MACOMB COUNTY — The Michigan Democratic Convention is approaching on Feb. 22-23, and a host of Macomb County Democrats have come out in recent weeks to endorse both the current Democratic state party chair and his challenger.
Some, like Macomb County’s top five officials, have called for a change, announcing their support for challenger Lon Johnson. Others, like seven of the nine Democratic county commissioners, have stood behind current chair Mark Brewer, who is seeking a 10th two-year term.
“I’m not taking anything for granted,” Brewer, a Clinton Township resident, said last week.
Before becoming a state party chair in 1995, Brewer was the president of the Clinton Township Democratic Club and then treasurer of the Macomb County Democratic Party. He is the longest serving state party chair in the nation.
Democratic critics of Brewer’s have pointed to the passage of right-to-work legislation, a failed attempt to put collective bargaining rights in the state constitution and GOP majorities in the Legislature during the last two years.
Johnson, meanwhile, recently received the endorsement of the Michigan Democratic Congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Sander Levin and U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow were among the seven who signed on to the joint endorsement.
“We believe Lon is the right leader and will bring to the party vision, energy and a commitment to collaboration,” according to the Congressional delegation’s statement.
Then, last week, a slew of top Macomb County Democratic officials joined in backing Johnson, including County Executive Mark Hackel, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, Prosecutor Eric Smith, Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, Treasurer Ted Wahby and Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco. Local mayors Jim Fouts, of Warren; Doug Hagerty, of Fraser; Richard Notte, of Sterling Heights; and Suzanne Pixley, of Eastponte, were included, as well.
Hackel said communication has been all but nil between Brewer and the county’s top elected officials. The county executive, who said he has had no help from Brewer, likened Brewer to a coach who refuses to step down for the good of the team.
“It’s not about the team, for Mr. Brewer; it’s about his own control,” Hackel said. “It’s time for a change.”
Brewer declined to comment on the endorsements for Johnson, but did say he was trying to get his vision and track record of accomplishments out to convention delegates.
Under his leadership, Brewer said, Michigan has remained a blue state through five consecutive presidential elections, Democrats haven’t lost a U.S. Senate seat and the state has seen its first female attorney general and governor, both Jennifer Granholm, as well as its first female U.S. senator, Stabenow.
State Reps. Harold Haugh, D-Roseville, and Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser, also are among those calling for a fresh face in Johnson.
Johnson’s résumé includes serving in roles in the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committees and U.S. Rep. John Dingell’s 2002 campaign.
Johnson, a Kalkaska resident, narrowly lost a bid to represent northern Michigan state House district. And Johnson’s wife, Julianna Smoot, is a former deputy campaign manager for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Lane said she’s not advocating change for the sake of change. Among other things, Johnson has the energy to do a better job reaching out to a younger demographic to get their input on issues that will affect their future, she said.
“(Johnson) brings a different perspective to the challenges we see in Michigan,” Lane added.
But Brewer, the nation’s longest-serving state party chair, said he has always been open to change. For instance, he said the Michigan Democratic Party has seen technological advances under his leadership, having a website for more than a decade and becoming one of the first state parties to begin using Facebook and Twitter.
“We’ve constantly changed and innovated here at the Michigan Democratic Party,” he added.
Brewer has received endorsements from Democratic Party chairs around the state from various groups, including Macomb County Chair Ed Bruley and the Clinton Township Democratic Club, according to a statement from Brewer’s campaign.
To those who say it’s time for Brewer to hang up the towel, Clinton Township Democratic Club President Judy Strong said, “I don’t think tenure is a disadvantage, since the practice of day-to-day politics changes constantly.”
Strong said Brewer has kept in touch well with the needs of local grassroots clubs, providing Clinton Township Democrats with the resources they need to be successful in local elections.
And, of Democratic losses in the state Legislature, Strong said the fault lies in large part with the district gerrymandering that was seen after the 2010 election, which will put Democrats at a disadvantage for years to come.
Lane said it’s unfair to hang Democratic struggles solely on Brewer, and she hopes that he will keep his knowledge and experience in the Michgian Democratic Party in an ex officio role.
Brewer also has received endorsements from most of the nine Democratic Macomb County commissioners, including David Flynn, Michael Boyle, Robert Mijac, Fred Miller, Toni Moceri, Marvin Sauger and Kathy Tocco.
Flynn said Brewer was crucial to Democrats retaining a supermajority on the Macomb County Board of Commissioners.
Ultimately the decision over who heads the state Democratic party for the next two years will be left up to party delegates on Feb. 23.