91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Commentary: Time for a new democratic chair?

Republicans and Democrats have many differences these days, but they are uncannily similar in terms of party structure.

In every state, party activists elect a chairperson who is in charge of rallying the troops, recruiting candidates, encouraging fund-raising efforts, and keeping various interest groups happy.

These are jobs that take a lot out of anyone doing them.  Normally, state party chairs last two years, maybe four. But in Michigan, Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer has been on the job for eighteen years now, and wants a tenth two-year term.

He is, as far as his own job goes, an ultimate survivor. Ten years ago, he managed  to skillfully fend off Jennifer Granholm‘s attempt to replace him with her own party chair.

For awhile, Democrats had an awkward system of two party chairs, but Brewer quickly outmaneuvered the other man, who soon was forced out. Over the years, Brewer has had an uncanny ability to  avoid being harmed by debacles, such as the year when his handpicked choice for governor turned out to be so lackluster he was defeated in the primary by Geoffrey Fieger.

Yet now Mark Brewer is in trouble.

Labor unions were the force that have kept him in his job all these years, and now two big ones have turned against him. The Democrats will elect a chair at their convention in Detroit February 23rd, and the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters have reportedly told Brewer they won’t support him for another term.

They haven’t said why, at least not openly. But they can’t be pleased that Brewer failed to get out the votes needed to pass the constitutional amendment that would have protected collective bargaining rights by putting them in the state constitution.

Nor are the unions happy that the Republicans were able to steamroll right-to-work through the lame-duck legislature in a single day.  There have been other complaints about Brewer as well.

Too often, he is said to have discouraged the party from nominating candidates with more of an independent cast of mind. It’s an open secret he didn’t want Democrats to nominate Bridget McCormack for the Supreme Court last fall. They did anyway, She won, his two candidates lost badly, and now the new justice has no love for the party chairman.

Other Democrats have been troubled by the party’s tendency to squander large sums in bizarre ways, as when Brewer spent large sums to get a huge amendment on the ballot five years ago that would have rewritten one-seventh of the state constitution.

Judges promptly tossed it off for being too broad, something you might have thought that Brewer, who has a law degree from Stanford, might have known.

Now, it is still possible Brewer may survive. The Michigan Education Association, the state’s main teachers’ union, is still in his corner, as are a lot of local party activists across the state.

But for the first time in a long time, there appears to be an attractive candidate to succeed him, Lon Johnson, a skilled fundraiser with close ties to the Obama Administration.

What everyone knows is that nothing lasts forever. The oldest form of term limits are elections. And next month we’ll find out whether Democrats think eighteen years of Mark Brewer is enough.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.