Schauer may give Snyder a run for his money 

The Democrats: Revitalized?

I have to confess that until now, I never really thought Mark Schauer, the Democrats’ designated candidate, stood much chance of being elected governor in November.

True, Rick Snyder has betrayed the hopes of lots of people who thought he would be reasonably moderate. He has instead pandered to the far right more often than not.

Yes, he did shove Medicaid expansion through, mostly because as a businessman, he knew it would cost business and the state far more not to do so. But this is the governor who, after saying right-to-work legislation was “not on my agenda,” participated in railroading it through in a single day.

When outraged people protested, the Capitol was locked down and demonstrators — including Schauer, himself a former legislator — were pepper-sprayed. Another signature accomplishment of our supposedly moderate governor included an attempt to severely limit Michigan’s personal injury protection for people with terrible auto accident injuries.

GOP godfather L. Brooks Patterson, of all people, helped save us from that last year. They say all politics is personal, and the Oakland County executive was famously racked up in a 2012 car crash. (He was in a coma during part of his re-election campaign. Fortunately for him, the voters may have been as well; he won, as always, by a landslide.)

Snyder failed at that. but he did happily sign a bill to allow motorcyclists to ride without helmets, something good for the funeral home industry (deaths are up 18 percent) but bad for the rest of us, who will pay for caring for those who survive.

Beyond that, our moderate governor has, despite claims to the contrary, effectively cut aid to both higher and public education. He has taxed people’s pensions, given businesses enormous tax cuts and has seen them fail to create few, if any, new jobs.

Yet incredibly, the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the governor’s re-election. For more than half a century, Michigan has re-elected every incumbent governor who wanted a second term — and by a bigger margin than before.

Republicans have an added advantage in that this year is a so-called off-year election, meaning the presidency is not on the ballot. That means a huge falloff in turnout — and most of those staying home have traditionally been Democratic.

Worse, the party who holds the White House almost always does poorly in off-year elections.

However, I’m starting to think this year might be different, for a number of reasons. First of all, Schauer is starting to find his voice. I crashed the Democrats’ annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner at Cobo Hall Sunday night.

Schauer gave what was really an excellent, almost rip-roaring speech, talking for a first time about what he would do as governor. He outlined a campaign that will be all about saving the threatened middle class and saving education.

The son of a nurse and a high school science teacher, Schauer said his parents taught him that the key to a good job is a good education … and public education is the silver bullet.

He pledged to fight for an increase in the minimum wage because “nobody who works full-time should be raising their children in poverty, and praised the labor movement for all that it has done for a strong middle class.

Schauer’s speech was a bit understandably overshadowed by the master himself, former President Bill Clinton, who held the crowd largely spellbound for nearly an hour.

Yet before the speeches, I mingled with Democrats from retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin to youngsters barely out of school. They seemed renewed, upbeat and optimistic. Schauer’s choice of Lisa Brown clearly has had something to do with his.

Charismatic, witty, attractive and smart, she became a sort of folk hero when the Republican oafs in the legislature tried to muzzle her for saying “vagina,” after which she ran for Oakland County clerk, and knocked off the GOP incumbent.

Meanwhile, under the radar, new Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson has been carefully crafting the closest thing possible to a scientific campaign, one that reminds me of Aaron Sorkin's Moneyball, in which a major league franchise without much cash manages to assemble a winning team anyway.

Johnson first managed to get the party to avoid expensive and divisive primary battles for governor and senator.

Next, he has been crunching numbers and reviewing strategies to boost turnout. About five million Michiganders vote in presidential elections. Eight years ago, in a good Democratic year, off-year turnout was 3.8 million.

Four years ago, however, it was a mere 3.2 million — and Republicans won a historic landslide. Johnson knows political numbers like baseball fanatics know batting averages.

He figures if he can get this year’s turnout close to 3.5 million, Snyder is toast. The odds say they can’t do that.

But exceptions occur. Most polls now show Snyder and Schauer within a few points of each other, usually with the governor slightly ahead. What’s remarkable, however, is that they also show most voters have no idea who Mark Schauer is.

Nearly half the state finds not being Rick Snyder is reason enough to vote for anybody. If the Democratic candidate can project the personality he displayed at Cobo, this could be a very interesting election.

THE AFFIRMATIVE ACTION DILEMMA

Not surprisingly, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that Michigan’s constitutional amendment outlawing the use of affirmative action in college admissions was perfectly constitutional.

The vote wasn’t even close. This sparked cheers from the likes of Jennifer Gratz, a white woman from Southgate who has made a career out of her resentment at not getting admitted to the University of Michigan. Meanwhile, there was dismay and outrage from those who believe this is a tool we need if we’re ever going to make America a truly equal opportunity society.

What was clear to me, however, was that many on both sides hadn’t really read the opinion. In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy went out of his way to write that “the consideration of race in admissions is permissible,” but that the voters could also decide not to do so, which is what they did in Michigan in 2004.

This should make everyone wonder whether the high court might do the same thing when they get around to ruling on same-sex marriage. Might they say Michigan voters were also well within their rights to ban gay marriage in 2006?

We won’t know for a while. But I’m surprised more people weren’t astonished and appalled by what recycled sports columnist Mitch Albom wrote about Brooke Kimbrough, a 17-year-old black Detroiter who has been indignantly protesting her failure to get admitted to the University of Michigan.

Frankly, her test scores and grades weren’t all that great. When she failed to get in, Kimbrough began luridly and absurdly using lynching metaphors to describe her disappointment.

Hey, she’s a teenager. Albom, however, felt called upon to call her up and offer this helpful advice: “If she really wants to change things, she can create a two-parent, high-standards home for her own children,” and push them to do better.

How insightful of him! Mitch, a childless white guy in his 50s, also felt the need to tell readers that Brooke has a sister who “still lives in (her mother’s) house with a newborn.” 

Tsk-tsk. The morals of those people! 

What I can’t figure out is why Mitch didn’t quote Booker T. Washington and tell Brooke to forget this intellectual stuff and learn a useful trade. Or maybe play basketball.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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