New Democratic Party chair visits

HOUGHTON – Michigan’s Democratic Party chairman made his first visit to Houghton in the post Saturday.

Lon Johnson appeared at the State Democratic Central Committee meeting in Houghton.

The meeting is used to lay out plans for the party’s future, which are then approved by the executive committee.

Johnson described the mood of the party as “fired up.”

“You name it – there is not one constituency in Michigan that is not paying the price for this governor’s inability, or unwillingness, to create consensus in Lansing,” he said. “And they want change.”

In some ways, the state is a Democratic stronghold; Michigan has gone for the Democratic candidate in the last six presidential and Senate races. That hasn’t been true on the state level, where Republicans currently hold the governor’s seat, state House, state Senate and Supreme Court.

“The Michigan voter doesn’t switch values from the federal ballot to the state ballot,” he said. “We have to go and recruit good candidates and deliver our message in new ways to prove to the Michigan voter that we’re going to create a Michigan where they can stay and succeed. And we do that by showing them how we will invest in and protect our two greatest assets: our people and our land.”

Johnson has high hopes for the state candidates in 2014. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer will run for governor. U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township will run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Carl Levin, who is retiring.

“Both have no primary, both are ahead in the polls,” he said.

In the 1st Congressional District, Jerry Cannon, D-Fife Lake, announced his candidacy in August for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Iron River.

“A terrific gentleman with a lifetime of service who will, I think, draw a very clear line of difference between Congressman Benishek and himself,” he said. “He’s a former two-star general, a former county sheriff – just a lifetime of service.”

Johnson is in his first year in office, replacing longtime chair Mark Brewer last year. Johnson said he is working to open the party up to new people and ideas.

One change is a local version of the “50-state strategy” pursued by the Democratic National Committee in the mid-2000s. Johnson said Michigan Democrats also need to take advantage of the campaign tools and technology pioneered by President Obama.

“Campaigns are no longer June-to-November affairs,” he said. “We have to start now with organizing, we have to start now with recruiting candidates – everywhere. When you fight everywhere and fight earlier, the chances for victory are better.”

Johnson anticipates voters will decide the 2014 election based on who they think can create “a Michigan where my family and I can stay and succeed.”

He laid out the Democratic vision for the state: Cooperation between business and labor, not shifting taxes from businesses onto the lower classes, investing in public education and protecting the Great Lakes.

“One thing that Michigan has that no other state has is these beautiful Great Lakes,” he said. “… How are we protecting them and using them to attract businesses and to attract tourism without thinking very short-term and putting them at environmental risk?”

State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, said the jobs focus needs to be front and center for the election. He said the state needs to embrace people who want to create jobs in Michigan. He used the example of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community’s proposed casino in Marquette County.

“That would create 500 shovel-ready jobs tomorrow if they were given the OK,” he said.

Johnson said the state needs to be willing to adopt new technologies and actively recruit companies to move to the state.

“This governor thinks that just through right-to-work and through a few tax measures and the jobs are just going to open up,” he said. “Well, we haven’t seen that. It doesn’t work.”