12/19/2015

Kent County voters to elect two new Circuit Court judges

Voters in Kent County will elect two new Circuit Court judges in 2016 - one due to retirement, the other due to an additional judgeship being created.

The addition of a judge means another assistant prosecutor will have to be added to accommodate the position.

Also, there will be two more court clerks, two more courthouse deputies and an additional courtroom will be outfitted in space already existing in the 12-floor court facility at 180 Ottawa Ave. NW.

The Kent County Board of Commissioner approved the outlay of $509,064 in personnel costs including $191,324 in judicial staff salaries, $107,609 for the Kent County Prosecutor's Office and $210,131 for the Sheriff's Department. An additional $116,476 in judicial salary and associated expenses will be paid directly by the state.

All of the positions will be filled by January 2017 and the judge's position will be decided by election in November 2016. There will be at least two judgeships on the ballot because Judge George Buth will be forced out due to the state's age restrictions.
Candidates have until April 19 at 4:00 to file to run. If more than four candidates run (which I presume will happen), there will be a primary with the top four candidates moving on to the November general.

This will mark the first time since 2006 that a non-incumbent position on the Circuit Court has been up for election.

12/13/2015

On being elected 2nd District Democratic Chair

I am pleased to announce that I have been elected Chair of the Michigan 2nd Congressional District Democratic Party!

Here are a few areas on which I plan to focus as Chair:

Boost the Democratic "brand." People need to understand what it means to be a Democrat - and why they should vote for us. As we learned in 2014, it's not enough to call out Republicans (though they need to be called out); we must also talk about what we stand for as Democrats. From the New Deal and the Great Society to the enormous progress made during the Obama Administration, Democrats have such a wonderful story to tell. Let's make others feel the same pride that we feel when we call ourselves Democrats!

Collaborate with other Party units, labor, and other progressive stakeholders. We have plenty of opportunities to work with county parties, College and Young Democrats, MDP caucuses, labor unions, and organizations focused on the environment, women's rights, racial justice, and other issues. 2CD should serve as an intermediary and as a resource for Party units and other stakeholders. In addition, I hope to leverage my relationships with local and state progressive leaders to strengthen 2CD.

Plan for the long term. As a Party, we need to move beyond merely thinking of the next election cycle. 2016 is critical, but so are 2018, 2020, and so on. The Democratic National Committee and the MDP are taking steps toward long-term strategic planning through the 2022 cycle; we need to do the same in 2CD. While 2016 is critically important, so is 2018, when we will elect a new Governor and other statewide officials, re-elect Senator Stabenow, and win the 34th State Senate district. Along this vein, we need to build our bench by electing great Democrats at the local level who will serve as our state lawmakers and statewide elected officials of tomorrow.

Once again, I am looking forward to serving in this capacity and helping Democrats at the federal, state, and local levels in 2016 and beyond!

9/14/2015

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

8/27/2015

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.

Yikes.

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

8/01/2015

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.

6/26/2015

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.

=

:-)

6/25/2015

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!"

6/09/2015

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.

6/06/2015

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.

6/04/2015

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.

5/22/2015

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.


5/06/2015

Nine reasons Proposal 1 went down in flames

Some people would vote against a tax increase even to save their lives. But as I explained yesterday, most voters - even in Republican-leaning areas - do understand the need for taxes.

So what doomed Proposal 1? A number of factors:

People just don't trust Lansing politicians. The people who put this on the ballot are not trusted. People are naturally going to be suspicious of anything politicians in Lansing support.

Lawmakers didn't listen to voters. As I'll discuss later, the disconnect between lawmakers in Lansing and ordinary people across the state is bigger than ever. Lawmakers did not consider their constituents when putting together this proposal - in part because many of them haven't taken the time to understand their constituents' needs.

Folks want the rich to pay more. Many people would've been fine with the proposal had Lansing not shifted the tax burden away from corporations and onto individuals over the past four years.

It was a sales tax hike, not an income tax hike. Many people who voted against it did so out of concern about the regressive nature of the sales tax. Because poor people spend a higher share of their income on sales-taxable items, a higher share of their income is also paid to the state via the sales tax.

The legislature didn't do its job. This was a common frustration among pretty much everybody. It made supporters reluctant to vote Yes. For many opponents, it's what clinched their No vote. There were even quite a few people who didn't vote at all because of this. Lawmakers are paid $80,000 per year to tackle tough challenges - why didn't they do that?

It couldn't be explained easily. I know we all wish 30-second sound bites weren't the norm in our politics, but...

Voters didn't see what was in it for them. If you want someone to vote a certain way, you need them to (1) have a reason to go vote and (2) have a reason to vote the way you want them to vote.

It's not enough. $1.2 billion would have stopped the bleeding - but it wouldn't have done much to reverse the long-term problem of poor investment in our roads.

The anti-Prop 1 folks were much more energized. Whatever message people wanted to send, they were ready to send it - and they came out in force. Proponents of the proposal, on the other hand? Even many supporters 'held their nose,' the proposal was bad - but that the alternative would be worse. People who have to hold their nose to vote for something will hardly ever do much to persuade other people to vote.

Despite people's objections to Proposal 1, some things are clear: Voters do not trust the Republican-led government. They oppose cutting education and health in order to fund roads. They support funding our schools and communities. And they are willing to pay taxes - if they feel they're getting a fair shake.

5/05/2015

Voters OK with taxes, but not with Lansing

The Tea Party is already trying to spin Proposal 1's defeat as either (1) the voters sending sending lawmakers an anti-tax message or (2) the result of confusion from the addition of such things as Earned Income Tax Credit and education funding.

They're wrong.

Many things combined to doom Proposal 1, but as voters in Michigan have repeatedly shown, they're okay with paying taxes - if they know what they're getting.

Michigan Has Raised the Sales Tax Before

It was just 21 years ago - the same year as the "Republican revolution" of 1994 - that Michigan voters voted overwhelmingly to raise the sales tax from 4% to 6%. That proposal, like this year's Proposal 1, had a lot of complex parts, including provisions relating to taxable value of homes.

Nearly 70% of voters approved it.

Proposal 12-5

In 2012, tea partiers sought to get Michigan to require that any tax hikes get the support of 2/3 of the legislature.

That went nowhere fast. In fact, more people voted No on that proposal than voted for or against any proposal since 1963 - and possibly any proposal in Michigan history.

Politicians No Longer Punished for Raising Taxes

if the 1983 recalls of State Sens. Phil Mastin and David Serotkin seem long ago, it's because they are.

In 2011, Republicans passed a tax shift that forced poor people to bear the brunt of Michigan's financial burden. We've had two elections since then - neither of which led to Democrats gaining any control in Lansing.

After Democrats (and a few Republicans) voted to raise the income tax in 2007, Democrats gained nine seats in the state House in 2008. That year, Mark Schauer actually got a promotion, defeating Tim Walberg in a red-tilting district.

Republican Kent County Backs Millage Increases

Last year, Rick Snyder got 62% of Kent County's vote. Even Terri Lynn Land got 52% of the vote here. Yet voters in this Republican-leaning county passed three - not one, not two, but three - tax increases:



The result of these millage increases is that most Kent County residents who live outside of Grand Rapids are paying $31 per year for every $100,000 in value to their house.

In fact, today's vote on Proposal 1 is likely to represent the first failed tax vote on the ballot anywhere in Kent County in two years.

So don't fall for the anti-tax spin. Even many opponents of Proposal 1 know that taxes are necessary, even if they didn't like this proposal.

Who I'm voting for today

I'm voting for a lot of people today.

No, there are no names on the ballot - just proposals - but the results of these proposals will affect people both here and around the state.

So I'm voting for children to learn from the best teachers in state-of-the-art buildings. I'm voting for teachers to have good-paying jobs. I'm voting for Earned Income Tax Credit beneficiaries who would be better off with full restoration of the EITC. I'm voting for road workers who would have steady jobs.

What's right isn't always popular - and what's popular isn't always right. The results of Proposal 1 will likely bear that out.

Whatever.

Like a Democrat voting in a red district, I'm choosing conscience over popularity. I'm choosing students, teachers, workers, and the poor over letting Gary Glenn decide the future of road funding. I can live with a Yes vote. I can't live with letting Todd Courser and company decide how - or if - our roads get fixed.

It's been nearly five months since Proposal 1 was voted onto the ballot. I've heard few decent reasons to vote against it. Even the best reasons for a No vote can be debunked. And the worst reasons for voting No? Well, see Sunday's post about the cruelty of punishing people for potential political profit.

There's never been a perfect proposal. Prop 1 is no exception. But good things will never happen as long as we keep making the perfect the enemy of the good. Even if Prop 1 is "meh," I'll take "meh" over "blegh" any time.

So today, I'm voting Yes.

Then I'm going to do what I can to make sure Democrats win the State House (and other offices) in 2016. Then I'm going to help un-f**k the redistricting process. Then - and only then - can we even consider making responsible investments in infrastructure. And no matter how badly Prop 1 goes down, I'll be able to sleep knowing that I did my part.

4/08/2015

Demonizing the poor

One of the many consequences of having so many states controlled by Republicans is that there has been a flurry of bills demonizing the poor. One of the most common ways of doing so is by dictating what can and cannot be bought using food stamps and other forms of assistance. Many of these bills feed off of stereotypes of the poor - and stereotypes of "those people."

Emily Badger at The Washington Post notes that there are a lot of problems with these bills:

The first is economic: There's virtually no evidence that the poor actually spend their money this way. The idea that they do defies Maslow's hierarchy — the notion that we all need shelter and food before we go in search of foot massages. In fact, the poor are much more savvy about how they spend their money because they have less of it (quick quiz: do you know exactly how much you last spent on a gallon of milk? or a bag of diapers?). By definition, a much higher share of their income — often more than half of it — is eaten up by basic housing costs than is true for the better-off, leaving them less money for luxuries anyway. And contrary to the logic of drug-testing laws, the poor are no more likely to use drugs than the population at large.

The second issue with these laws is a moral one: We rarely make similar demands of other recipients of government aid. We don't drug-test farmers who receive agriculture subsidies (lest they think about plowing while high!). We don't require Pell Grant recipients to prove that they're pursuing a degree that will get them a real job one day (sorry, no poetry!). We don't require wealthy families who cash in on the home mortgage interest deduction to prove that they don't use their homes as brothels (because surely someone out there does this). The strings that we attach to government aid are attached uniquely for the poor.

That leads us to the third problem, which is a political one. Many, many Americans who do receive these other kinds of government benefits — farm subsidies, student loans, mortgage tax breaks — don't recognize that, like the poor, they get something from government, too. That's because government gives money directly to poor people, but it gives benefits to the rest of us in ways that allow us to tell ourselves that we get nothing from government at all.

Political scientist Suzanne Mettler has called this effect the "submerged state." Food stamps and welfare checks are incredibly visible government benefits. The mortgage interest deduction, Medicare benefits and tuition tax breaks are not — they're submerged. They come to us in round-about ways, through smaller tax bills (or larger refunds), through payments we don't have to make to doctors (thanks to Medicare), or in tuition we don't have to pay to universities (because the G.I. Bill does that for us).

I would add a fourth problem: many poor people don't vote.

There's a strong correlation between income an voter turnout. Nearly 80% of those who make $150,000 per year voted in 2008 - almost twice the turnout rate of those who make less than $15,000.

Of course, that also ties in with voter ID laws.

I've never been extremely poor (I've always had a roof over my head, for instance), but I've felt the pain of being on a limited income - and even no income.

It sucks.

But this sinister trend is is part of a vicious cycle that is undermining our civic life. Poor people are less likely to vote, so politicians ignore their needs. And because many politicians ignore the poor, the poor don't think government matters - so they don't vote.

It's up to us - poor, middle class, and everyone else - to break that cycle.

In the coming weeks, I'll talk about how we can break this cycle.

4/02/2015

Thank you, MLive Media Group and Jack Lessenberry


Michigan needs at least $1.2 billion per year to address its steadily deteriorating roads. Some experts say we need as much as $2 billion per year. The situation requires new revenue, and we need it yesterday.
Voters must pass Proposal 1 on May 5. Failure to do so will have harmful consequences for schools, cities and our state's economy -- not to mention your car and yes, potentially your safety.

Don't be fooled by the anti-Proposal 1 talk of a Plan B. There is no viable alternative. The closest thing to it was the failed Bolger plan of 2014, a scheme that would have eventually cost our schools a devastating $800 million per year.

Indeed, any proposal to fund road improvements without raising taxes will likely result in big losses for schools and cities. There isn't anywhere else in the budget that would provide the kind of money our roads need.

The whole thing is worth a read.

So is this from Jack Lessenberry who notes that if Proposal 1 passes:

There will also be a little more money for local governments and the schools, and even some to invest in mass transit. Plus, the working poor would get a much-needed break.

The EITC, the Earned Income Tax Credit stripped from them earlier in the Snyder administration would be fully restored; for many, this will make a significant difference.

Politics really is the art of the possible, and I don't think there is any other rational choice.

If the voters turn down Proposal 1, none of those good things will happen, at least not for years, and the roads will get worse and worse.

The arguments against it are mediocre at best, ridiculous at worst. I'll have more on that next week.

Fundraising emails work! ... except when they don't. An insider's perspective.

This week our inboxes were once again cluttered with emails from campaigns and other political organizations. But why?

It's quite common for folks in the world of digital politics to claim that these emails work. On its face, it's not incorrect; every time an email goes out, the dollars - at least a few of them - come in.

But there's a cost. A huge cost.

These EOQ blitzes annoy supporters -  and when people are annoyed, they unsubscribe. Each unsubscription equals another person who is less connected to the campaign - and we need them connected if we want them to volunteer or donate. Plus, there seems to be more of a focus on short-term metrics like dollars - at the expense of a long-term sense of community and connectedness.

President Obama set out to change politics - and the country - for the better. That included changing the relationship between campaigns and supporters. He understood that we need to make people feel connected if we want them to support us, to volunteer for us, to donate to us. A few years after Howard Dean pioneered email fundraising, Obama revolutionized it. The conversational tone is still featured in today's OFA emails.

Unfortunately, most campaigns have run away from that (just like they ran away from our President himself).

Today, political fundraising emails have gone out of control, offering little substance except for fear and groveling. No updates on events, no big announcements, pleas for money.

And that money? Well, a lot of it is going toward consultants - including digital consultants - when it could instead go towards things that could help us win elections.

The consultants see dollar signs.

The Democrats see defeat.

We have fewer seats in Congress than at any point since the Truman era. Democrats have only 58 of 148 seats in Michigan's legislature. Voter turnout in 2014 was lower than any other midterm since 1942 - when many eligible voters were overseas. (Yes, gerrymandering played a role - but how did the gerrymanderers get in office? Exactly.)

We can do better. I know we can. The Democratic Party is one of the greatest forces for good in the world. Not just the country - the world.

That's part of why I founded Humanoid Digital. It's also why I am so active in the Party.

Let's fix this. Together.

3/28/2015

Michigan Democratic Party opts for March 8 primary; Delegate Selection Plan open for public comments

The Michigan Democratic Party has released its draft Delegate Selection Plan for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, which will center on a March 8 presidential primary. The Plan itself has a lot to it, including procedural guarantees (i.e. nondiscrimination clauses); how delegate spots are allocated to presidential candidates; and specific rules on how the process of electing delegates works. (If it seems like there's a lot of legal-ese, it's because the DNC requires it in each state's delegate selection plan.)

The plan also calls for processes and efforts to ensure participation by Democrats of various races and ethnicities, as well as young, LGBT, and disabled Democrats. It also calls for education on the delegate selection process, as well as opportunities for financial support for less well-off Democrats who'd like to attend.

Under the rules, Michigan will have a total of 152 delegates:

  • 19 "Superdelegates," which include members of Congress and the Democratic National Committee;
  • 17 Party Leader and Elected Official (PLEO) delegates, elected by State Central on June 11, 2016;
  • 29 At-Large Delegates, elected by State Central right after PLEOs are elected; and
  • 87 District-level delegates apportioned to congressional districts according to how well the Democrats do in those districts. They'll be elected at district conventions on May 21, 2016.

Holding the primary in conjunction with the Republican primary offers a number of advantages:

  • We'll potentially have some influence. Iowa, new Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada all go in February; the rest of the states can go March 1 or later. There are incentives for states to go after April 1 - and Michigan took advantage of such incentives in 2012 and may again in 2020. But while other states go later, Michigan will likely have a say in the event that the nomination isn't settled by early March.
  • We can test GOTV strategies and tactics.
  • It'll save us money and effort on holding a caucus - money and effort that will instead go toward electing Democrats.
  • We'll be compliant with the DNC's rules regarding timing. Never forget or repeat 2008.
  • We'll have more data. As I mentioned recently, if both parties have a competitive primary, then
    Democratic voters who may have in the Democratic primary, providing more accurate clues as to the voter's actual political leanings. (Given the choice between two competitive primaries, you're probably going to choose the party with which you more closely align.

    Not that there won't be any crossover - there's usually some - but it will be minimal, and the odds are against Michigan being part of another Operation Hilarity. Phone banks and polls only go so far in deterring who's a Democrat and who isn't.

The plan will be formally approved at the April 25 State Central Committee meeting in Grand Rapids - but not before a public comment period. Under Delegate Selection Rule 1.C, all public comments must be received for 30 days and submitted to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, which then goes through each state's plan with a fine tooth comb.

Public comments may be submitted to midemparty@michigandems.com.

3/26/2015

Troll So Hard, Debbie Stabenow/Tom Cotton edition

Man, is this amazing.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) delivered a pitch-perfect trolling lesson to the Senate on Wednesday, filing an amendment calling to defund "the purchase of stationary [sic] or electronic devices for the purpose of members of Congress or congressional staff communicating with foreign governments and undermining the role of the President as Head of State in international nuclear negotiations on behalf of the United States."

In other words, Stabenow wants to defund Tom Cotton letters.

Earlier this month, Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas, organized a letter to Iranian leaders warning that future presidents may not abide by a deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions currently being negotiated by the Obama administration. Cotton garnered 46 additional GOP co-sponsors, and outraged even many critics of the Iran talks for addressing the letter directly to top Iranian government officials and bypassing the executive branch, which is constitutionally charged with negotiating foreign pacts.

...

But these legislative dominance rituals often do have real political consequences, even when they do not result in direct policy changes. Cotton's Iran letter has been politically unpopular, and even simply raising the issue through the amendment process could force senators who signed the letter to take another round of heat.

I have two amazing Senators.

3/17/2015

Kentwood City Commission unanimously backs Proposal 1

The Kentwood City Commission unanimously approved a resolution supporting Proposal 1, which, if passed, would increase road funding.

Commissioners Betsy Artz, Michael Brown, Bob Coughlin, Jerry DeMaagd, and Mayor Steve Kepley supported it. Being an MDOT employee, new Commissioner Steve Redmond (formally appointed and sworn in tonight to succeed Sharon Brinks) abstained due to a possible conflict of interest. Commissioner Erwin Haas was absent.

If Proposal 1 passes, Kentwood will see nearly $3.8 million in funding for road projects in Fiscal Year 2016 - a 22% increase over Fiscal Year 2014. By Fiscal Year 2018, that would increase to more than $5.1 million - nearly 65% more than 2014.

The final version of the resolution reads as follows:

WHEREAS, Michigan’s roads and bridges threaten driver safety and contribute to countless accidents each year, as drivers swerve to avoid potholes and other road hazards; and

WHEREAS, 38 percent of Michigan’s state- and locally-owned urban roads and 32 percent of the state’s state- and locally-owned rural roads are in poor condition; and

WHEREAS, Michigan has relied on Band-Aid, short-term fixes for our roads instead of investing enough money to fix our roads for the long term; and

WHEREAS, Michigan invests less per capita in transportation than any state in the United States of America; and

WHEREAS, the longer we wait to fix Michigan’s roads, the more it will cost us; and

WHEREAS, in addition to threatening public safety, Michigan’s crumbling roads hurt our economy; and

WHEREAS, Proposal 1 on the May 5 ballot is Michigan’s best chance to finally fix our roads with funds that the politicians can’t divert somewhere else – while also supporting Michigan’s long-term future by investing in our public schools and local communities;

WHEREAS: Having adequate resources to fix our crumbling roads and bridges is crucial to helping improve the state’s economy and generate an estimated 15,000 new skilled and high-paying jobs in Michigan; and

WHEREAS: Because safe roads are essential to the movement of goods throughout Michigan, Proposal 1 is supported by some of Michigan’s leading organizations of job providers including the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Michigan First, Business Leaders for Michigan, the West Michigan Policy Forum, Detroit Regional Chamber, Small Business Association of Michigan, Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Lodging and Resort Association and more; and

WHEREAS: Having safe roads is vital to the success of municipalities and is supported by some of the state’s leading associations including the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Association of Counties, Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, and Michigan Townships Association; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the City of Kentwood supports Proposal 1 on the May 5 ballot to provide the funding needed to finally fix our roads for the long term; and

RESOLVED: That the City of Kentwood knows the 1-cent increase in the sales tax will benefit local communities and help ensure drivers’ safety on the roads; and

RESOLVED: That the City of Kentwood formally supports Safe Roads Yes! because if it passes, every penny we pay at the pump in state gas taxes is guaranteed in the constitution to go to transportation.

3/09/2015

A few thoughts on Sigma Alpha Epsilon

By now, you're probably familiar with the outrageous, offensive behavior of (now-suspended) members of the fraternity in Oklahoma.

It sickens me for two reasons. First is the obvious - it’s racist, offensive, and immature. But there's another reason it disgusts me: it goes against every impression I’ve ever had of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

I never joined a fraternity during my undergraduate days. I had a lot on my plate back then. But I did come to respect most of the fraternities and sororities at CMU. And of all of the Greek organizations on campus, I held the highest regard for Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

Almost every interaction I had with SAE members - in student government, residence life, and everything else - was positive. They demonstrated respect, integrity, and commitment in all they said and did.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon members approach the concept of a True Gentleman in a way that I, a non-member, presumably cannot. However, I do know that SAE members take to heart these words by John Walter Wayland:

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.

The SAE members I met at CMU didn't merely talk about honor and virtue. They lived it. And they still do. No racists in Oklahoma can stop me from holding SAE members in high regard, particularly those whom I have had the privilege to know.

3/05/2015

Michigan and Ohio Democratic Parties file joint SCOTUS brief in support of marriage equality

From Ye Olde Presse Shoppe:

“Here in Michigan, far too many families have been denied liberty and justice for too long, because of the out of touch actions of Republicans Bill Schuette and Rick Snyder,” said Lon Johnson, Michigan Democratic Party Chair.

"Thousands of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on frivolous, fringe arguments, which have only served to embarrass our state. This effort to deny equal rights to parents and children, based on nothing more than a desire to score cheap partisan points with the far right wing of the Republican party, is just wrong,” added Johnson.

Mark Totten, one of the attorneys who wrote the brief, said "for two years now the State of Michigan has argued that the children at issue in the Michigan case would be better off as orphans then have two gay parents. That's wrong. The rights of these kids - so many of whom are special needs – to have two loving parents should not be decided at the ballot box."

Here's the brief.

3/02/2015

Get off your "both parties are the same" high horse already

Are the two parties REALLY the same? Are both parties REALLY equally to blame for Issue X or Problem Y? When voting, is it REALLY more virtuous to split your ticket than vote straight ticket?

Come on.

Just last week, Scott Walker compared protestors to ISIS. A Nevada lawmaker likened to a fungus that can simply be washed out. An Idaho lawmaker suggested that women need to swallow cameras before having an abortion. A Kansas lawmaker said she wants to criminalize ‘harmful’ books.

All in one week.

All Republicans.

And odds are, none of them will pay any sort of price within their party. If anything, they might get rewarded. Rewarded!

In today's Republican Party, decent people are being pushed out* while the far-right are being elevated.** Heck, Ronald Reagan would be considered much too liberal for many Republicans today.

Gerald Ford? Dwight Eisenhower? Don't even think about it.

Are Democrats perfect? Hell no! I get that, as do most Democrats. We're human beings, we make mistakes, etc. But I'll take the imperfections of our Party, our candidates, and our elected officials any day of the week - especially if that day is a Tuesday in early November.

*See: Lugar, Dick; see also: Schwarz, Joe.**See: Agema, Dave; see also: Glenn, Gary.

2/21/2015

Describe the May 5 road funding proposal in 100 words. Go!

MLive probes a decision facing the Bureau of Elections and the Board of State Canvassers: Coming up with a 100-word description of the May 5 ballot proposal.

Fun fact: Whenever a statewide proposal is to appear on the ballot, the Bureau of Elections crowdsources language (or at least officially they do). The Bureau of Elections then comes up with proposed language, publishes it online, opens it up for public comment, then submits the proposal to the state Board of Canvassers, which must ratify the language.

Here's the proposed language as of February 21:

A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTION TO INCREASE THE MAXIMUM SALES TAX RATE FROM 6% TO 7%, ELIMINATE SALES AND USE TAXES ON GASOLINE AND DIESEL FUEL, DEDICATE A PORTION OF USE TAX REVENUE TO THE SCHOOL AID FUND, REVISE PERMISSIBLE USES OF THE SCHOOL AID FUND, AND TRIGGER OTHER LAWS THAT INCLUDE DEDICATING REVENUE FOR ROADS AND OTHER TRANSPORTATION PURPOSES. The proposed constitutional amendment would:
  • Set maximum sales tax rate at 7% (now 6%).
  • Exempt gasoline / diesel fuel from sales and use taxes.
  • Dedicate portion of use tax to School Aid Fund (SAF).
  • Allow use of SAF for public community colleges and career / technical education and prohibit use for higher education.
  • Trigger laws that include but not limited to:
    • Increase sales / use tax rates to 7%;
    • Increase motor fuel tax on gasoline / diesel fuel and vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation purposes;
    • Require competitive bidding and warranties for road projects; and
    • Increase earned income tax credit.
Should this proposal be adopted?
YES
NO

2/16/2015

Michigan Democrats set big goals for 2016

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 highlights:

*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.

2/02/2015

How many 2016 DNC delegates will Michigan get?

(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. 1. The number of electoral votes the state (or DC) has, divided by 538;  and

  2. 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.
The resulting number is a state’s “allocation factor,” which is then multiplied by 3,200 to get a “base” delegate total. 25% of a state's base delegates are at-large, while the other 75% are allocated to congressional districts in a formula that varies from state to state but which generally measures Democratic strength in that district. In addition, 15% of the base delegate number is added on in the form of PLEO delegates.

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).

Bonus Delegates?

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:

DateDistrictAt-LargePLEOTotal Pledged+17 Unpledged
March872917133150
April963217145162
May1043517156173

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?

DateDistrictAt-LargePLEOTotal Pledged+17 Unpledged
March1003317150167
April1093617162179
May1173917173190

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.)
The fact that superdelegates still have a vote comes despite a lot of questions about the role of superdelegates in the presidential nominating process during and after the 2008 primary campaign. 19% of the more than 4,400 delegates at the 2008 Convention were unpledged; this included more than 700 "Unpledged PLEO" delegates (the party leaders, members of congress, governors, and DNC members I mentioned above), plus 80 "add-on" delegates. There were talks about removing the "super delegate" status of DNC members, but those didn't come to fruition.

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.

1/30/2015

10 reasons Mitt Romney isn't running

  1. His poll numbers weren’t the right height.
  2. Not sure he can get binders full of votes.
  3. 47% of corporations are dependent on the government for corporate subsidies. He’s not going to get their votes.
  4. Jeb Bush promised him he’d be ambassador to the Cayman Islands.
  5. Speaking of which, Chris Christie threatened traffic problems in the Cayman Islands if he ran.
  6. He lost a $10,000 bet, so the poor guy is down to his last $250 million.
  7. Big Bird advised against it.
  8. Training to beat Paul Ryan’s marathon time.
  9. Rather than Mitt himself running, he’s getting Bain Capital to run instead. They’re people, my friend!
  10. Wants to spend more quality time with his money.

1/29/2015

Five reasons I'm supporting Lon Johnson - and three things he can do to keep my support

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.

Lon Johnson has what it takes to lead these changes and build upon the work of the past two years. He deserves another term as Chair.

1/28/2015

It's official: Rosalynn Bliss running for Mayor of Grand Rapids

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.

1/25/2015

8 Questions for Democrats and Labor Heading Into 2016

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.

1/17/2015

Primary or caucus? 9 factors Michigan Democrats must consider

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.

3. Data

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.

4. Delegates

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.

1/12/2015

And we're off: First Grand Rapids mayoral candidate throws his hat into the ring

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
In 2002, Logie pushed for a proposal to merge the duties of mayor and city manager, effectively making the mayor a full-time position (much like it is in Kentwood). Logie, who dealt with some backlash for what some saw as a power grab, sought to alleviate these concerns by announcing that he would step down the following year.

Despite the fact that the office was open for the first time in 12 years, only one big name ran in 2003: Heartwell, who had earned a positive rapport among various groups and individuals in his two terms as a city commissioner, got 80% of the vote. His road to re-election in 2007 was trickier; Commissioner Rick Tormala and former School Board member Jim Rinck challenged him, holding him to just 51% of the vote. In 2011, however, he easily did away with token opposition.

This year, if anyone is able to clear the field this year like Heartwell did in 2003, it would likely be Bliss.

But at this point, expect a free-for-all.