Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

September 8, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: Republicans rule state government

The last time Michigan voted Republican in a presidential election, the Berlin Wall was still up and the internet was something computer researchers used to send code.

Democrats have won every U.S. Senate race in the state — with one exception — since Richard Nixon was in the White House.

Yet when you look at state government, Republicans rule everywhere. Democrats don’t have a single statewide officeholder, outside of a few education board seats. They are outnumbered in both houses of the Legislature; in fact, you could fit every democratic state senator into a couple full-size passenger cars.

Acutely aware of the problem, Democrats went for a radical fix two months ago. They fired their longtime party chair, Mark Brewer, who went kicking and screaming… and replaced him with LBJ.

Not the original, long-dead LBJ - but one they hope will be as successful at corralling votes and strong candidates as Lyndon Johnson was at running the U.S. Senate.

Lon Barton Johnson is a 42-year-old ball of energy who looks far more like a successful young private equity banker than the son of a lathe operator in Rockwood, a downriver Detroit suburb which is about as blue-collar a factory town as you get.

But in fact he is both things - plus many more; a veteran organizer of successful campaigns from Arizona to New Jersey; a former aide to legendary Congressman John Dingell; and a staffer for the Democratic National and Senatorial Campaign Committees.

Somehow, he managed to find time to take off for conquered Iraq for six months to try and bring democracy there (“an incomplete success”) before returning home to Michigan.

Along the way, he managed to marry Julianna Smoot, a top fundraiser for President Obama who did a stint as White House social secretary, and - oh yes - run for state representative in Kalkaska.

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