This story was updated Feb. 21.
Thursday, Feb. 21 — Several prominent Ingham County Democrats are backing Lon Johnson to chair the Michigan Democratic Party leading up to Saturday’s convention in Detroit. Johnson is challenging Mark Brewer, who is seeking re-election after chairing the state party since the mid ‘90s.
The MDP convention will be at the Cobo Center in Detroit on Saturday. Any Democrat in attendance who registered with the party before Jan. 25 is eligible to vote. Party chairs serve two-year terms.
Brewer has chaired the state Democratic Party since 1995. While fairly new to running for election himself, Johnson has helped manage and fund political campaigns since 1992. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for state representative in northern Michigan’s 103rd District in 2012.
It appears Democratic leaders in Ingham County are looking for a change from Brewer — for instance, more focus on statewide elections.
“I think the fact of the matter is that our party has performed very well in federal elections, but we have not performed well in state elections. I think the reason that we have been underperforming is because there are things the Michigan Democratic Party has failed to do that would position us to win in state-level elections” said Nathan Triplett, mayor pro-tem of East Lansing who volunteers for Johnson’s campaign.
“Lon has the experience and the plan to raise additional funds and invest in staff and technology that are necessary to help Michigan Democrats win state level elections,” Triplett said.
"I am impressed by Lon's energy and vision for the Party and the state of Michigan," Mayor Virg Bernero said in a statement. "He is the one to lead Democrats into a successful future. Mark Brewer has served admirably and I am grateful for his hard work and dedication."
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum is one official sticking with Brewer. Byrum spoke on behalf of Brewer at a meeting of the Ingham County Democrats on Wednesday night, citing his accessibility and institutional knowledge.
“I have been fortunate enough to have many interactions with Chairman Brewer and because of those actions, I’m standing here before you,” she said to the crowd. “He is able to cite statute, case law and legislative history, and that is something that I think we need to desperately keep in our state party. He was always accessible to me. I know Brewer has worked hard for this party, I know he will continue to work hard for this party.”
Johnson also has the support of the United Auto Workers, Michigan State University College Democrats and the entire Michigan Congressional Delegation. Brewer has the backing of the Greater Lansing Labor Council, Michigan Education Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Service Employees International Union.
You can add political strategist Joe Disano to the list of Brewer supporters as well. DiSano has known both Brewer and Johnson since the early ‘90s. In DiSano’s opinion, endorsements don’t mean much in this or any other political campaign.
“I think you’re going to see a situation where whoever wins is going to refocus on the state level and a nurturing of the grassroots,” DiSano said. “That’s going to have to happen regardless of who wins. I don’t think much of endorsements in races like this, or frankly in any race.”
Disano said roughly 2,000 people turn out to vote at the convention each year, but he expects that number to be larger this year.
Here’s a list of individuals listed on Brewer’s and Johnson’s campaign websites:
Nathan Triplett, mayor pro tem, East Lansing
Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing
Joel Ferguson, Michigan State University trustee
Tom Cochran, state representative, 67th District
Mark Meadows, former state representative
Curtis Hertel, former speaker of the house
Gene Wrigglesworth, Ingham County sheriff
Stuart Dunnings, Ingham County prosecutor
Curtis Hertel Jr., Ingham County register of deeds
Sarah Anthony, Ingham County commissioner
Debbie DeLeon, Ingham County commissioner
Kara Hope, Ingham County commissioner
Penelope Tsernoglou, Ingham County commissioner
Milton Scales, Meridian Township trustee
Angela Wilson, Meridian Township trustee
Evan Hope, Delhi Township clerk
Kevin Beard, East Lansing City Councilman
Sandra Zerkle, Ingham County Democratic Party chair
Barb Byrum, Ingham County clerk