While the Michigan Democrats’ progressive narrative continues to race to the radical left, the vast majority of their constituents are left without a voice. Michiganders deserve a party that prioritizes results through the empowerment of all individuals. The Michigan Republican Party is a big tent. To all Democrats in Michigan who are feeling left behind by their party we say: give us a chance and we will give you a choice.
Democratic endorsement convention reveals divide between progressives, African Americans
Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press, 4/19/2018
In every Michigan gubernatorial election cycle in the last 48 years, except for one, an African American has been nominated for one of the top three slots on the Democratic ticket.
But that streak ended Sunday when Democrats endorsed two white women for two of the top three slots — Plymouth attorney Dana Nessel for attorney general and former Wayne State University law school dean Jocelyn Benson for secretary of state. And the leading contender for governor, in polls and endorsements, is former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, who is also white.
The convention left many African Americans disheartened and wondering about their participation in this year’s election and their future in the party, especially since Pat Miles, an African American, Harvard University-educated lawyer and former U.S. attorney for the western district of Michigan, was also competing for the state attorney general’s slot.
“Dana out-organized and out-campaigned Pat Miles and his folks, but it’s also obvious that it seemed to be done at the exclusion of African Americans — instead of with us —and that’s the part that pisses people off,” said party member and political consultant Greg Bowens of Grosse Pointe. “The Democratic Party has become one of the few places where African Americans can come together and still feel empowered. But when you have what occurred on Sunday, the feeling of disempowerment is not at all what you would expect.”
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Nessel was able to gain a winning margin by putting together a coalition of progressives, supporters of marijuana legalization, activists who had supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the 2016 presidential election and new party members who were energized to get involved in politics after the election of Donald Trump as president.
Largely left out of that coalition, however, were African Americans, an important and loyal constituency in the Democratic Party. It started early in the day, when the Progressive Caucus met. The group had endorsed Nessel and gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed, but as the caucus meeting began, the group wouldn’t let Shri Thanedar, another candidate for governor, speak during its caucus. A large meeting room filled with caucus members booed him out of the room, chanting “Abdul, Abdul!”
Other caucuses allowed all the candidates to speak. But after the Thanedar incident, the other candidates who were not endorsed by the Progressive caucus, including Miles and gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, didn’t even try to speak to the caucus, knowing they would be shunned from the room.
When the nominations for attorney general came up before the full convention of more than 6,700 people, the contrast was even more stark.
On stage as the long convention day ended, Nessel’s mother-in-law, Mary Maguire,nominated her for attorney general and a largely white crowd gathered around Nessel, hoisting signs bearing her name.
Then, as former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade and the Rev. Wendall Anthony, president of the NAACP’s Detroit chapter, nominated Miles, they were surrounded by a diverse crowd that included a large number of African Americans.
“Before, when there is a call to have a diverse ticket, people would step aside, but Dana decided to go forward,” said Jonathan Kinloch, chairman of the 13th Congressional District organization in Detroit. “We’ve always taken pride in having a very diverse ticket and diverse voices and when I saw her on that stage, it was very concerning.”
Nessel has attended multiple events in Detroit and other urban communities around the state and plans for more outreach, her campaign said.
"Dana has spent her entire career representing people who are so often marginalized and silenced, and she will continue to do that as attorney general," said her campaign spokeswoman Angela Vasquez-Giroux Wittrock. "That begins with meeting people in their communities, listening to their concerns and taking their guidance to find solutions that are fair."
And while her message didn't win over a majority of the African Americans at the endorsement convention, Nessel prevailed by a 55-45 margin after the votes were tallied, buoyed by the more than 3,000 new members she helped sign up for the Democratic Party. By the time Miles conceded the race shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday, the inevitable had already begun to sink in and most of the people attending the convention had begun to filter out of the Cobo Riverview Ballroom.
“There was a person by person vote from the floor for that attorney general spot and it felt like we were rejecting an African American because of a huge influx of white progressives who hadn’t participated in anything that the party did before and that’s a shame,” Bowens said.
It was a startling and unfamiliar result for many in the party. Starting with Richard Austin’s stint as secretary of state from 1970 to 1994 to Detroit attorney Godfrey Dillard’s bid for secretary of state in 2014, there has almost always been an African American in one of the top 3 slots: governor, secretary of state or attorney general. The one exception was in 2010 when Brenda Lawrence, who was then the mayor of Southfield, was picked to be the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero, who was then the mayor of Lansing.
There’s still a chance, though. Bill Cobbs, an African American and retired businessman from Farmington Hills, is still in the race for governor — but without much money and no endorsements, he’s considered a long shot for the nomination.
Of the remaining three candidates — Whitmer, El-Sayed and Thanedar — whoever wins the Democratic nomination could bring more diversity to the ticket with their selection of a running mate.
And that’s going to be essential for the Democratic Party’s strategy to boost voter turnout in a year that’s supposed to be the start of a blue wave.
“Unless they get some diversity, it’s going to be a lackluster fall turnout and could spell certain defeat,” said Steve Hood, a Detroit political consultant. “Right now, it’s not a diverse enough ticket. There’s not enough men and there’s not enough African Americans.”
Indeed, Michigan could be in the unprecedented position of having three Democratic women — Whitmer, Nessel and Benson — at the top of the ticket in the fall.
The party knows it has to mend some fences after the bruising endorsement convention that featured plenty of insults and negative campaigning from both candidates for attorney general.
“It was a hard-fought race for attorney general and we know that whoever won, there is some serious work that needs to be done to bridge the divide,” said Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. “The party and all of our candidates need to have a strong effort to reach out to African-American communities to listen to their concerns and to make sure the party is representing their interest and values.
Dillon noted that the ticket has not been fully decided yet. Voters will choose a Democratic nominee for governor during the primary election on Aug. 7 and delegates to the Democratic convention will officially confirm the nominations of lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, Supreme Court and the boards of Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan and the state Board of Education on Aug. 25.
“We’re going to have a ticket that will broadly represent all of the people of the state of Michigan,” he said. “We have taken the concerns seriously from the people who are the base of our party and have been loyal for a very long time.”