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Chad Selweski

Chad Selweski

Democrat Disunity: Racial Divisions Disrupting Harmony

April 27, 2018

The Michigan Democratic Party endorsement convention earlier this month was not the meltdown that some feared, but just as the Dems try to pull together some post-convention unity they face a potential revolt along racial lines.

Black party activists in the city of Detroit were angered when the convention favored an all-white (and all female) ticket for statewide offices:  U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Dana Nessel for attorney general, Jocelyn Benson for secretary of state and, for the most part, Gretchen Whitmer for governor.

The left wing of the party, particularly the large faction of (mostly white) Millennials that has become active and energized, seemed particularly pleased with the result at the Cobo Center confab in Detroit. After all, their favorite candidate—Nessel—whom is vying to become Michigan’s first openly gay statewide official, was a big winner.  But the loser in that hotly contested AG race was Pat Miles, the only African-American candidate who had a chance of winning a spot on the ticket.

In a state Democratic Party known for its political cannibalism, the knives came out quickly. Bankole Thompson, a prominent black commentator in the Motor City, used his radio show on 910 AM to blast the party for the “indignity” of shunning the black community.  “The facts are … the party of the ‘big tent’ just gave us an all-white ticket,” he said.  On Facebook, Thompson made this prediction: “Watch how this party crashes and burns.” Joining in the criticism were Keith Williams, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus (MDPBC) and a former Wayne County commissioner; Lavonia Perryman Fairfax, former chair of the MDPBC; and Steve Hood, a political consultant and WKBD TV show host. In a column written for Bridge Magazine, Hood, an African-American, wrote: “Does the party really think it can ignite the minority vote without at least one minority on the ticket? This is a recipe for disaster.”

National Progressive Group Wants to Stir the Pot

At the same time that party activists continue to engage in Monday morning quarterbacking, a newly formed national progressive movement announced it is heading to Michigan to shake things up. The “Win Justice” coalition will spend $30 million to “change the face of the electorate” in Michigan, Florida and Nevada—with a goal of energizing 1 million voters in Michigan alone. As the mid-term elections approach, the left-wing group will target young voters, union members and minorities.

That sounds like a plus to liberal Democrats, except that the boxes to be checked by Win Justice could inflame continuing Dem discord. After all, at the convention Nessel pulled off the nearly unthinkable by defeating a black candidate (Miles) backed by the UAW and the AFL-CIO. In past decades, that union support would have made Miles’ nomination a sure thing at a Dem convention. But, just as mid-April 2018 brought snow and ice storms, these are not normal times in Michigan’s political world. 

I would imagine that on the morning after the convention mainstream Democratic Party veterans associated with the UAW or AFL were still trying to get over their shell-shock while simultaneously nursing their hangovers. Win Justice will quickly discover that much of the young progressive movement in Michigan views big labor suspiciously as big bosses trying to maintain their control over party politics. 

Most importantly, the state party’s racial problem means it has a potential voter turnout problem to deal with before November. 

Dismayed Detroit Democrats warn that this emerging ticket will generate little enthusiasm in Motown. Worried Dems are engaged in damage control, debating online about which person of color should gain the last open slot—for lieutenant governor—to somewhat balance the ticket. One more thing to fight about.

Will Gretchen Whitmer Choose Her Own Running Mate?

The MDPBC has scheduled a meeting today to take a stab at reaching consensus on an LG candidate. Two leading contenders for the nomination at this point seem to be Kim Trent, a longtime party operative, most recently as an aide to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and a Wayne State University board member; and Garland Gilchrist, who emerged as a rising star in Detroit politics during last November’s elections when he nearly defeated city Clerk Janice Winfrey. 

Whitmer remains the favorite to win the August primary for governor, but minority activists within the party seem determined to bypass her planned process for choosing her running mate. She may have no choice, as Whitmer will need a running mate in the fall who can shore up her support in the Detroit area. 

More than a year after the former state Senate Minority Leader declared her candidacy and instantly emerged as the Dems’ gubernatorial frontrunner, polls show that Whitmer’s name ID among southeast Michigan voters remains stuck at about 30 percent.  What’s more, Whitmer’s recent endorsements from the UAW and AFL could label her as the nominee of the old guard, a status quo position that doesn’t play well with many factions in 2018.

Overall, Michigan Democrats remain somewhat torn. The Donald Trump victory here in 2016 remains an undeniable source of lingering bitterness. Those left-wingers who in 2016 passed on voting for Hillary Clinton or foolishly cast their ballot for Green Party candidate Jill Stein still serve as a wound to be healed by state party chair Brandon Dillon. Nessel’s convention victory picked open that scab.

The Democrats’ inability to win state elections, which became obvious in 2010 and 2014, is supposedly repaired heading into the 2018 campaign season. But if Bernie Sanders-style politics is the roadmap, that offers the Michigan Republicans all kinds of opportunities among independents and, especially, among a wide array of voters in northern Michigan. 

The 2018 “Blue Wave” anticipated by Democrats across the nation may be real but, in Michigan, that wave may never reach the beach if Dems can’t unify around a mainstream political agenda.

A freelance writer from Macomb County, Chad Selweski was the political reporter at The Macomb Daily for nearly 30 years. At the Daily he earned 50 journalism awards and in 2014 he was named by Politico as one of the “Media Stars” in seven political battleground states. He can be reached at

April 26, 2018 · Filed under Chad Selweski

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Johanna Wellwood // Apr 29, 2018 at 7:50 am

    I am insulted! Whitmer should pick a person to be her L.G based on color? What “color”? Brown, black, red, white, purple.??? What about Knowledge? What about Integrity? What about Gender? What about Work Ethics? What about suitability to getting along with the givernor-elect? What about someone that Cares about Michigan, and not their own self-interest? As I said, not only am i insulted, I am outraged that anyone would want to tell any governor-elect they have to choose someone based on the color of their skin!

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