Dems buck UAW, back Nes­sel for AG

High turnout for en­dorse­ment vote could sig­nal en­ergy among party

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN OOSTING AND BETH LEBLANC Detroit News Lans­ing Bureau

Detroit — Dana Nes­sel will head into the fall elec­tion sea­son as the Michi­gan Demo­cratic Party’s choice for at­tor­ney gen­eral af­ter win­ning a com­bat­ive en­dorse­ment elec­tion over Pat Miles on Sun­day and over­com­ing op­po­si­tion from the pow­er­ful United Auto Work­ers union.

The Plymouth Town­ship at­tor­ney, best known for help­ing top­ple Michi­gan’s same-sex mar­riage ban, pulled out a nar­row vic­tory over Miles at a bois­ter­ous con­ven­tion at­tended by more than 6,700 Democrats, in­clud­ing many “pro­gres­sives” who joined the party to back her can­di­dacy.

“I just re­ally want to re­store dig­nity to the of­fice of at­tor­ney gen­eral, and I want it to turn back into an of­fice that I think pro­tects the res­i­dents of the state in­stead of per­se­cut­ing them,” Nes­sel told re­porters af­ter her elec­tion.

Miles, a for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney for the Western Dis­trict of Michi­gan, con­ceded to Nes­sel be­fore the vote total was an­nounced. Backed by the UAW, a tra­di­tional power bro­ker, his de­feat sig­nals an on­go­ing sea change in the party, which is be­ing re­shaped by an in­flux of “pro­gres­sive” grass­roots ac­tivists.

“It’s his­toric,” said long­time po­lit­i­cal pun­dit Bill Bal­lenger, who served in the state Leg­is­la­ture as a Repub­li­can but has at­tended sev­eral Demo­cratic con­ven­tions as a me­dia mem­ber. “The la­bor slate al­ways wins, and that’s the UAW.”

Of­fi­cials and ac­tivists hailed the ro­bust con­ven­tion turnout as a sign of party en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm lead­ing up to the mid-term elec­tion, the first since Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump won the state over Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

About 2,000 del­e­gates voted in a sim­i­lar en­dorse­ment elec­tion in 2010. Democrats will for­mally nom­i­nate statewide can­di­dates af­ter the gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary in Au­gust, but the early back­ing is in­tended to give can­di­dates for at-

tor­ney gen­eral, sec­re­tary of state and the Michi­gan Supreme Court a head start on their gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign and fundrais­ing ef­forts.

Democrats also en­dorsed Jo­ce­lyn Ben­son for Michi­gan sec­re­tary of state, along with ap­pel­late at­tor­ney Me­gan Kath­leen Ca­vanagh and Univer­sity of Michi­gan pro­fes­sor Sa­muel Ba­gen­stos for the Michi­gan Supreme Court. All three were un­op­posed at the con­ven­tion.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s race proved a bruis­ing af­fair, with Nes­sel la­bel­ing Miles a flip-flop­per for shift­ing pol­icy stances on things like mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion. Miles this week blasted Nes­sel for rais­ing con­cerns over state leg­is­la­tion that would ex­tend the statute of lim­i­ta­tions in sex­ual con­duct cases in­volv­ing mi­nors, a re­sponse to the Larry Nas­sar scan­dal at Michi­gan State Univer­sity.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters was among those urg­ing fel­low Democrats to move past in­ter­nal grudges and unite to take on Repub­li­cans in the fall.

“I hope you all agree we can’t say, ‘Well my can­di­date didn’t win, and the one who won is too pro­gres­sive, not pro­gres­sive enough, too cen­trist, not cen­trist enough, voted this way, voted that way’ — enough is enough,” Peters said in con­ven­tion speech.

“We need to be united, or we will not win.”

Ben­son, a Har­vard Law School grad­u­ate and Wayne State Univer­sity law school dean from 2012 to 2016, was also the party’s nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of state in 2010 but lost by 6 per­cent­age points to cur­rent of­fice holder Ruth John­son, a Repub­li­can. In her en­dorse­ment ac­cep­tance speech, Ben­son said she’d fight to keep wait times at the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice un­der 30 min­utes, to make the state a na­tional model for elec­tion se­cu­rity and to im­ple­ment no-rea­son ab­sen­tee vot­ing. Ben­son vowed to “shine a light” on state gov­ern­ment work­ing on be­half of the wealthy and lob­by­ists.

“Let’s take Michi­gan from worst to first in trans­parency and ethics,” she said.

Ca­vanagh and Ba­gen­stos will run against jus­tices Kur­tis Wilder and Beth Clement, who are seek­ing elec­tion af­ter ap­point­ment last year by GOP Gov. Rick Sny­der. Repub­li­can nom­i­nees hold a 5-2 ma­jor­ity on the court.

Ca­vanagh’s en­dorse­ment was moved by her fa­ther, Michael Ca­vanagh, a for­mer jus­tice on the Michi­gan Supreme Court. Me­gan Ca­vanagh stressed that she was her “own per­son” and com­mit­ted to chang­ing the makeup of the court.

“We are go­ing to start writ­ing ma­jor­ity opin­ions in­stead of dis­sent­ing opin­ions,” she said.

Ba­gen­stos ref­er­enced his past work as he promised to de­fend women’s rights, col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, and the fun­da­men­tal right to vote.

“I will fight for all of our rights on the Michi­gan Supreme Court,” Ba­gen­stos said.

Nes­sel, a pri­vate prac­tice at­tor­ney and for­mer Wayne County as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tor, courted the grow­ing lib­eral wing of the Michi­gan Demo­cratic Party and helped or­ga­nize a con­ven­tion bus­ing scheme that helped sup­port­ers from across the state make it to the Cobo Cen­ter in Detroit de­spite a win­ter storm and freez­ing rain that left road­ways slick.

Nes­sel said she be­lieves the party was ready for a more un­con­ven­tional can­di­date and un­con­ven­tional race, one that will con­trib­ute to a “blue wave” in Novem­ber. She was backed by the Michi­gan Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, but other es­tab­lish­ment pow­ers had rallied be­hind Miles in the weeks lead­ing up to the con­ven­tion.

“Whether or not the lead­er­ship of some of the unions sup­ported me, I sup­port the unions in this state,” Nes­sel said. “I sup­port work­ers.”

Party Chair­man Bran­don Dil­lon cred­ited Nes­sel with bring­ing more Democrats into the po­lit­i­cal process, which he said could bode well for the fall.

“In an elec­tion where turnout and en­thu­si­asm are go­ing to be im­por­tant, she has a po­ten­tial to ac­ti­vate a lot of new vot­ers,” Dil­lon said. “The party has new en­ergy, new blood, and she was able to cap­i­tal­ize on that.”

The chal­lenge for the party, he said, is “to keep this en­ergy mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

If elected in the fall, Nes­sel would make history as Michi­gan’s first openly gay statewide of­fice holder. She is ex­pected to face ei­ther House Speaker Tom Leonard or state Sen. Tonya Schuit­maker, who are com­pet­ing for the GOP nom­i­na­tion for at­tor­ney gen­eral, in the gen­eral elec­tion.

Nes­sel’s nom­i­na­tion could also leave Democrats with­out an African-Amer­i­can in a pol­icy-mak­ing po­si­tion at the top of the Novem­ber ticket, although many ex­pect gu­ber­na­to­rial fron­trun­ner Gretchen Whit­mer to pick a per­son of color as her run­ning mate.

That could de­press turnout in cities like Detroit with a large African-Amer­i­can base, said Jonathan Kin­loch, a Miles sup­porter and chair­man of the 13th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

“It’s not to say this isn’t a ticket that can win, but it’s go­ing to be a ticket that’s go­ing to be tough to sell to some of the folks in my neck of the woods, he said.

Miles and Nes­sel each signed pledges they would with­draw from the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s race if they lost Sun­day’s en­dorse­ment vote, and Miles made good on his com­mit­ment.

“I fully ex­pect all of my sup­port­ers to give her the back­ing ... and I would fully sup­port a Demo­cratic ticket in the fall,” he said.

Nes­sel’s sup­port­ers flooded

Cen­ter with chants of “Dana.”

“I look at the at­tor­ney gen­eral now, and all they do is pro­tect spe­cial in­ter­ests and cor­po­rate in­ter­ests and bad gov­ern­ment state ac­tors, when re­ally they should be pro­tect­ing the rest of us who live in this state,” Nes­sel told 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict Democrats.

Nes­sel was also en­dorsed by MI Le­gal­ize, a pro-mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion group. Pot emerged as an early is­sue in the race, with Nes­sel vo­cally back­ing le­gal­iza­tion and Miles say­ing only that he would en­force any law ap­proved by vot­ers, a po­si­tion he shifted in March by back­ing the likely 2018 bal­lot mea­sure.

Miles, in a se­ries of cau­cus speeches, promised vot­ers change from cur­rent At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bill Schuette, a Repub­li­can

Cobo can­di­date for gov­er­nor, promis­ing pro­tec­tions for both the en­vi­ron­ment and the most vul­ner­a­ble and unity mov­ing for­ward.

“Af­ter today, we’re go­ing to unify as a party,” Miles told a group from Michi­gan’s 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

Kristin Laesser trav­eled to Detroit to cast her vote for Nes­sel.

“I like what she’s got to say,” the 29year-old Macomb Town­ship woman said. Laesser said she hoped her vote would help de­ter a Miles vic­tory.

“He’s got the union back­ing, but from what I hear he’s not re­ally pro-union at all,” Laesser said. “Plus, we need women on the bal­lot.”

Wil­liam Noakes, a for­mer U.S. Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion at­tor­ney, was also seek­ing the at­tor­ney gen­eral en­dorse­ment but did not col­lect enough mem­ber sig­na­tures to qual­ify for the con­ven­tion bal­lot.

Jo­heina Hus­sein at­tended the con­ven­tion Sun­day with mem­bers from the Arab Stu­dent Union at Ford­son High School in Dear­born.

Hus­sein, 16, is too young to cast a vote at the con­ven­tion, but wanted the chance to hear the changes each can­di­date was promis­ing.

“It they do get elected into of­fice, I want to see if those goals are achieved,” Hus­sein said.

“That it’s not all talk,” her class­mate, Heba Chokr, added.

Robin Buck­son The Detroit News

Todd McIn­turf The Detroit News

Demetruis Green, right, 53, of South­field, heck­les Shri Thanedar, left, a Demo­cratic can­di­date for gov­er­nor amid a throng of peo­ple at­tend­ing the 2018 en­dorse­ment con­ven­tion of the Michi­gan Demo­cratic Party at Cobo Cen­ter on Sun­day.

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