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Today in -- hoo-boy -- the MDP chairman's race

by: Eric B.

Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 21:06:16 PM EST

Laura Berman writes about the state party chairman's race.

But now Lon Johnson, a fresh-faced political operative with Michigan roots, a Kalkaska address and an unexpected Southern drawl, has been tapped by many of the party's most powerful players to challenge Brewer, creating a contest that looks gentlemanly only from afar. Behind the scenes, there's a political strategic battle taking shape that would make Machiavelli cringe.


The most surprising twist may be Brewer's continued determination to fight on, even as his support dwindles. He's counting on the loyalty of party chairs like Macomb County's Ed Bruley, who praises Brewer's smarts and accomplishments, and believes Brewer can, and will, eventually win.

But on Tuesday, Brewer lost many of Macomb County's key leaders, including county Clerk Carmella Sabaugh and Prosecutor Eric Smith.

"Even if Mark (Brewer) wins, what kind of leader can he be when he's lost the confidence of so many?" muses one party leader.

Yeah, I'm not real crazy about the use of an anonymous source for that last quote, to be perfectly frank. For starters, most of the party leaders already made up their minds who they'd support before Lon Johnson announced. You have to assume by reading the quote that it's a Johnson guy, because no Brewer person is going to tell a reporter that their guy might as well give up now. But, it sounds damning, and I don't get the sense that it's true. In this case, identify the person and where he leans or don't bring it up.

By the way, just in case you're only cursorily paying attention, the contested race for Michigan Republican Party chairman has gotten zero press.

By the way, the following endorsements for Johnson, via e-mail:

In addition to the Wyandotte Democratic Club, those who signed on this week include: Sandra Hughes O’Brien, Chair, Michigan Democratic Hispanic/Latino Caucus, Ned Staebler, economic development leader, Curtis Hertel, former Speaker of the House, Alma Wheeler Smith, former State Senator, former Congressmen Bart Stupak and Gary McDowell, respectively, Dean Robb, lawyer, Traverse City, Virgie Rollins, DNC Member, Mark Bernstein, U of M Board of Regents, Joel Ferguson, MSU Trustee, Sen. Bert Johnson, Dan Martin, Ferndale Area Democratic Club, Arturo Reyes, Genesee County Hispanic Caucus, Ying Gee, MDP Executive Board member and Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council.

See, these are all leaders of the party.

Mark Brewer's folks today circulated an e-mail that included these paragraphs:

If re-elected, I will continue to look to new ways to make the MDP even stronger. My number one priority moving forward will be to implement redistricting reform to ensure that Democrats are fairly represented at all levels. I also want to change some of our organizational practices, utilizing techniques pioneered by President Obama’s campaign.

Change and innovation may not be the first thing you think of when you think Mark Brewer. I still drive Cliff Taylors’ car, and you are still likely to see me wearing my trademark blue blazer and red tie.



Eric B. :: Today in -- hoo-boy -- the MDP chairman's race
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On the one hand....
MI Democrats are particularly alarmed at poor showings in state House, state Senate and US House contests.

At the same time, I've recently learned from blog posts and comments, that the legislative campaign committees (DEMCOM, JLC, DCCC) basically coordinate the campaign and finances at those levels.  This comes as a surprise to those of us who don't deal with this stuff on a daily basis.

My logic tells me that we're barking up the wrong tree.  However my political intuition tells me that, if enough of us really want to change things where change is most needed, a way can be found to make it happen.

Someone needs to shed more light on the jurisdictional underpinnings of all this.  

You know what might change that status quo?
If the MDP could offer more funding, better organizational prowess and greater access to people-power (both paid and volunteer) for campaigns and candidates in all parts of the state, then groups like DEMCOM, JLC and the DCCC would be more inclined to partner with the state party rather than support shadow organizations to do what the MDP currently can't or won't provide.

Because for the past few cycles, there's been a brutal triage in which the MDP -- shepherding its resources -- arbitrarily judges which House and Senate candidates to support, which ballot initiatives to pursue and endorse, and whether or not to attempt recalls (usually they've said NO, with the primary reason being a desire to not "waste" resources on the effort).

Think back...why did Democrats take the state House in 2006 and hold it in 2008? Did Mark Brewer's MDP do anything different or special? Did DEMCOM and the JLC experience a spike in competence?

No. The difference was Jon Stryker and his sister Pat, who between them funneled $5.2 million through their Coalition For Progress PAC in 2006 to elect Democrats to the House and Senate and defeat Dick DeVos. The PAC spent another $2.3 million on House races in 2008.

Bottom line (translated to LOLCat):


"The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity." ~ Harlan Ellison

[ Parent ]
And the Coalition for Progress worked with a large number of very progressive organizations to develop a list of viable candidates outside the existing MDP "machine". Those were heady days - we had some money, a lot of on the ground support from OFA and we weren't quite so tied to the MDP's methodology. We were ridiculously successful because we didn't do things the same way. 

(Full disclosure: I worked for one of the funded organizations - Michigan Equality - at the time and was directly involved in many of the campaigns.)

What's really frustrating is that we have evidence that a different model can and does work but for 2010 and 2012, the MDP went back to the George Perles playbook of "up the middle, up the middle, up the middle, PUNT!".

Unless we make real and lasting change in how the MDP selects, funds and supports candidates, we're going to get the same old thing every single time. 

Do stupid people know they are stupid?

[ Parent ]
You make good points. But I want to add or clarify a few things...

The decisions about what State House or Senate races get funded are NOT made by the MDP or Brewer. They are made by those running the House and Senate Caucuses (what some people here call DEMCOM) and a lot of their decisions are based on polling conducted in September with follow up polling in mid to late October.  Other factors include the reports from House and Senate organizers and sitting Caucus members about how hard a particular candidate is working, how organized their effort is (when the Caucus has sent volunteers and caucus members from safe seats there how did it go?), how much money each candidate has raised, how vulnerable the Republican candidate is. There will always be disparity in how much money gets spent on these races.  For one thing you can buy airtime for commercials on TV and radio MUCH cheaper in places like the Thumb and Northern MI and the UP than you can in bigger media markets like Detroit, GR and Lansing.

Bottom line, the MDP isn't making those decisions. But they do help to implement the decision made by bulk-buying, bulk-mailing, and serving as the "Paid for by" on attack mailings and ads so that the candidates themselves can say they are only doing "positive" campaigning.

In '06 and '08 and '10 the JLC did not exist.  The JLC came about after the Republican Wave election of '10 and after the Funders looked at the House and Senate Caucuses and realized that they needed overseeing. They put together the JLC with the MDP's approval to work in agreement with Caucus leadership and staff. Unfortunately existing friction between the two Caucuses and resentment about the Funders demanding accountability for their investment by putting the JLC in place to oversee the Caucuses led to... a lot of mistrust and non-cooperation.

So you ask about a spike of competence, and what I think happened was a spike of INcompetence in the Caucuses. I don't blame them, most of them were brand new. Almost all of the veteran caucus staffers left after 2010, forced out by budget cuts, new leadership wanting their own people and simple campaign-fatigue.  2012 was a cycle where both the JLC as well as the people in charge of the Caucuses were all brand new.


[ Parent ]
Agreed re: fault of MDP
MDP can't be blamed, at least to any large extent, for the Senate losses in 2010 and the 10 and 12 House losses. Now if you want to point a finger pertaining to Supreme Court and ballot initiatives, we're having a different conversation.

That being said I disagree about the incompetence of the House Caucus (and not just because I consider many of them friends). Being completely frank, Democrats had an especially difficult recruitment streak for 2012. In other words, many of our candidates sucked. The ones that were decent-to-good candidates have made their debut in the House now: think Gretchen Driskell, Henry Yanez, Tom Cochran, Winnie Brinks, Scott Dianda, and maybe a couple more I'm blanking on now.

The ones that weren't so decent needed to play a huge game of catch-up, and for most it just wasn't enough. In an attempt to not sound catty I will refrain from naming names, but at least one of the people elected is not what one might consider a, ehem, type A personality, shall we say.

Then on the other end were candidates like one I worked for, in which I showed up in mid-August and VoteBuilder promptly informed me they had knocked a total of 83 doors in the past three weeks. For reference, if I knock 83 doors in one day I feel like I didn't do so well. Lost by ~3000 votes.

This is of course a function of term limits, and redistricting played a huge role. GOP is smart: even districts that are 50-50 on paper, like my own 99th, are well-known for having a weak Democratic bench.

Anyway, this is way longer than I wanted it to be, and is so off topic I'm embarrassed. The important thing to take away is that there is plenty of blame to go around, the MI Dem institutions aren't magic-makers, and I blame lazy candidates primarily.

Now I have my fair share of criticism for the MDP, but no amount of MDP leadership will ever change what was said to me 3 weeks after being hired:

"If I hired you, why do I still have to knock so many doors?"

[ Parent ]
A gross generalization
You had one candidate.  Of the several who lost their races, many were excellent candidates.  Your guy was directly recruited by the House Caucus.

"Action is what separates a belief from an opinion."

[ Parent ]
Mine was just the most egregious example.
Granted I don't know what your definition of excellence in a candidate is, I can assure you by my relatively low standards, there were many low-quality candidates this time around.  

[ Parent ]
The notion
that the MDP is blameless is hilarious. JLC was made up mostly of "DEMCOM" individuals anyway (the others being union leaders). If the House/Senate DEMCOMs are as bad as you imply, then JLC was merely putting lipstick on a pig.

[ Parent ]
The quote about Brewer being unable to lead the MDP even if he wins
I saw the quote, and assumed that I was the person being anonymously quoted.  But then I realized nobody would call me "a party leader", and that I haven't talked to Berman this week, so it couldn't have been me.

Instead, I said exactly the same thing to a reporter from MIRS, but with a slightly different phrasing.

If he's re-elected, at the very least he's going to have a list of hundreds of former supporters who have no confidence in him, and who are likely to spend the next two years nitpicking him and trying to recruit a candidate with more of a built-in base than Lon has.

Unless the MDP's fortunes turn around completely in the next two years, Brewer will face an endless chorus of griping and finger-pointing.  Since it's hard to imagine things improving very much, if at all, as a result of the 2014 election, if Brewer prevails on the 23rd, it's likely to prove Pyrrhic.

What do you mean will
If he's re-elected, at the very least he's going to have a list of hundreds of former supporters who have no confidence in him, and who are likely to spend the next two years nitpicking him and trying to recruit a candidate with more of a built-in base than Lon has.

Where have you been that last few years, people have ragged on mark all the time. Levin's been trying to unseat mark for a while now, and did you miss the Granholm attempt  

[ Parent ]
I meant it literally.
In the past, there have been incipient revolts, but there was never a public vote, or published lists of people endorsing his opponent.  As the present unrest has unfolded, large numbers of people - not just one or two prominent office-holders - are acknowledging their opposition.  And if there's finally a floor vote at the convention, hundreds more will be publicly revealed.

Maybe that's not a big deal, but it feels very different to me.  If Brewer is re-elected, both he and his opponents will know who was on which side.

[ Parent ]
Isn't that a possible scenario in any hard-fought race?  It's certainly a possibility, and another possibility is that everyone comes back together for the good of the party.  Sounds like kind of a silly argument when you realize it could be made in the other direction.  A lot of people are going to be pissed if Brewer is ousted to.  This is the reality of a bitter fight.  The hope is that adults can get over hurt fee-fees.

[ Parent ]
Maybe my memory is faulty.
But when Granholm tried to get rid of him, the fight seemed to involve mainly the two of them, not everybody else.  Granholm and Brewer squared off to fight, and a (defective) compromise was found which obviated a floor fight.  Observers were left to guess how various delegations might have voted, if they had been forced to vote, but everybody was left with what the Nixon folks called "plausible deniability".

All that made it much easier, it seems to me, to continue working together when it was over.

In the present conflict, if Brewer is re-elected, he's going to have to seek a modus vivendi with hundreds of elected officials and party activists.  Maybe he can start learning new tricks, but the Brewer I know is famous for bearing grudges, not extending forgiveness.

[ Parent ]
You've been warned about abusing the ratings system.  STOP IT.

Ratings are Fair
If a poster adds substance to the conversation I rate it appropriately. If the poster is confabulating, making tautological arguments or being disingenuous they get a lower rating. The troll rating is reserved for ad hominem attacks. I expect nothing else from others.

I've tightened my rating based partially on your complaints of abuse, but at this point you are mostly complaining because of the low marks I've given out that you disagree with.

[ Parent ]
Quod erat demonstrandum

[ Parent ]
If you're going to refuse to stop (and you've been warned), you'll get the same treatment in kind.  I don't know who you think you are, or where you came from, but you've been a unapologetic dick since day one, and finally someone is calling you on it.

Good night.

[ Parent ]
You "finally" called me out and warned me on the issue last week. Thank you. But I'm going to continue to use the rating system rational suggested by your own comments and others. Since then for instance, I've reserved the "troll" rating only for ad hominem attacks.

I think the criteria you implied and those I use are fair and don't reflect my agreement or disagreement with the poster. At least not since you complained.

No need to wish me an indignant good night, the satire is stale and not genuine.

[ Parent ]
Post-convention reality
While it's anyone's guess how the contest will play out, however it plays out there will be winners and losers within the political consultant class and among establishment party leaders who hold titles and/or power. How the next party chair, whether it's Brewer or Johnson, deals with that will be one determinant of the impact of aftershocks from a convention fight.  Another will be what happens within the labor community, which is split between Brewer and Johnson.

There's still an outside chance that there will be a deal that avoids a convention floor fight. But look in the coming days for both sides to begin focusing on things that could really erupt into outright political warfare the likes of which we've not seen before and are apt to help Republicans in 2014. For example, under current party rules at an off-year spring convention the party chair is in charge of rules and credentials committees, which in an off-year are comprised of party executive committee members. This, of course, means Mark Brewer will be in a position to influence decisions on credentials. Now there's a huge opportunity for conflict if there's a floor fight, including in the courts. Do I think Brewer would use his position to tip the scales in his favor?  I don't know but I don't want to find out.  

The best thing to avoid that nastiness is to make sure someone neutral is the convention chair and chair of rules and credentials. If this doesn't happen then the odds of post-convention nastiness are quite high.    

Former Congressman Gary McDowell?
I didn't know Gary won (from Lon's email). Was that the same 2012 cycle when we lost the State Senate (from the old UAW email)?  

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