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Political contradictions make campaigning difficult

Feb 26, 2018

Some time ago, a candidate running for a nomination for a statewide office called and asked for my advice. Not political advice, not policy advice, but pronunciation advice.

They were headed to the Upper Peninsula and wanted to know how to pronounce a few names. Was it Gogebic or Go-jeb-ick? Was it Luce County or Lucy County?

They were calling because they knew I’d spent time above the bridge, in that very different world. But while I am fond of the UP, if you are running for a statewide office, campaigning there wouldn’t seem to make a lot of sense. There are barely 300,000 people scattered across a vast area, considerably fewer than in Washtenaw County.

They cast no more than three percent of the statewide vote. Don’t expect to see any of the candidates for governor up there in October. But the person who called me wants to be nominated for one of those offices where the candidates are picked by party delegates at a state convention, and those from the UP may have disproportionate sway.

The fact that political hacks, or activists, not the voters, get to determine the nominees for secretary of state and attorney general may strike you as an anachronism.

On the other hand, when you think about the infinite wisdom of the voters, you need only contemplate Karen Spranger, the Macomb County clerk, who for years showed up at public meetings wearing a tinfoil outfit, and who has brought considerable chaos to a county of almost a million people since she was elected more than a year ago. For future reference, kids, it’s a good idea to know a little about who you are voting for.

However, there’s also a question of whether the parties really know themselves any more. Most Republicans I know believe the Second Amendment gives us the right to keep and bear arms for protection.

But they have no problems with background checks and with banning sheer killing machines like the AR-15. But their party has completely sold out to the fanatics of the National Rifle Association, who insist on no effective gun laws whatsoever. The NRA has contributed so many millions to so many officeholders that they virtually own them.

Democrats have their own anachronisms. They are so closely tied to the unions, especially the United Auto Workers union, that no Democratic candidate can hope to be chosen for a statewide post unless they are acceptable to them.

That made a great deal of sense, back when the unions organized nearly two-fifths of the private sector workforce and the UAW had more than 1.5 million members.

Today, only about six percent of the private sector work force is unionized. The UAW has fewer than 400,000 members nationwide, and many are not in automotive or manufacturing jobs. Nor do traditional blue-collar workers vote the way they once did.

Democrats today find their strongest support among black voters, and among highly educated and affluent voters, especially women. But they need them -- and white blue-collar voters -- to win. Nominating anyone who can appeal to all three constituencies isn’t easy.

These days, a lot of voters are clearly deeply dissatisfied with both parties. I plan to take a look at whether a third party movement could finally happen in this country, sometime soon.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.