Commentary: Musical chairs

Feb 6, 2013

It is now difficult to imagine that Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer can win election to another term when his party holds its state convention 17 days from now.

Yesterday, every single Democratic member of the state congressional delegation -- both U.S. Senators and five congressmen -- endorsed his little-known rival, Lon Johnson.

Earlier, both the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters said it was time for Brewer to go. Yet in what has to be embarrassing for all concerned, Brewer is still fighting to keep his job.

This appears to show that he is in hopeless denial of reality, and cares far more about clinging to a job than the good of his party.

Think about it.  What if, by some miracle, Brewer happened to win a tenth two-year term? How effective could he be when every single major officeholder wants him gone? How can he effectively lead a party in which unions play such a big role, when both the UAW and the Teamsters want him fired?

But if Brewer can’t see the light, the fact that this struggle turned public is evidence of a party-wide lack of leadership and a communications breakdown. To save face, Brewer should have been quietly made aware of how things stood weeks ago.

He’s a graduate of Harvard and Stanford Law, and those in the party he has led for 18 years should have lined up a job for him. Instead, there will be bitter feelings and blood on the floor.

Oddly enough, or perhaps not so oddly, Republicans pick their state chair the same weekend. Here too, incumbent GOP chair Bobby Schostak is also running for reelection.

He has only been in office for two years, has the governor’s support, and he is far more likely to win reelection than Brewer.

But there are those bitterly opposed to Schostak, too. One of them, Todd Courser, an attorney from Lapeer, is running against him. Earlier this week, he won the endorsement of leading Tea party activist Cindy Gamrat. They acknowledge that Shostak is a skilled fundraiser, but say that’s not enough. On his website, Courser argues that the Michigan GOP’s message is “fuzzy” and insufficiently conservative.

Gamrat says Michigan Republicans are failing to organize at the grassroots level and failing to win statewide. She hints that if this keeps up, many local activists may eventually join a third party.

All that’s debatable, but this much is true: Democrats haven’t controlled the Michigan Senate for 30 years, and I’d give you 50 to 1 odds they aren’t getting it back next year either.

On the other hand, Shostak was saying less than a year ago that his Republicans were going to carry this state for native son Mitt Romney, and defeat Debbie Stabenow. Stabenow won by nearly a million votes. Romney got beaten so badly every voter in Detroit could have stayed home and he still would have lost.

Both parties have, in short, serious weaknesses. If their leaders are smart, they’ll ask all their candidates for state chair to explain why they’ve done so badly. And then get them to say how they would make things better.