Has Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer finally jumped the shark?
He certainly didn’t gain any friends (and made more than a few enemies) in 2011 when he threw water on the various petition drives supporting the repeal of the Emergency Manager law and several recalls, including one against Gov. Snyder, and the successful effort that recalled Rep. Paul Scott (R-51), the House Education Chair, who was widely reviled for his blatant attacks on public education. It is worth remembering that it was the powerful political shoulder of the Michigan Education Association that nudged Scott out of office — and yet the MEA is now hefting that considerable weight behind re-electing Brewer to the big chair.
Brewer infuriated some party members when he visited a county party picnic in the 101st district in the summer of 2011, where he publicly advised them not to participate in the repeal of the Emergency Manager law — another effort that resulted in success under spontaneous statewide coalition building without the support of the party. Had the Dems shown a little support, Gov. Snyder may have taken pause before giving the nod to re-enact the law, or least considered modifying it in a meaningful way.
Over the years, local party chairs have dutifully parroted the Brewer mantra: Put all your effort into focusing on running a democratic candidate in the next election. Which would be useful advice, if they actually received follow-up support from the party.
It appears that message is finally wearing thin among the rank and file Dems.
Brewer currently boasts some 60 Democratic Party endorsements. Among them are clubs, congressional districts and caucuses, and 39 county chairs. For the sake of comparing apples-to-apples, let’s take a closer look at the political landscape of just those county chairs in a cross-examination with their corresponding House districts. Michigan has 83 counties and 110 House districts, whose geography are determined by population (and a lot of politics). In densely populated areas, a county encompasses multiple House districts, and conversely in out-state rural areas, a House district will typically include several counties. Of the 39 county chairs that endorse Brewer, only a third of them are in a Democratic House district, or portion of one, and a mere four among them flipped the seat from Republican to Democrat in 2012. More telling is the fact that just as many county chairs have not endorsed incumbent Brewer.
Democrats are reaching a boiling point of frustration with their stagnant party leadership, coupled with enduring two long years of the retrograde policies and sub rosa politics of the Snyder administration, the unrest may finally usher in a new era for Michigan Democrats. If history is any indication, it’s a very real possibility.
In the first few decades of the 2oth century, Republicans ran the state of Michigan — so much so that it was considered a one-party state. Not a single Democrat was elected to the Senate and only nine held House seats during one ten year stretch. But, something was happening to the Republican Party that slowly opened the door to a Democratic revival. The conservatives were becoming an increasingly fractured group — progressive Republicans squared-off against conservatives within the party. In 1912, Woodbridge Ferris, a Democrat, was elected governor, an event that was the toe-hold leading to a new age of cooperation between progressive Republicans and Democrats.
While the Republicans continued to dominate both state congressional houses until mid-century, things were looking decidedly more progressive in those decades with the onset of women’s suffrage, direct election of U.S. Senators, workers compensation, the right to referendum and ballot initiatives, and expanded state regulatory control over banks, insurance companies and railroads. But it was in 1948, when Democratic Gov. “Soapy” Willaims was elected that the party put together a strong coalition of labor and minority communities. Michigan thrived under progressive leadership and party cooperation across the aisle. The middle-class was born. By mid-century, Michigan residents enjoyed a per capita income 16 percent above the national average.
The parallels of the initial conditions are compelling.
It’s been done once, so….maybe now is the time for a sea-change in Democratic Party leadership.
Amy Kerr Hardin