DETROIT – Both the Michigan Democratic Party and the LGBT Caucus changed leadership at the Feb. 23 Michigan Democratic Convention held at Cobo Hall in Detroit. After a contentious battle, and a morning spent making the rounds of the various political camps, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer withdrew his nomination with a simple, graceful farewell making Lon Johnson the new party chair.
“It has been a great almost two decades 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,” Brewer said to a standing ovation.
Brewer’s withdrawal spared the convention from a floor fight and allowed delegates to move forward with the focus of taking back the state House in 2014 and making Gov. Snyder a one-term governor.
In the morning caucuses prior to the afternoon election for party chair, both Brewer and Johnson spoke to the LGBT Caucus. When asked why he did not fill out the candidate’s questionnaire for the Between The Lines Voter Guide last fall, Johnson 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 18 years that he served as Democratic Party Chair, Brewer worked with LGBT people and candidates. “I’m not a fresh face to this community,” Brewer told the caucus, his voice cracking at times. “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 (in 2004), 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.”
Brewer and Johnson were not the only politicians courting the LGBT Caucus. Elected officials from the state house and state senate as well as county officials also addressed the Caucus, which over 60 people attended.
The LGBT Caucus also changed leaders. Phil Volk, who chaired the organization since 2009, declined to seek another term, leaving attorney Mark LaChey from Saugatuck unopposed. BTL co-publisher Jan Stevenson was elected the first vice chair, Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter was elected second vice chair and Saginaw based Democratic party organizer Garnet Lewis was elected third vice chair.
“I’m looking forward to working with Mark, Dave and Garn to build a strong LGBT voice within the Democratic party,” said Stevenson.
Coulter’s term as the chair of the 9th congressional district ended and he declined to seek the position again. Instead he is looking forward to building the LGBT caucus. “I want to increase the presence of LGBT people in 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 is that 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 chair positions, LaChey said, “I recognize that the chair and vice chairs 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 caucus’ board now that the elections are over. 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 and build a diverse board for the caucus.
Volk left with several bits of advice. The first was to encourage youth participation in the Democratic party. The second was to be patient with politicians who may not be as vocal, but still vote with the LGBT community when the time comes.
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.
The new Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, Johnson of Kalkaska, grew up in Rockwood, which is downriver of Detroit. According to his website he got his start in politics, “As a high school yearbook photographer, (Lon) found himself stranded at the opening of an auto plant in Flat Rock. 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 Michigan Democratic Party to ascend to party chair last weekend.
“Together we win when we build a party that is more than the sum of our parts. Our institutional partners have done great things. 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.
To learn more about the LGBT Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party visit: http://www.facebook.com/TheLGBTACaucusoftheMDP?ref=ts&fref=ts
To find out more about the Michigan Democratic Party, visit http://www.michigandems.com.