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The Importance of Being Kelly

On election day last year, I talked to a senior citizen who is a proud, dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. I wondered how she had voted for state supreme court.

“For the Democrats, of course,” she said.

“I voted for Kelly and Davis,” she said, meaning newly appointed justice Alton Davis.

"You voted for a Republican", I said.

Alton Davis is indeed a Democrat, but Mary Beth Kelly is a Republican. “No, I didn’t,” the lady said. “I voted for Marilyn Kelly, the chief justice. You wrote about her in a magazine article I read.

“She is a Democrat. You said so."

Yes, she is, I said. But you voted for MARY BETH Kelly. She is  a Republican. Her party nominated her partly because she is named Kelly, and they were hoping a lot of people might do what you did.

Well, guess what. I don’t know how many other people were  confused, but Mary Beth Kelly won by a landslide, beating poor Alton Davis, who gave up a secure judgeship for less than six months on the state’s highest court.

Mary Beth Kelly then voted with her fellow Republicans to oust Marilyn Kelly as chief justice and replace her with a Republican named Robert Young. So much for any notion of pan-Kelly solidarity.

But things may be about to get even more complicated. Another Republican Supreme Court justice, Maura Corrigan, is voluntarily leaving the court to become head of Michigan’s Department of Human Services. That means Governor Rick Snyder gets to choose someone to fill her seat.

Late yesterday, I was told that one of the people he was strongly considering was an appeals court judge named, you guessed it, Kelly. Kirsten Frank Kelly.

If he does appoint her, three of Michigan’s seven Supreme Court justices will be blonde women named Kelly. My guess is that this would be certain to escalate the Kelly war. Kirsten Frank Kelly would have to run for reelection next year, and the Democrats would have little choice but to find another Kelly to run against her.

Incidentally, you might wonder why Judge Kirsten Kelly’s middle name is Frank. I would tell you the answer, but I don’t know. For years, people have told me it was some kind of homage to one of Michigan’s greatest political figures, former Attorney General Frank Kelley. But that’s unlikely. Kirsten Kelly was born in Illinois, five years before the attorney general took office.

So, what about bringing Frank Kelley back to run against Kirsten Frank Kelley next year? Alas, that would be against the law. You can’t run for any Michigan judicial position after you turn seventy and Frank is eighty-six. He told me he wasn’t upset by this, by the way. “I’m thinking of running for attorney general again when I’m 90,” he said. He was kidding, but legally, he could do just that.

But I do think we need to amend the state constitution. If we have term limits, we need to have Kelly limits.

I believe, in the interest of surname diversity, that no group of elected officials should be permitted to be more than 25 percent Kelly. Otherwise, there may come a day when a child named Murphy or Cavanagh will no longer feel they have any chance. 

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