Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Jack Lessenberry


Like football teams, Mich. GOP, Democrats set fall lineups



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DETROIT — Finally, the lineups are set. Michigan’s two major political parties held their conventions last weekend.

The expected fireworks between factions were less than expected. The Tea Party’s Wes Nakagiri challenged Republican incumbent Brian Calley for the nomination for lieutenant governor, and lost decisively, winning less than 40 percent of the delegate vote.

Afterward, rather than stalking off stage, Mr. Nakagiri called for Mr. Calley’s nomination to be made unanimous. There were hugs and handshakes all around.

Meanwhile, a threatened revolt among Democrats over a potential state Supreme Court nominee fizzled even more weakly. Nobody doubted that William Murphy, the Michigan Court of Appeals chief judge, has the legal credentials and experience to serve on the high court.

But the judge is personally opposed to abortion, a stance that is about as popular among Democrats as pro-gun control views are among Republicans. The “Justice Caucus,” which advocates abortion rights, declared it wouldn’t support his candidacy.

There was talk of a revolt. Carl Marlinga, a county probate judge, flirted with the idea of challenging Judge Murphy.

But in the end, all that fizzled, especially after Judge Murphy sent a letter to the delegates indicating that whatever his personal views, he is anything but an anti-abortion crusader.

“I am by the very definition a ‘rule of law’ judge,” he said. “I promise to uphold the law of the land. The law of the land is Roe vs. Wade,” the 1973 decision that women have the right to an abortion.

Judge Murphy added: “It is not the place of any judge to rule based on ideology, but [instead] to be guided by the U.S. Constitution and the precedents established by the United States Supreme Court.”

Democrats, meanwhile, roared approval of Mark Schauer, who was unopposed for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, and his popular choice for lieutenant governor, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown.

Their enthusiasm was fueled by a stronger sense in the past month that Mr. Schauer just might have a chance against incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder, who seemed unbeatable just a few months ago.

Frank Kelley, Michigan’s longtime attorney general and the godfather of many Democratic careers, said: “I really think he [Mr. Schauer] has got a shot if he can get the money he needs for television.”

Polls show the candidates running virtually even. The past few weeks have not been good ones for Governor Snyder. His administration has been hit with a series of minor scandals. First, the administration’s housing director had to step down after his flamboyantly outrageous expense account spending was revealed.

Last week, it was learned that another of the governor’s top aides had grossly underpaid his Michigan property taxes, claiming a state homestead credit when his principal residence is in Illinois.

However, the aide, Rich Baird, promptly paid the state the more than $16,700 he owed. Governor Snyder said: “I think that puts this behind us.” Democrats hope voters disagree.

The governor did not help himself when he said the devastating Aug. 11 floods that engulfed the Detroit area reminded him of a time he had a hole in the roof of his expensive vacation home.

Still, the conventional wisdom is that the race is still the governor’s to lose. Although Democrats feel increasingly positive about Mr. Schauer, he is a likable but not charismatic candidate. Mr. Schauer concedes he will be outspent by millions of dollars.

Still, Democrats believe they have a chance, if only because by helping to make Michigan a right-to-work state and taxing pensions, Governor Snyder has deeply angered some key voting groups.

Here’s how the conventional wisdom handicaps Michigan’s other major races this fall:

U.S. Senate: Republicans, who have won only one senatorial election in the state since 1972, had high hopes this year with the retirement of Democratic U.S. Senator Carl Levin. But their nominee, Terri Lynn Land, has been a disappointment. She has been attacked recently on charges she hasn’t paid her fair share of taxes.

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, a Democrat from suburban Detroit, can be a pedantic speaker. But he was endorsed by the Detroit Area Chamber of Commerce and seems to be pulling away.

U.S. House: Thanks to their control of the redistricting process, Republicans hold nine of Michigan’s congressional seats to Democrats’ five.

That’s how things seem likely to stay, though Democrats have slim hopes in two or three districts. Because of retirements and primary defeats, however, there will be at least five new faces in the delegation.

Legislature: Democrats plan to make a major effort to win back control of the lower house, where they are outnumbered 59-51. They have an uphill battle at best.

Nobody claims that Democrats have any chance of winning control of the state Senate, where they are outnumbered 26-12. But it seems likely they will gain two or three seats.

Other races: Democrats nominated Mark Totten for attorney general and Godfrey Dillard for secretary of state. The GOP incumbents, Bill Schuette and Ruth Johnson, are heavily favored. Although three seats are up on the Michigan Supreme Court, Democrats are most invested in Richard Bernstein, who is trying to win an eight-year term for a seat vacated by retiring Democratic Justice Michael Cavanagh.

Two Republican incumbents appointed by Mr. Snyder — Brian Zahra and David Viviano — are favored. If they and Mr. Bernstein win, that will preserve the 5-2 GOP majority on the Supreme Court.

Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade’s ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan.

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