Opinion
2:08 pm
Mon April 7, 2014

A peculiar quota system may weaken the Democratic ticket.

Remarkably, we already know virtually everyone who will be nominated by both parties for the major statewide offices this year. Every candidate, that is, except one. I’m not talking about candidates for statewide education boards or high court races.

I’m talking about the four high-profile elected positions. And though we are almost four months from the statewide primaries and the state party conventions, the lineup is pretty much set.

Republicans will run all their incumbents – Governor Rick Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Democrats are set to nominate Mark Schauer, a former congressman from Battle Creek, for governor, and Lisa Brown, the Oakland County clerk, as his running mate. Mark Totten is the only candidate for attorney general. But what about secretary of state?

As of now, the number of Democratic candidates for this prestigious statewide office is ... zero. Nobody seems to want the nomination so far.

By the way, while candidates for most offices are selected in a statewide August primary, nominees for secretary of state and attorney general aren’t determined by voters. They are chosen in state party conventions around Labor Day.

There are at least two reasons Democrats aren’t trying to win that nomination. First, it is very hard to knock off an incumbent. Even making a credible race would take more than a million dollars, and pretty much all the available money is going to be sucked up by the races for governor and U.S. Senator.

But there is another problem, too. Democrats would deny this, but they in fact have had a quota system for statewide offices.

Far more than Republicans, Democrats are a collection of factions, and for many years the unwritten rule has been that every Democratic ticket had to include one female and one black candidate.

That means an African-American will have to be found to run for secretary of state. This might have made some sense once upon a time. But in recent years, this peculiar form of tokenism has hurt Democrats, and actually made them look cynical and pandering.

They faced a similar situation sixteen years ago. John Austin, now president of the state board of education, wanted the nomination for secretary of state. He campaigned hard and demonstrated he was well qualified.

But when the state convention met, Democratic bosses insisted on giving the nomination to an unknown black state representative. She virtually refused to campaign, and was defeated so badly she even lost Wayne County.

Eight years later, they did the same thing, throwing away a real chance to oust Republican Attorney General Mike Cox by denying the nomination to Scott Bowen, a Grand Rapids-based judge.

Instead, they nominated a little-known and underfunded black lawyer and former policeman. He also lost badly. Ticket balancing may have made sense once, and no group wants to feel left out. But Michigan today is a place that twice voted overwhelmingly for a black president. We’ve had an African-American secretary of state and chief justice of the state supreme court.

You’d think we ought to be beyond ballot tokenism. You might even think those being treated as tokens would be offended.