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Conventions court controversy, despite best efforts

Rick Pluta

Republicans and Democrats held their state party conventions over the weekend.

The GOP met in the Detroit suburb of Novi. Democrats were in Lansing. Their purpose was to nominate a slate of statewide candidates, and promote party unity going into November, and they succeeded. Partially.

The conventions’ legal purpose is to select candidates for the November ballot, but they’re also a chance to fire up the party faithful. And there’s always a goal of broadcasting the impression of an excited, unified party, and, frankly, to avoid big drama that makes big news.

Conventions: where ideology meets political realities

It didn’t quite work out that way this past weekend. And that would be tough when thousands of passionate, politically obsessed people gather. And it’s true, most of the nominations were uncontested and went off without a hitch. But, there was one controversy at the Democratic convention over a nomination for the state Supreme Court. Judge Bill Murphy is opposed to abortion, and that did not sit well with delegates like Megan Edwin.

“If, as a party, we claim to care about women’s issues, we care about women’s votes, then why are we nominating an anti-choice candidate for the Michigan Supreme Court?” she said. “Why are we willing to throw women’s issues under the bus?”

Edwin was among the delegates who argued that Murphy should never have been nominated in the first place. They tried to reverse the nomination. Their effort failed and the nomination was re-affirmed by the convention. Murphy, for the record, says he would respect the Roe versus Wade decision if and when abortion cases come before the state Supreme Court.

State Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson downplayed the dispute. He says the whole thing was nothing more than a kerfuffle in the grand scheme of things, and Democrats will stick together and win in November.

“Just like any nomination, there was a difference of opinion, there was those who were for it, those who were against, but in the end an overwhelming membership of our delegation supported Judge Murphy.”

Tea party thwarted by well-organized GOP establishment

Republicans had an even bigger ration of drama at their party convention in Novi on Saturday. Tea Partiers took aim at Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, figuring a takedown of Governor Rick Snyder’s chosen running mate would send a message to the party and the administration. They also staged a few fights on lower ballot races for university boards and the Michigan State Board of Education.

But, unlike recent years, the Snyder team and the Republican establishment planned ahead and recruited their own slate of convention delegates. They outnumbered the tea party by probably two to one, and Calley easily prevailed.

That didn’t sit well with delegate Bill Kostin, who says now he won’t support the Republican ticket in November.

“Besides right to work, what is the difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party now?” he asked. “The Republican Party leadership, not the individuals. There are a lot of guys like me who still hold to the core principals of limited government.”

Like his Democratic counterpart, state Republican Chairman Bobby Schostak says the controversies will blow over, his party is united, and it’s ready to win in November.  

“We’re all Republicans united in Michigan’s comeback under the leadership of our great governor and the outstanding Republican ticket we’ve built out here for November,” Schostak said.

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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