economy and reduce sales tax revenues (thus negating any "savings" from cutting the EITC).

Put another way, while tax cuts and credits for the rich have no economic benefit, tax cuts and credits for the poor have a significant effect on the economy.

This wouldn't be the Republicans' first attack on the EITC since coming to power in 2011. In 2010, EITC-eligible Michiganders could claim up to 20% of the federal-level EITC on their state returns. In 2011, Republicans reduced that to 6%.

Kevin Cotter thinks even that is too much. Ronald Reagan thought otherwise. Reagan called the EITC "the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress." Indeed, it was the last Republican president before Reagan - Gerald Ford - who first signed the EITC into law.

But of course, Reagan - and especially Ford - would be far to the left of today's Republicans.

And Jesus Christ? The Nazorean whom Republicans like to trot out during campaign season? Well, perhaps a look at Matthew 25 would be in order.

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

So by targeting a credit that helps working people, Kevin Cotter is shunning Jesus. So are those who support eliminating the EITC.

For Cotter's sake, one hopes that he learns the error of his ways... before it's too late.


President Obama's eulogy for Beau Biden

To know Beau Biden is to know which choice he made in his life. To know Joe and the rest of the Biden family is to understand why Beau lived the life he did. For Beau, a cruel twist of fate came early –- the car accident that took his mom and his sister, and confined Beau and Hunter, then still toddlers, to hospital beds at Christmastime.

But Beau was a Biden. And he learned early the Biden family rule: If you have to ask for help, it’s too late. It meant you were never alone; you don’t even have to ask, because someone is always there for you when you need them.

And so, after the accident, Aunt Valerie rushed in to care for the boys, and remained to help raise them. Joe continued public service, but shunned the parlor games of Washington, choosing instead the daily commute home, maintained for decades, that would let him meet his most cherished duty -– to see his kids off to school, to kiss them at night, to let them know that the world was stable and that there was firm ground under their feet.

As Joe himself confessed to me, he did not just do this because the kids needed him. He did it because he needed those kids. And somehow, Beau sensed that -– how understandably and deeply hurt his family and his father was. And so, rather than use his childhood trauma as justification for a life of self-pity or self-centeredness, that very young boy made a very grown-up decision: He would live a life of meaning. He would live a life for others. He would ask God for broader shoulders.

The full version is here.


Bieber is new Michigan AFL-CIO chief. Ron, not Justin.

As you may know, Karla Swift stepped down as president of the Michigan AFL-CIO after four years. Taking her place is Ron Bieber, a longtime UAW leader.

Ron Bieber is a third-generation UAW member, and the son of former UAW President Owen Bieber. Prior to serving as CAP Director, Bieber served as Assistant Director of the UAW’s General Motors Department. Bieber joined UAW Local 730 at age 18, after hiring into General Motors Metal Fabricating plant in Wyoming, Michigan. He currently lives in Warren with his wife, Patti.

I can't say I know too much about Ron, although I've seen him at MDP events. Hs father is still quite involved in political and labor activities on the west side of the state, as is his brother.


To Serve and Protect: Nickelback 'wanted' by Australian police

This is wonderful.

"Police are on the lookout for these men who are believed to be impersonating musicians," the force said in a Facebook post on Wednesday, which includes a rough drawing of the suspects.

As it turns out, the Queensland police have a history of detesting Nickelback. In December 2014, they stated they would destroy a Nickelback CD received as a Secret Santa gift.

God bless our police for all they do.