By Crystal A. Proxmire
Both the Michigan Democratic Party and the LGBT Caucus changed leadership at the Sat. Feb. 23, 2013 Michigan Democratic Convention in Detroit. After a contentious battle, and a morning spent making the rounds to the various political camps, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer withdrew his nomination with a simple farewell. “It has been a great 18 years as Chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. I’ve enjoyed working with all of you. But in the interest of party unity, I’m withdrawing my candidacy as party Chair,” he said.
Lon Johnson of Kalkaska was elected the new Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. Johnson grew up in Rockwood, which is Downriver of Detroit. Here’s how he got his start in politics, according to his website:
“As a high school yearbook photographer, Lon found himself stranded at the opening of an auto plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. Little did he know that afternoon would change his life. Congressman John Dingell was also attending the opening and offered Lon a ride back to school. The two got to talking and the Congressman invited Lon to attend a Michael Dukakis rally the following meeting. After that rally, Lon was hooked on Democratic politics and never looked back.”
After graduating from Arizona State, Johnson traveled the country working on various Democratic campaigns. His wife, Juliana Smoot, also has campaigning in her blood. She was deputy manager of President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election.
With speeches that emphasize “winning,” “working together,” and “energizing” youth with social media, Johnson won over significant groups within in the Democratic Party. Brewer’s withdraw spared the convention from a fight and allowed delegates to move forward with a focus of taking back the House in 2014.
“Together we win when we build a party that is more than the sum of our parts. Our institutional partners have done great thing. They have changed the world. But now we must recognize the power of the individuals to make great change…We win when we practice the politics of addition,” Johnson said.
Prior to his nomination, Johnson spoke to the LGBT Caucus. When asked why he did not fill out the candidate’s questionnaire for Between the Lines in the most recent election he said that candidates get “dozens and dozens” of them, and added “I want to hit the issue head on. Do I support gay marriage? Do I support the overturn of this draconian law that was in 2004? The answer is yes.”
In the nearly two decades that he served as Chair, Brewer worked with LGBT people and candidates. “I’m not a fresh face to this community,” Brewer said. “We’ve been working together since the 80s when I was a volunteer lawyer with the ACLU and we’ve done a lot of great things together over the years. I and the Democratic Party stood with you on marriage equality by being against proposal 2, and I worked very hard on the work I did last summer to make sure that the Michigan Democratic Party platform came out in favor of marriage equality just like our national platform. It doesn’t stop there. I worked very hard to make sure that our national delegation last summer had a record number of members from this community. And we have worked to help LGBT candidates all over the state.”
The LGBT Caucus also experienced a change in leadership. Phil Volk, who Chaired the organization since 2009, declined to seek another term, leaving Mark LaChey from Pleasant Ridge unopposed. LaChey, an attorney, took care in finding the right mix of people to serve as Vice Chairs as well, with Between the Lines co-publisher Jan Stevenson as the first Vice Chair, Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter as second and Lansing-based Democratic Party organizer Garnet Lewis as third.
Coulter’s term as the Chair of what used to be the 12th Congressional District, now the 9th, ended and he declined to seek the position again. Instead he is looking forward to build the LGBT caucus. “I want to increase the presence of LGBT people in the part,” Coulter said. “As a community I don’t think we’re as politically active or organized as we could be. In order to have our voice heard, we need to be active. My hope with Mark LaChey’s leadership we bring more people to the party.”
Lewis agreed. “I see the LGBTQA caucus actually doing something for its members and the party as a whole. Mark Lachey will be a great leader and Jan and David will provide invaluable expertise. I know that we’ll be meeting soon to strategize for greater visibility and involvement in the MDP and around the state,” she said.
When longtime community activist Michelle Brown asked about the lack diversity in the caucus, LaChey said “I recognize that the Chair and Vice Chair are all Caucasian. There are two men two women, and four congressional districts.” He said he approached others to serve but that none would, and that he hopes to reach out to racial minorities and to youth to get involved and be part of the board. He also said that because he knows Stevenson, Coulter and Lewis from work they’ve done in the past, he trusts them to help move the organization forward.
Chair Volk left the caucus with several bits of advice. The first is to encourage youth participation in the Democratic Party. The second is to be patient with politicians who may not be as vocal but still vote with the party when the time comes. He also said that LGBTs need to be able to take part in politicking.
Duane Breijak, a board member from 2009-2012, spoke about the Caucus’ successes. In 2009 there was no LGBT Caucus. It had come and gone over the years, but no one had successfully pulled off a long-term group.
In four years’ time, the LGBT Caucus accomplished many things, including traveling with two busloads of people from Michigan to Washington DC for National Equality March, hosting anti-bullying, lobby days and town halls, doing direct legislative lobbying, having a presence at most Pride events, being part of LGBT related Michigan Democratic Party Resolutions, training new activists and adding over 800 members to the Caucus roster.
To find out more about the Michigan Democratic Party, visit http://www.michigandems.com/.
Scroll down for more video clips from the convention.