Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 3, 2013

George Weeks: Political longevity superstars

Syndicated columnist

— With the end of the 18-year reign of Democratic State Chairman Mark Brewer as longest-serving state chair of either party in the nation, it is timely to look at some of Michigan’s other political longevity super stars.

Atop the list is Dean of the U.S. House John Dingell, D-Dearborn, who is the longest serving U.S. representative in history and is in his 29th term after being elected in 1955 to replace his deceased congressman father.

Also on Capitol Hill is Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan’s longest-serving senator, first elected 1978, who now chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Levin’s older brother, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, is in his 16th term and twice in the 1970’s was the Democratic nominee for governor.)

Michigan’s longest-serving governor is Republican William G. Milliken (1969-82) of Traverse City, although politician-diplomat-jurist Democrat G. Mennen Williams had an unprecedented six terms as governor (1949-60), before terms were expanded from two to four years, in an extraordinary public career that spanned the last third of Michigan’s first 150 years as a state.

Like Williams, and four other governors who served on the high court, James H. Brickley of Traverse City served both in the executive and judicial branches (eight years as lieutenant governor with Milliken and 17 years on the Supreme Court, where he had a stint as chief justice).

The record for executive branch elective office in Lansing is that of ex-Attorney General Frank Kelley (1961-98) — the eternal general.

Another Democrat, Secretary of State Richard Austin, served a record 1971-94, and was the last of the 39 men to hold the office. Current Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is the third woman to hold office — all Republicans.

Depending on how long he remains, Democratic-nominated Supreme Court Justice Mike Cavanagh of East Lansing, first elected in 1982 and a former chief justice, is likely to be longest-serving justice. Justice Joseph B. Moore of Lapeer served 1896-1926.

Party chairman races

One way to look at state party politics of late is that there is the Michigan GOP and the Michigan UAW.

The clout of the United Auto Workers in the state Democratic Party was evident when Mark Brewer, who reigned for 18 years as chairman of the party in large part because of UAW support, stepped aside Feb. 23 in favor of UAW-backed Lon Jackson of Kalkaska, who also had the support of the entire Michigan congressional delegation and the Michigan Teamsters.

Brewer and Johnson quickly joined in vows of party unity at the state party convention in Detroit. Johnson expressed admiration for what Brewer “has done for our party. We must stand together, because it’s the only way to win.”

Brewer, in a chat we had last week, emphasized he would stay involved in support of Democratic candidates. “I’m not going away.”

At the Republican State Convention in Lansing, State Chairman Bobby Schostak had a spirited challenge from Lapeer attorney Todd Courser, a relatively obscure Tea Party activist, but won a second two-year term, with 52 percent of delegates’ votes. He had a supporting pitch from Gov. Rick Snyder.

The longest-serving GOP state chairman since World War II was Bill McLaughlin of Northville (1969-79).

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.