The Man from Kalkaska

Meet one Republican, you’ve covered much of the spectrum that the GOP occupies.  Meet two dozen Democrats, and you’re only halfway there.  Republicans are a far more unified, ideologically coherent political party.  Democrats barely qualify as a party.  In my mind, I think a much more accurate description would be a coalition.

The Republican party is composed of the affluent, the religious and the rural.  Granted, there are segments of the GOP that fall under none of these categories, but these three groups form both the bulk of the muscle and the rank and file of the party.  With the Democrats, you have the following: labor, gays, Jews, blacks, Latinos, most of the ladies, urban dwellers, environmentalists.  This listing is also incomplete, but as with the characterization of the GOP above, these groups comprise the majority of the left.

So, depending on where you are in the country, Democrats can be very, very different creatures.  Historically in Michigan, the Democratic party has been an extension, by and large, of the labor movement.  Up until this weekend, for the last 18 years, Mark Brewer has led the Democratic party.  He withdrew at the last minute after it became clear that he would lose his tenth bid to be chairman of the Michigan party.

He was unseated by Lon Johnson, a 41 year old Michigan native from Kalkaska who recently narrowly lost (53%-47%) a race in a strongly Republican district in the Michigan House of Representatives.  Johnson has been a midlevel Democratic functionary in various campaigns and organizations for the past decade, and is married to Julianna Smoot, the deputy director of the President’s reelection campaign.

The thinking is that Johnson will bring the same sort of organizational talent to a moribund Michigan party apparatus that has been more concerned with turf wars and pushing a predominantly labor agenda.  Brewer, a creation of former US House whip David Bonior, was essentially the mouthpiece of labor, and conducted party policy as such.  Proposition 2 in the past electoral cycle was widely regarded as a pipe dream.  It would have enshrined collective bargaining as a constitutionally protected right in the state constitution.  It was a massively expensive political operation and failed by a wide margin during an electoral season when Democrats did well across the board.  In theory, the money that underwrote Prop 2 been dedicated to better field operations that could have potentially retaken the legislature for the the Democrats.

Brewer was widely viewed as having become very complacent during his long tenure, and this weekend, after a tactic that would have allotted much of the votes to Brewer supporters failed, he withdrew.  Lon Johnson took the help by unanimous acclamation.  Electoral intrigue and analysis of this sort is always fun.  Now it’s time to move a legislative agenda and extract as much as Democrats are able to out of Snyder by pitting him against the far right flank of his party.  It can be done, but it couldn’t be done by Brewer.  Let’s see how the man from Kalkaska can do it.


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