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Wednesday, March 7,2012

Democrats can't wait until November

by Kyle Melinn

Salivating over a scorched earth Republican primary here a week ago, Michigan Democrats are moving all of their chips to the middle right now. In March. Let’s go.

On Saturday, the Dems will hold its second-straight early endorsement convention, at which they’ll give a head start to most, if not all, of their lower-ballot candidates.

All the while, sympathetic interest groups are pushing not one, not two, but as many as five different ballot proposals.

Organized labor, good government types, environmentalists, liberals and the urban segment are going all in with their own ballot measure.

The purpose is twofold. First, they’re trying fight back against the screwing they took in 2011 by Gov. Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette and their Republican legislator allies. But second, the efforts are designed to drive election turnout, galvanize Michigan for Barack Obama and possibly win back the state House for the Democrats.

On Tuesday, a UAW-bankrolled coalition announced it was trying to spike the never-ending Right to Work debate by baking into the constitution collective bargaining right guarantees for workers.

It’s a high-stakes gamble. If the ballot proposal doesn’t get on the ballot or gets on the ballot and loses, Republicans will see a failure as entrée into passing a labor-lethal Right to Work law in Michigan.

Also this week, former Secretary of State nominee Jocelyn Benson is hoping to push the envelope on public disclosure in the corporate donation world through her own ballot proposal.

Both are going have circulators at the Democrats’ endorsement convention Saturday at Cobo Hall in Detroit.

Meanwhile, the environmentalists are excited about a constitutional amendment to raise renewable energy portfolio standards by 25 percent by 2025. How that proposal clashes with the segment of the Democratic Party that enjoys the financial support of DTE Energy and Consumers Energy — a pair of entities opposed to the ballot drive — is something to keep an eye on.

With Schuette and the courts essentially recriminalizing medical marijuana, marijuana advocates want to end the debate by just legalizing the substance. 

The effort isn’t as broad or as organized as the 2008 medical marijuana drive. It certainly isn’t as well financed, making its odds of getting on the ballot quite long. If it does gets on, the odds of passage are even longer, but supporters are stoked anyway.

AFSCME and its urban activists appear to have the signatures they need to put a repeal of the state’s new emergency manager law on the ballot. If passed, Wall Street predicts the credit ratings of distressed communities will drop and the state will still have an EM law. The difference will be that an EM couldn’t break labor contracts to find savings, which is a win for unionized government workers.

Democrats feel Snyder & Co. went way too far in ’11. Had the voters known the full extent to their agenda, the ’10 Election would have turned out much differently. The ballot proposals immediately correct the situation.

The Michigan Democratic Party is hoping the feelings will have coattails for lower ticket races on the ballot.

The highest stakes are on the Michigan Supreme Court, where the Republicans have a 4-3 edge and the Democrats are losing incumbent Marilyn Kelly, who has hit the constitutional age limit. Having a Dem-majority Supreme Court as a backstop is critical to the party as legal challenges to the ’11 laws work their way through the courts.

But the Republicans have two officeholders on the ballot. Stephen Markman won in 2000 after being appointed by former Gov. John Engler in 1999. He won re-election, despite the best efforts of attorney Geoffrey Fieger. 

Recently appointed Brian Zahra lost in ’06 to Kelly, but now has the advantage of having the title “Supreme Court Justice.”

The Democrats will need to knock off one or both of the two to succeed, something they feel is obtainable after a previously unknown local judge named Diane Marie Hathaway beat incumbent Chief Justice Cliff Taylor when Obama was last on the ballot.

On Saturday, the trial lawyers, organized labor and the various other interest groups that take part in the screening of qualified and electable candidates are giving the tentative OK to Ann Arbor attorney Bridget Mary McCormack and Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Connie Marie Kelley.

The third spot hasn’t been nailed down — yet. Portia Roberson, who President Barack Obama appointed as the public liaison for the U.S. Department of Justice, is a possibility, as is Southfield District Court Judge Sheila Johnson. Maybe the Ds will wait until August to fill that last spot.

Whatever they decide, Democrats are playing like they have four aces, hoping Republicans don’t come back with a straight flush.

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