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Electoral College reform, 2014 Gov race, and Democratic infighting (Oh my!)

What a week in Michigan politics! The litigating has begun on the state’s new right-to-work law, keeping the controversy alive, in the media, and in the public eye. There’s a right-to-work case in a lower court as well, but Governor Snyder asked the Michigan Supreme Court to make some key rulings so state employees can start dropping out of their unions as soon as the end of March.

Electoral College Changes?

Meanwhile, some Republicans decided now is a great time to try and make changes to how Michigan apportions its Electoral College votes; those 16 votes that last year helped put President Obama over the top for a second term. The proposal is part of a national movement to make blue states less so in future presidential elections. It does address a real frustration among people who live in a state that’s very blue or red, that their votes don’t really count in presidential races.

So the Republican idea is to change how the votes are counted. Instead of giving all the state’s electoral votes to one candidate or the other, they would be apportioned by congressional district, with a bonus for whichever candidate wins the most districts; in 2012 that would have likely given Mitt Romney more electoral votes in Michigan than Barack Obama, even though more Michiganders voted for Obama.

Governor Snyder initially said he was open to the idea, as long as it was done quickly, but this week on Bloomberg TV, he changed his tune, “I’m very skeptical of the idea and time frame it would be done.” Republican state Senate Majority leader, Randy Richardville is not a fan of the legislation, “I think the bigger package of votes for the winner brings more attention to the state and, again, keeps us united, so I haven’t been convinced otherwise yet.”

But, Republican state House Speaker Jase Bolger thinks it’s “worth a discussion.” Which, if you’re looking at recent history – a la right-to-work – would seem the proposal might just remain “on the agenda.” Because when Jase Bolger talks, the Legislature listens.

2014 Governor’s Race

Looking ahead, the field of Democrats that could face Governor Snyder in 2014, or whomever the Republican nominee ends up being (we’re guessing it’s going to be Snyder) is down by one. State Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer, widely seen as the frontrunner to challenge Snyder, dropped out of the gubernatorial race this week, before she was even officially in. In an email and web-video released mid-week, Whitmer said she needed to focus her time on her two young daughters and her work in the state Senate.

So who’s still out there? Many are looking at former Congressman Mark Schauer and state Board of Education President John Austin, both of whom are making some early moves toward a run. Congressman Gary Peters’ name is floating around. And, some Democrats are hoping Mike Duggan, a long-time problem solver in Southeast Michigan, will reconsider his bid for Detroit mayor to run for governor. No signs of that, though. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero could decide he wants a rematch with One Tough Nerd. But first, he’s got to be reelected as mayor in November of this year.

Brewer v. King

Democrats and Republicans choose their state party chairs in just about three weeks. Republican Chairman Bobby Schostak faces a challenge from Tea Partier Todd Courser. He ran unsuccessfully last year for the state Board of Education. Republican state conventions have become such wild, unpredictable affairs that we’re not ruling out anything. But the real donnybrook seems to be shaping up in the race for Michigan Democratic Party chair.

Mark Brewer is the longest-serving state party chair in the nation – 18 years.  And he wants two more years. But United Auto Workers President Bob King wants him out. And in Michigan Democratic politics, the UAW is the tail that wags the dog. Or at least it has been for a long time. Brewer is building a coalition of other groups and party leaders, who are maybe hoping to become bigger voices in the party. But the “Dump Brewer” movement also seems to have the support of much, maybe most, of the state’s Democrats in Congress.

A lot of the controversy continues to swirl around who should be held responsible for the Democratic underperformance in last November’s election: Ballot questions that failed. Passage of right-to-work, Democrats failing to win control of the state House even though President Obama won the state by nine points. Some say that’s the fault of Bob King and other labor leaders and that Brewer’s being made a scapegoat. Others say Brewer’s been in long enough, that everybody knows his playbook.

And, a challenger to Brewer seems to have emerged in Lon Johnson, an unsuccessful candidate for a state House seat in northern Michigan. He’s largely unknown by the public, but he has a lot of ties across the Democratic spectrum. He worked for John Dingell. He’s married to Julianna Smoot, a former fundraiser for President Obama. Most Democrats are hoping this gets settled before the February convention, and a messy floor fight.

But we’re kind of hoping it doesn’t… because what a show that would be!

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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