I have often been accused of not giving Democrats in Michigan a break because in the past I have labeled them as their own worst enemy either because they were too afraid to break away from tradition, or lacked political muscle compared to their Republican counterparts.
Added to that conundrum is the issue of how Detroit in every election season continues to be a ready ATM or American Express Card for Democratic votes without reciprocation from the party’s leadership.
And then there’s the often colossal blunder in terms of how the Michigan Democratic Party responds to the many loyalties the party has with institutions that have long formed the fabric of the party.
This year, I am somewhat more optimistic, and I’m hesitant to say Democrats, beware the Ides of March in the November election, because of some very interesting nominations that were made at their March endorsement conference.
Among the many candidates nominated or endorsed for office, three stand out in my estimation.
Bridget McCormack, a University of Michigan law professor who co-founded the Michigan Innocence Clinic working to address and litigate cases on behalf of those wrongfully convicted, is a breath of fresh air on the Democratic ticket. Beyond that, McCormack brings real life experience combined with scholarship to the bench that is often missing in candidates selected for top offices in the state. She is a mother of four who has worked to address matters relating to children and families and helping those who have no access to the legal system.
In a meeting with McCormack in Detroit, she expressed strong concern about the direction of the Michigan Supreme Court and why it needs to have individuals who cannot only directly interpret the law but also bring an experience that the average person can relate to.
In nominating the first Hispanic justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, President Obama called Sonia Sotomayor a person who has “walked at almost every level of our judicial system, providing her with a depth of experience and a breadth of perspective that will be invaluable as a Supreme Court justice.”
In selecting McCormack, Michigan Democrats are breaking away from tradition by picking someone who is not a political hack or a lousy attorney who has no business seeking the state’s high court. Instead, McCormack brings a fresh perspective to the business of interpreting the law for Michiganders.
Mark Bernstein, father of three and a lawyer who specializes in many areas of the law and notably on civil rights matters, is among the candidates endorsed to run for the University of Michigan Board of Regents.
Certainly, the name Bernstein rings a bell, because he is from the famous Bernstein legal family. Yet, Mark Bern-stein, whose brother, Richard Bernstein, could have been Michigan attorney general, is a very grounded individual who understands the role a university should play in our society. One of his main campaign thrusts is enhancing the University of Michigan’s foothold in Detroit.
It is reassuring to see a candidate run for the state’s largest educational institution on a Detroit platform, and Bernstein is among an emerging class of leaders who are not necessarily driven by tradition but transformation.
He understands the nexus between a university and its major metropolis, Detroit. Giving U-M more access to Detroit is an educational coup for any person who leads that effort.
Kim Trent, wife and mother of one who is no stranger to Detroit, was endorsed to run for the Wayne State University Board of Governors. Trent, who has worked in many fields, such as journalism and government, including serving recently as former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s Southeast Michigan director, will be a strong addition to Wayne State University.
Trent understands how to relate to those who are often cut out of political and educational power. She understands the DNA of Detroit and will push Wayne State further into the larger palace of educational opportunity for Detroiters.
Trent on the Board of Governors would mean time for the university to enhance its presence in a city like Detroit, one of the largest employers of labor. She’s always been committed to diversity, helping to spearhead “One Michigan,” the organization that tried to save affirmative action in Michigan, and she makes no mistake about African American participation and inclusion.
With the calibre of candidates like these on the Democratic ticket, it’s easy to conclude that it is a winnable political package. But going by history, Democrats in Michigan are notorious for nominating candidates and then leaving them to hang and dry.
A recent case in point was the last race where Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford Morris, who began as a social worker, the first African American to sit on the Oakland County bench, was nominated but lacked the money to run a campaign.
Despite her excellent credentials and real life experience, she and others on the various tickets were woefully defeated at the polls.
Yes, blame part of it as wrong timing for Democrats because of the rise of the Tea Party in Congress, but blame the rest on the party for not doing much to wrap its arm around those they endorse.
Endorsing a candidate is one thing, and leveraging the institutional power of the party is a totally different issue.
If Democrats want to see major change this year in which President Obama is running a very crucial campaign for a second term in the White House, they have to break away from tradition and do things differently. Just as they did selecting these non-traditional candidates and others, they need to change the game.
In 2008, Obama ran a non-traditional campaign that was not part of the presidential script that has long defined campaigns for the American presidency.&nbs
But he won because he and his team dared to do something different, to the amazement of presidential historians and pollsters, some of whom had concluded long before that he had no chance to win.
So what is stopping Michigan Democrats from evolving and responding rightly and timely to the present-day realities of the political climate?
Failure to do so would mean crying over more spilled milk while Republicans are cheering and sipping coffee at the expense of certain spineless Democrats.
Good luck, as these candidates try to write the next chapter of the Michigan Democratic Party and all of Michigan.
Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part series on the Obama presidency, including “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published last year. His latest book is ”Obama and Christian Loyalty” with an epilogue written by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His upcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and ”Obama and Business Loyalty.” Listen to him every Thursday morning on WDET 101.9 FM Detroit and every Sunday, 9 to 10 p.m., on “The Obama Watch” program on WLIB 1190 AM-New York. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.