MDP chair talks Court of Claims, governor's race, and 'issue ad' transparancy

Nov 17, 2013

The chair of the Michigan Democratic Party maintains a recent overhaul of the state’s Court of Claims amounts to “court rigging” by the GOP. That’s despite the fact that an equal number of Republican and Democratic judicial appointments were recently made to the court.

MDP Chair Lon Johnson appeared this weekend on the Michigan Public Television program "Off the Record."

He says the court’s makeup is not prescribed by a law that was recently passed by Republicans in Lansing, which moves the court from the Ingham County Circuit to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Democrats say that gives Republicans a more favorable venue to hear arguments over major issues such as the emergency manager law.

Johnson says he’s glad the court includes as many Democratic appointments as Republican ones. But he says that could change.

“How do we know that is going to remain year over year, or is just an effort just to get you folks, the reporters, to look away?” said Johnson.

Republicans say judges elected in one county should not be ruling on cases that affect the entire state.

Johnson also applauded Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s plan to reveal who pays for so-called “issue ads” before elections. But he questioned why the Republican secretary of state didn’t try to change the policy sooner.

“We’re glad that she joined that debate,” said Lon Johnson. “But you have to ask yourself, where has she been for three years? These are administrative rules that she’s upheld for the last three years. Is this a deathbed conversion, here?”

Issue ads support or attack candidates or political causes without using words or phrases like “vote for.” That would make them campaign ads, which must reveal who pays for the message.

Last week, the Republican-dominated state Senate quickly passed legislation that would block the secretary of state’s proposal.

When asked about next year’s race for governor, the MDP chair said it will largely depend on voter turnout.

He estimates almost a million Democrats sat out the 2010 election. But Johnson says he’s confident many of those voters will be more motivated to show up at the polls after four years of Governor Rick Snyder’s policies.

“Who are these folks? They’re seniors who’ve had their pension taxed. They’re African Americans who live under an emergency manager. They’re teachers who’ve seen a billion dollars taken out of their classrooms. They’re union members who have seen their collective bargaining rights stripped away. That’s who these people are.”

Johnson says President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2012 left behind a wealth of data. He says that’s helped the Democratic Party reach out to potential voters.

Governor Rick Snyder says his administration has increased funding for public education, and the state’s new right-to-work law does not take away collective bargaining rights.