Feb 23, 2009
Action at Saturday’s MDP convention was not just on the convention floor
DETROIT -- Not all the action at Saturday’s Michigan Democratic Party Convention in Cobo Hall was on the main convention floor, and there was plenty of action in the numerous caucuses, and even at the after party at the beautifully renovated Detroit Riverside Hotel, formerly the world-famous and historic Hotel Pontchartrain.
For a political junkie like me, conventions are a little like a family reunions. It was an opportunity to see old friends and allies, and to see people I will soon be knocking on doors and making phone calls in support of. It was also nice to see Cobo Hall so busy, and the snow did not keep anybody away. In addition to the convention, the boat show and a cheerleading competition was held at Cobo at the same time.
It was also fun for me to attend with my wife for the first time, a recent convert from the dark side. We really enjoyed a few rides on the People Mover and enjoyed a great lunch in the Renaissance Center.
The day started in the Veterans Caucus where John Freeman, the Michigan State Director of Health Care for America, was working to build political support for passing national health care legislation to give all people affordable health care.
Freeman was chairman of the ballot committee last year that tried to amend the state constitution to require the Legislature to pass laws to ensure that "every Michigan resident has affordable and comprehensive health care coverage.” Freeman said past efforts, like President Clinton’s plan failed plan in 1993, failed because it was a “top-down approach” instead of a grassroots effort.
“We want to change that by putting pressure on from the grassroots,” he said. “Democrats are on board, and we need to go after the moderate Republicans.”
Conventions are also where new candidates like to announce they are running, and Freeman, a term-limited state Representative from Madison Heights, said he plans to challenge front-runner Lt. Gov. John Cherry for the Democratic nomination for the open Governor’s seat in 2010.
Candidates also use the caucuses to speak to different groups. Newly-elected MDP Chair Mark Brewer stopped by to both campaign for the chairmanship and fire up the troops.
“We can’t be complacent in 2010,” he said. “The Republicans are meeting down the road in Lansing plotting for 2010.”
One of the most crowded caucuses was the brand new Progressive Caucus. It included lots of young people and Young Democrats, as well as older activists, even an Aldi Stevenson supporter. MDP officer Steve Pontoni was elected chair of the caucus, and bylaws were adopted. The basic tenants of the caucus are pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-labor and pro-civil rights.
“Certainly we are going to disagree, but it is those values that we are embracing,” Pontoni said.
Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing - who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Attorney General in 2010 - also spoke to the caucus.
“I hate to admit the Republicans are in my district, and I couldn’t wait to get out of town,” she said.
The Republican-controlled Senate has long been a block to meaningful legislation, even when Republications controlled the House, and it’s essential that Democrats get control of the Senate to move decent legislation. Whitmer brought news that Gov. Granholm set a date for the election to replace former Democratic Sen. Mark Schauer‘s, D-Battle Creek, who was elected to congress. The filing deadline is May 12, the primary is Aug. 4, and the General Election is Nov. 3. Reps. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson, and Mike Simpson, D-Liberty Township, have been mentioned as possible candidates.
“This is an important election,” Whitmer said. “It will show if we are still fired up after the Obama landslide, or are we resting on our laurels.
“The Republicans view the Senate as the firewall, and we view it as the last bump to good, progressive legislation,” she said.
The Environmental Caucus saw both accomplishment and plenty good discussion, as plenty of lawmakers showed up, especially House members. After Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, spoke, the caucus unanimously passed a resolution against re-opening the deep-injection hazardous waste well in Romulus.
Rep. Gabe Leland, D-Detroit, was just appointed as the chair of a new House Committee, the Committee on Urban Committee, and he talked about global warming.
“If we don’t take a stab at the global warning issue in the next couple of years we will be in trouble,” he said. “The good news is we picked up nine seats in the House to help us get something accomplished.”
Freshman Rep. Timothy Bledsoe, D-Grosse Pointe, - the first Democrat to be elected from the 1st House District - said the House plans to roll out an ethics package in the next few days that will require lawmakers to disclose their income and bars the revolving door from the Legislature to lobbying.
“We’re only one of three states in the country where you don’t even know where your representative’s money is coming from,” he said. “We are only one of three states; isn’t that crazy?”
In the 8th Congressional District Caucus, Brighton’s Kathy Carney was re-elected as the chair of the district that includes Clinton, Shiawassee, Livingston, Oakland and Ingham counties, as well executive committee members and chairs and executive members of county committees.
Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, announced she is organizing an Ingham County Young Dems Chapter to compliment the Michigan State University Young Democrats and the Lansing Young Dems.
“We sure don’t want to compete with those groups, but these are the people who knock on doors and do the hard work,” she said.
The Caucus also heard from Wayne State University law Professor Jocelyn Benson, who is planning a run at Secretary of State. She is pushing the commons sense issue of no-reason absentee voting. She was impressive, but she is even more impressive after I looked her up and saw her qualifications. She will make an excellent SOS, and for the first time in many years the campaign finance law will be applied to both parties.
Benson graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College. She subsequently earned her Masters in Sociology as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, and she received her J.D from Harvard Law School, where she was a general editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Benson also worked as the Voting Rights Policy Coordinator for the Harvard Civil Rights Project, worked as a summer associate for voting rights and election law for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and she was an investigative journalist for the Southern Poverty Law Center.