Traverse City Record-Eagle

Op-Ed Columns

February 17, 2013

Northern dynamics in Dem chief race

Of the 32 men and women who have chaired Michigan's two major parties since World War II, not one has been from northern Michigan. No Republican chair has been from north of the Grand Rapids area; no Democrat from north of the Flint area.

But there will be northern dynamics on Feb. 23 in Detroit at the state party convention when State Chairman Mark Brewer of Macomb County, who has served since 1995 (including a term as co-chair), longer than any Democratic state chair in the nation, and six terms as national chair of state chairs, is challenged by Lon Johnson of Kalkaska County, originally of Wayne County.

Brewer, frequent traveler UP North, has substantial support here, including the chairs in the 1st, 2nd and 4th congressional districts (not the 3rd as I wrote last week) and an impressive array of county party chairs across the Upper Peninsula and in the northern lower.

Leelanau County is among them. One of its prominent activists, Suttons Bay attorney Dean Robb, who supports Johnson as "full of life, full of ideas," argues that Brewer lined up supporters before Johnson got into the race.

Johnson, who narrowly lost a 2012 challenge of state Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City, entered the chairman's race with a blaze. He's endorsed by Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and all Democrats in Michigan's U.S. House delegation, as well as the United Auto Workers and some other labor powers that, like the UAW, previously backed Brewer.

Johnson also has been adding northern endorsements, including former 1st District U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak of Menominee, and ex-state Rep. Gary McDowell of Rudyard, the 2010 and 2012 party nominee in the district.

Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, after noting Johnson's considerable experience in national politics, (including as deputy finance chairman for the Al Gore campaign in 2000) cited "the prospect of a Johnson run for Congress in the marginal 1st CD now represented by U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls."

Johnson discounted such speculation when asked about it Friday. He obviously assumes he will be party chairman, and vowed someone in a "strong field" of prospects will defeat Republican Benishek next year and have a long run.

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