Monday, August 02, 2010

State Primaries, Dem-Style

Those who plan to vote in the Democratic Primary this Tuesday have two choices: Andy Dillon of Redford Township and Virg Bernero of Lansing. The winner faces the Republican nominee in November.

He will lose.

Andy Dillon is the current Speaker of the House, and Virg Bernero is the current Mayor of Lansing. The two could not be further apart on social issues. Dillon is pro-life and Bernero is pro-choice. Dillon opposes funding embryonic stem cell research and Bernero is for it. Dillon is against same sex marriage and Bernero has the support of the LGBTA Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, the LGBT publication Between the Lines, and the Lansing Association for Human Rights (LAHR).

Dillon has gained notoriety for two reasons: being the subject of a failed recall attempt by Leon Drolet, and boldly proposing to consolidate all public health employees (state, county, municipal, and public educators) under one umbrella, which has cost him the support of the AFL-CIO, UAW, UFCW (I was a member of this union for 8 years), MEA, and the AFT (all of whom endorsed Bernero).

Bernero has fashioned himself as a union man's man. Aside from opposing Dillon's health care plan, he too has gained notoriety, mostly from his bombastic appearances (like this one) on Fox News Channel. Known as the "Angriest Mayor" Bernero sees an unholy alliance (his words) with Washington and Wall Street and has been vocal about the fact that union workers for the Big Three are taking concessions while Wall Street executives are taking taxpayer funded bonuses. He criticizes policies like NAFTA because they have hurt the standard of living and sent good paying union jobs to Mexico.

While Bernero has unions and social progressive groups in his corner, Dillon has put his lot in with inner city voters and has gotten the endorsement of the Free Press and The News. The divide between Dillon and Bernero is a microcosm of what has been a larger schism going on within the Michigan Democratic Party between the labor unions and trial lawyers.

Back in April, the state Dems opted for a pre-convention convention whereby the party hoped to preselect nominees for Attorney General and Secretary of State. The hope was, the losers of the caucuses would bow out gracefully and endorse the winners four months ahead of the August conventions. This would allow the winners time to build their grassroots networks ahead of their Republican adversaries. It was a stroke of genius, but also a telling sign: the Democrats conceded without actually saying that they are going to take a bath in November.

The plot was successful, partially. They got the nominee for Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, a Wayne State law professor who handily defeated Detroit City Clerk, Janice Winfrey.

But the Attorney General race was hotly contested. Richard Bernstein, whose fame comes from the "Bernstein advantage" commercials you see in Metro Detroit, ran unsuccesfully against David Leyton, Genessee County Prosecutor, for the Democratic nomination. Bernstein quipped that people were "tired of being pushed around and told what to do (by the UAW)". He apologized for the comment a week later noting his involvement with the union and his support for labor.

Yet, the damage was done. Leyton defeated Bernstein by less than 170 votes. It doesn't mean the trial lawyers will buck the Democrats in the fall and run to the GOP. It does show how powerful the union bloc still is within the Democratic party.

Dillon can't afford to alienate any more union voters than he has. Polls have fluctuated rapidly. Mainly because the makeup of primary candidates has changed, and mostly because the different times at which candidates have been in the race or dropped out. While he's trailing in the most recent poll by eight points (40%-32%), the unknown factor is still prevalent as 28% are undecided. It will help Dillon cover some lost ground. But it also shows how much of an uphill battle either he or Bernero face in the fall.

For what it's worth, I'd pick Dillon over Bernero. Not because he gives the Democrats a better shot at maintaining the Governor's office, but because he is practically better suited to the job.

The state is bleeding money. Okay, IT HAS NO MONEY. That hasn't stopped Dillon from offering a series of comprehensive reforms for state government. Putting all public employees into a single insurance pool isn't popular, but it's the right thing to do. It's the hallmark of "ballsy" and it would not get passed if it had been proposed by Republicans. We're looking at probably the most grandiose proposal since Proposal A in 1994.

Dillon wants also to amend the hated Michigan Business Tax. Politicians left and right agree that it has hurt the state's ability to be competitive and attract new businesses. He also wants to do away with the current property taxes and replace them with a sales tax that doesn't have exemptions for food and other services.

He's pro-life. I'm not. I prefer being "for a woman's right to an abortion," because being "pro-choice" is as vague as being "pro-life." He's against publicly funding embryonic stem cell research. I think it will lead to progress and promise in fighting diseases.

But this is Michigan, and the Democrats can't win without their DINOs anymore than Republicans can win without RINOs. Progressives are reluctant to admit it, but without them, they're just a minority in Lansing and Washington.

Dillon is the way to go.

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