DEMOCRATS DIVIDED: Lawyer Mark Brewer, the longest-serving state Democratic Party chairman in the country, is in real danger of losing his job of 18 years when Democrats gather for a state convention Saturday afternoon in Detroit's Cobo Center. Powerful labor backers of Brewer such as the United Auto Workers and Teamsters are getting behind challenger Lon Johnson, vice president of a Tennessee-based private equity firm and veteran of national political campaigns who himself ran for and lost a state House election in northern Michigan in November. His wife is a top fundraiser who was President Barack Obama's deputy campaign manager in 2012.
WHY A SWITCH: Johnson's camp is frustrated that presidential and U.S. Senate candidates win Michigan easily, but Republicans control the governor's office, Legislature, Supreme Court, attorney general and secretary of state offices along with a majority of U.S. House seats. The imbalance of power has been devastating for Democrats and organized labor. A union-backed ballot measure that would have locked collective bargaining rights into the state constitution — and prevented Michigan from becoming a right-to-work state — went down to defeat in November. GOP lawmakers and Snyder pointed to the doomed measure when passing a right-to-work law just five weeks later. Brewer blames legislative and congressional losses on gerrymandered districts drawn by Republicans in 2001 and 2011.
WHAT ELSE: Brewer vs. Johnson also is a contest about the direction of the party, the status quo vs. change. Some frustrated Democrats think the state party is too reliant on traditional organized labor, is not raising enough money and is not taking advantage of standard bearer Obama's success in reaching new voters. Those in Brewer's camp, including the Michigan Education Association and SEIU, counters that no one cares more about the Democratic cause or works harder than he does, and he has brought the party's fiscal house in order with a stable funding base. During his tenure, Democrats have dominated federal elections, seen Jennifer Granholm serve four years as attorney general and eight as governor, and controlled the state House at times.
WHO CAN VOTE: Only members of the Michigan Democratic Party can vote. A dispute is raging over whether the UAW — seeking to secure Johnson's victory — signed up 1,349 new members by a Jan. 25 deadline. Brewer rejected the applications but was overruled by an appeals committee. Another committee will meet Friday night to decide the credentials issue, which could be appealed to the convention floor Saturday. The election is not "one person-one vote." The 2,869 delegate votes are apportioned by congressional seat and county, and a formula is used in cases when too many or not enough members show up at the convention.
GOP RACE: Republicans are meeting Saturday morning in Lansing to choose their party chairman. The race between two-year incumbent Bobby Schostak and co-chair candidates Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat has received less attention because of the more intense Democratic fight, along with Brewer's longevity being at risk. Schostak is expected to win with establishment and some tea party support. The state GOP lost big to Obama and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2012 but held onto the Supreme Court and Legislature despite losing five House seats. Courser, an attorney and accountant who lost a 2012 state education board race, questions Schostak's conservative credentials. He calls 2012 a failure for Republicans and says the GOP is falling behind Democrats in winning elections. Schostak defends his record, emphasizing his fundraising prowess, broad support and grassroots outreach.