While I’m here doing schoolwork and chores, Democrats from across the state are meeting (and voting at this hour) to elect a chair. And by all accounts, the battle should be a doozy. Certainly the campaign has been intense with both incumbent Mark Brewer and challenger Lon Johnson sending out numerous pleas, as well as motivating their forces. This has already been covered on numerous blogs and posts, perhaps most consistently at Michigan Liberal.
While the battle has been fierce, the issue is finally less about the individuals than the shape of the Party. The painful truth of 2012 is the political weakness, first with the defeat of Prop 2 and then the lame duck enacting of RTW and other questionable legislation. The tools to challenge or impede this were noticeably missing. Add to it the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway (and her subsequent conviction), and we have a Party that for all its national strength has not found the a way to translate that into state-wide leadership.
The failure is strategic. it does not rest on the shoulders of a single individual, nor can one blame the UAW, that favorite whipping boy of so many. The problems are more structural in nature, something that Johnson caught sight of in his interview on Eclectablog:
This is a very different state structure-wise than any other state that I’ve worked in and I’ve worked in a lot of ‘em.
In what way? What do you mean by that? How is it different?
Institutions play a larger role, without a doubt.
You’re talking unions, in general?
I’m talking unions. I’m talking other groups. We have a respect for institutions. I think our party does and our party activists, not only do they play a larger role, but we see the value in institutions because there is a great value in them. We are a better party because of it.
What has certainly happened is that the balancing and politics of various institutional forms has handicapped the ability of the Dems to field strong state-wide candidates. Without strong leadership on top, it makes the electoral challenge of turning out low-information voters. And this is the strategic question at its core: how do Dems as a whole combine to think in terms of winning the off-year.
On this strategic question, neither the incumbent nor the challenger have suggested any real solutions.
From the Brewer camp has come an emphasis on redistricting as the culprit. Redesigned seats could give one or more congressional seats and perhaps a majority in the State House, but this would do nothing about the core failing in terms of winning state-wide, or of better mobilizing generally in off-years.
For Johnson, the focus has been on the adoption of campaign techniques from OFA, and in particular on the focus on expanding the base to the young, minority, women and low-income. In one sense this is the future, particularly the social media aspects of the outreach. Nonetheless, if the institutional silos remain, the problem of actually mounting winning statewide offices will still be significant.
No matter who wins in this hour, one fact will be true: Michigan Democrats cannot go on as they have.
When it came time, Mark Brewer withdrew his name, leaving only Lon Johnson. The strategic questions remain.