Think about these two things:
- The dissing of a state Republican Supreme Court nominee (Elizabeth “Beth” Clement) by assembled delegates at a state convention is unprecedented in Michigan political history, and it can’t bode well for what has been a GOP majority on the high bench going forward, whether Clement wins in the Nov. 6 general election or not.
- A tone-deaf Michigan Republican Party did the unthinkable — it nominated two males for the Michigan State University Board of Trustees in the year of “Me, Too!” even when the GOP KNEW that their adversaries a few miles away in East Lansing were nominating two women candidates, one of them a victim of sexual assault.
Let’s look at the Supreme Court first. Republicans picked the right man to chair the conclave at the Lansing Center — former state House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Albion), one of whose assets was his proficiency at gaveling through “immediate effect” on bills approved by a narrow majority in the capitol’s lower chamber even when it was obvious he did not have the 2/3 majority necessary to give a just-passed bill immediate effect. Minority Democrats protested in vain, and even filed suit in various courts (over time) in search of a verdict declaring that the Constitutional requirement for a 2/3 majority by roll call for IE is imperative. But no court has ever so ruled — no judge wants to intrude on the ability of the Legislature to conduct its business. Remember, the Legislature holds the purse strings on court funding, including judges’ salaries.
That meant Bolger could “overlook” or “not hear” the obvious expressed majority (in loud voices) at the Republican convention Saturday that Clement should NOT be rubber-stamped by the assembled delegates for nomination to the Supreme Court for a full eight-year term after her controversial rulings from the bench during the past two months. Bolger simply gaveled through his own motion for “unanimous consent” for both Clement and her fellow nominee, Justice Kurtis Wilder, despite the fact that his ploy obviously had not been agreed to by the attendees. In other words, in that and other ways the GOP top brass had “wired” the foreordained result for Clement and her patron, Gov. Rick Snyder (who had appointed her to the court — she has never faced voters before) despite Snyder not even showing up for the final GOP convention of his tenure. Meanwhile, Clement NEVER APPEARED before her new constituents, or talked with them, in any meaningful way, as all previous nominees have done throughout Michigan history. The traditional district caucuses were cancelled, and Clement and Wilder were blocked from interfacing with delegates. Wilder easily could have fared well in such an exchange, but if he had appeared alone it would have reminded everyone of Clement’s embarrassing absence. The duo’s only appearance was at convention’s end, when every GOP nominee — from Wayne State University Board of Governors on up — assembled on stage where nobody watching (delegates + the news media) could identify completely who was whom on the platform. And then Clement disappeared from the post-convention press conference that every other nominee attended. Let’s contrast this scene with 2010, when the GOP renominated Bob Young and chose appellate judge Mary Beth Kelly to run with him for two contested seats on the state’s highest court. Both were enthusiastically embraced by the convention, and Kelly and Young, running and raising money as a team, finished 1-2 in the general election, knocking off an incumbent Democrat in the process and regaining control of the high bench. That’s the farthest thing from what is happening this year, and the GOP must cringe when recalling 2008, when then-Chief Justice Cliff Taylor was ousted by a Democratic challenger named Diane Hathaway. By the way, one of the Dems’ nominees this year bears the last name of her father, former Supreme Mike Cavanagh. Meanwhile, Clement will be on her own — Wilder is running a separate campaign.
As for MSU, Republicans have nominated two quality nominees for the university’s Board of Trustees, make no mistake about it — Mike Miller and David Dutch, each very impressive in his own way. But it should be obvious that makes no difference this year. Because of the Nassar disaster, the two major parties’ nominees must be female — if only for the MSU panel. Why didn’t the GOP get that? Right now, the board is in a 4-4 partisan tie, yet all eight current members agreed at the start of the year to pick former Gov. John Engler as the interim MSU president. That was then. Since then, two Democratic board members have said that if they had to do it all over again, they would not have picked Engler. Meanwhile, the two incumbent Republicans whose terms are up this year have said they’re not running again. They very well may not have been elected, anyway. But now there are two open seats. So, who will win them in November? Let’s be clear — Democrats have everything to gain from this election and nothing to lose. Accordingly, the Dems have nominated sexual assault “survivor” Kelly Tebay and Briana Scott, a former assistant prosecutor in Muskegon Co. All the Democrats have to do is win one of these two “open” seats and they will have a 5-3 majority going forward. If they win both seats, they will boast a 6-2 majority. If they do, Engler may not even last past the end of the year — that’s how badly Democrats want to get rid of their longtime tormenter. Then the new Democratic majority could install a new interim president between the end of this year and next June, when a new (permanent) MSU president is supposed to take office. Republicans waited from 2006 until two years ago just to get a tie-vote board, and now they appear poised to blow it all in one fell swoop.
Will former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s virtually certain upcoming term as the first Muslim female ever to serve in the U.S. Congress be her last one?
If not, she must strive mightily to overcome the somewhat fluky nature of her narrow win in a crowded field of Democrats in Michigan’s Aug. 7 primary election.
To be sure, Tlaib’s victory was no fluke in terms of her brilliant campaign, which outshone all her rivals. Tlaib raised the money, exerted the energy, and delivered a progressive message that blew her opponents off the board. She clearly deserved to win.
But the fact that she LOST the separate race for the unexpired portion of the term of her predecessor, John Conyers, points to Tlaib’s “problem” going forward: she won’t be representing her majority African-American district for the last six weeks of 2018 because two of her black opponents did not file to run in the unexpired term race. Without state Senator Coleman Young II and Shanelle Jackson in that contest, their votes went disproportionately to Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who won the partial term seat from just after the Nov. 6 general election through the end of the year. But, of course, Young and Jackson DID run for the full two-year term, and they siphoned enough votes away from Jones that Tlaib was able to scrape through to the full two-year term seat by less than a thousand votes.
Only one current white Member of Congress has been able to do that — Steve Cohen of Tennessee’s 9th CD. In a crowded 2006 Democratic primary centered around heavily black Memphis, Cohen had 14 opponents, almost all of them black. Predictably, they split up the African-American vote so thoroughly that Cohen was able to squeak through to the nomination, just as Tlaib did early this month in Detroit. Once elected, Cohen has worked assiduously to cement his incumbency. He faced four black opponents in 2008 when running for re-election, then former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, also African-American, four years later, and managed to put all of them away. Cohen is Jewish, now serving his sixth term and a heavy favorite to be re-elected to a seventh term this fall.
Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, will have to do what Cohen has done — begin running immediately for re-election in 2020 to fend off a challenge from at least one prominent African-American who believes the majority-minority 13th CD should be represented by a black. Tlaib can hope that, like Cohen, she gets more than one black opponent who will again fragment the African-American vote.
Tlaib needs to look, as she almost certainly already has, at the neighboring 5th state Senate District, where incumbent Democrat David Knezek, considered a “rising star” in political circles, won a Tlaib-style victory in 2014 because three black state legislators — David Nathan, Thomas Stallworth, and Shanelle Jackson (yup, same gal) — split up the African-American vote in an open seat contest that enabled the only prominent white name in the field (Knezek) to win with a plurality. But Knezek evidently didn’t realize that, once elected, a white legislator in such circumstances is a marked man. Accordingly, he must make like Cohen and compile a voting record, and on-the-ground, door-to-door relentless community presence, to try to make sure he keeps winning. Instead, Knezek was lulled into complacency, thinking he had NO opponent right up until the filing deadline last April, and then got blindsided by the unexpected candidacy of one Betty Jean Alexander, an unknown African-American who made it appear she had nothing going for her in this majority black district by filing a waiver that she would spend no more than a thousand bucks in her campaign. But her brother-in-law and political mentor, crafty former state Rep. Lamar Lemmons (D-Detroit), made sure she and her invisible campaign got the word out in Dearborn Heights, Inkster, Garden City and Redford Township that SHE was the black candidate and that Knezek wasn’t. That’s all it took. Knezek was toast, by a whopping 9%.
Many don’t realize that Michigan actually produced a SECOND Member of Congress (besides Cohen) in 2013-14 who was a white man representing a majority black district. That man was former U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, now U.S. Senator Gary Peters, who had been a two-term incumbent serving southeast Oakland County before he was thrown into the 14th CD under reapportionment. Worse for Peters, there was another Congressman (half-Bengali, half-black) in that district, Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit), so the two had to face each other in a 2012 Democratic primary. Peters, who had all the major Democratic/union endorsements, managed to win, but it was surprisingly close. Facing a re-election battle against what certainly would have been a challenge from an African-American in 2014, Peters was bailed out by Senator Carl Levin’s retirement. Peters happily gave up his 14th CD seat to run to succeed Levin. He was unopposed in the statewide Democratic primary and then easily dispatched the Republican nominee, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. Meanwhile, Brenda Lawrence, the African-American former mayor of Southfield, won the 2014 Dem primary and the general election in the 14th CD to take her seat alongside Conyers as the only two black Members from Michigan, both representing majority-minority districts.
In other words, if Tlaib wants to be more than a “one-term wonder,” she’ll have to put away her Alexandria Octavio-Cortez gear and suspend campaigning in other states for Muslim candidates. Instead, she should concentrate on convincing her African-American constituency that she deserves to be the female version of Steve Cohen on a permanent basis.