It was a weekend for political battling in Michigan at the Republican and Democratic state conventions. There were spirited fights over who would lead the parties for the next two years. Now, Democrats and Republicans in Michigan have to heal their internal wounds before they face each other next year.
Democrats and Republicans both seem to think their parties are not winning as many races as they should in Michigan – a state that’s gone Democratic in six straight presidential elections but still sends lots of Republicans to Lansing. That’s led to big fights over direction and state party leadership.
In Lansing, Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak won a second term, but it was close. Very close. Todd Courser is an evangelical Christian who says he was “called” by God to challenge the party leader. But he says his challenge was not theological, but practical.
“When people want to analyze why the Democrats won last time and they say it was this, or the other," Courser says. "I’d say it was all of those things and they did them better than we did them.”
Courser says he doesn’t think Democrats won on issues, but outfought Republicans using technology to organize and contact voters. Courser had a lot of support from Tea Party factions in the Republican Party. But the delegates decided to stick with Schostak, a proven fundraiser. Schostak says he’s confident the losers in this fight won’t abandon the GOP.
“In any hotly contested race, you’re going to have people from all sides speaking out, but at the end of the day, people came together to say, we want to beat the Democrats,” Schostak says.
In Detroit, Democrats were busy beating up on each other. There was bickering, shouting matches between party leaders. Union leaders split on who should lead the Democratic Party.
It looked like the race for Democratic Party chair was headed for a nail-biter finish, until 18-year chair Mark Brewer stunned the convention by withdrawing his candidacy for chair.
Brewer then left the convention and the Michigan Democratic Party to his successor. 41-year-old Lon Johnson is a venture capitalist and veteran campaign organizer who’s most recent political foray was an unsuccessful campaign for a northern Michigan state House seat.
Johnson says the numbers show Lansing should be controlled by Democrats.
“We can win," Johnson says. "This is Michigan. This is a state we that won by nine points with the president. This is a state we won by 20 points with Senator Stabenow. This is Michigan.”
United Auto Workers President Bob King helped engineer Brewer’s ouster as chair. “The Democratic Party is not succeeding to the level we think it should,” King says.
But now, King says now there are big expectations. “Winning the governorship, winning the majority on the Supreme Court, winning majorities in the House and the Senate.”
King says if Democrats sweep the 2014 statewide elections, that will be vindication of the ugliness at his party’s convention this weekend in Detroit.
A big part of Lon Johnson’s job is to give progressive sympathizers – African Americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, among others -- a bigger sense of ownership in the Michigan Democratic Party. That means engaging a lot of groups that have typically taken a back seat to union dominance in the state Democratic Party.
UAW power in the Democratic Party won Lon Johnson his job. That job includes making unions a smaller part of a larger coalition that wins Democrats control in Lansing.