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Wednesday, July 17,2013

The rest of the ticket

by Walt Sorg
Why do we need a primary election, or state party conventions? Twelve months before either major party officially picks its candidates for state office, it looks the November 2014 ballot is just about set. And several of the candidates haven’t even announced for office yet.

The GOP ticket is Gov. Rick Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Attorney General/Governor in Waiting Bill Schuette. They are all  all seeking reelection.

For Democrats, the desire to avoid an expensive and divisive primary — plus a reluctance on the part of potential candidates to spend most of the next year raising campaign money — has left the party’s gubernatorial nomination in the hands of Mark Schauer. A handful of party activists are trying to gin up a primary challenge to Schauer, but about the only one taking this seriously is a political columnist who may be worried about a lack of a horse race to provide column fodder.

The same seems to be the case in the party’s “contests” for attorney general and secretary of state. It’s just about over before it has begun.

Gretchen Whitmer appears more and more ready to leave elective politics, at least for now, so she can spend more time with her soon-to-be-teenage daughters. With her not running, the nominee will be MSU law Professor Mark Totten. Totten is articulate, well qualified, and has put together a solid campaign team.

Jocelyn Benson, the 2010 secretary of state candidate who is an election law expert serving as acting dean of Wayne State University’s law school, is a near-lock for a second run, although Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum would love to be the nominee.

What little excitement remains for the next few months will likely center around one decision: whom will Schauer pick for lieutenant governor?

History, and political pragmatism, point to pairing Schauer with a woman, preferably from vote-rich southeast Michigan (Schauer is from Battle Creek). 

Over the last two decades, Democrats have nominated Martha Griffiths, Olivia Maynard, Debbie Stabenow and — most recently — Brenda Lawrence for #2. The only election since 1978 in which both of the top two Democrats were men was in 1998, when Geoffrey Fieger selected little-known state Rep. James Agee. They got 37 percent of the vote.

That makes former state Rep. Lisa Brown, who is the Oakland County clerk/register of deeds, an obvious choice. She won her current job in vote-rich Oakland County by beating an incumbent Republican. She would energize women statewide who remember her run-in with House Speaker Jase Bolger in the infamous “Vagina-gate” censorship. That was when Bolger officially banned her from speaking on the House floor by Speaker Bolger after she dared to discuss female anatomy during a debate on women’s medical rights. The incident sparked a massive state Capitol protest and made Brown an instant national political star.

Another part of the equation, though, is a desire for an ethnically diverse ticket. That makes things a little more challenging because Totten and Benson are both white.

Southfield Mayor Lawrence, an African-American, could run again. It’s likely you don’t remember, but she was Virg Bernero’s running mate in 2010. They ended up with 39 percent of the votes.

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, a first-generation Palestinian-American, is well liked, has a strong legislative record and is respected by party insiders. As only the second Muslim woman in America to serve in a state Legislature, her selection could be high-risk but high-reward. The fact that she won in a legislative district that is only 2 percent Arab-American, supporters say, is a testimony to her broad-based appeal. (The only other Palestinian-American ever elected to the Michigan House, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, could end up on the Republican ticket as the U.S. Senate candidate. Unlike Tlaib, Amash is a Christian.)

As I see it, Schauer can go four ways. 

The odds-on favorite: pick Brown, then use the party’s statewide undercard (candidates for Supreme Court and/or state education boards) to create a more ethnically diverse slate.

Option two: throw the dice and go with Tlaib.

Option three: bring in a major name with big-business credentials. Debbie Dingell and Denise Illitch jump out.

Option four: play it safe with a low-visibility, low-risk public official like Lawrence or state legislator (to me, the least likely scenario).

Regardless of which road he follows, it’s a good bet that Schauer’s choice 1) will be a she and/or an ethnic minority, and 2) will be from southeast Michigan. And he doesn’t have to make up his mind until August 2014

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