Democrats are fielding candidates this year as they seize their moment to win back the state of Michigan before the next round of redistricting starts in 2020. Four statewide offices are up for election in 2018 – senator, governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
While several attorneys general nationwide have been proactive in the fight against anti-LGBTQ efforts, for the last five years in Michigan, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette has derailed any efforts made to extend rights to LGBTQ citizens.
He is prevented by term limits from seeking a third term in 2018, but whoever fills this position – which has been held by Republicans since 2003 – will continue to have a tremendous amount of influence over issues relevant to LGBTQ people and their families.
That's why the Michigan Democratic Party's nomination for attorney general is so important for the LGBTQ community. Accepting and voting for a person who believes in anything less than full equality for all people irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity is not an option.
There is no primary election this year for down-ballot races so the MDP will nominate under state law their attorney general candidate during a nomination convention Aug. 25-26 in Lansing. The nominee – which will be pre-determined during an endorsement convention on April 15 in Detroit – will face statewide voters in the Nov. 6 general election.
In the race are Democratic candidates Dana Nessel, Patrick Miles and William Noakes who filed to run just before press time. The Republican candidates so far are House Speaker Tom Leonard and state Senator Tonya Schuitmaker.
Nessel is recognized as one of the premier litigators of LGBTQ issues in the state and is known for taking the precedent-setting case DeBoer v. Snyder to the Supreme Court to win same-sex couples the right to marry in 2015.
She has been adversarial at times, pushing the LGBTQ community to take risks in the fight for equal rights. While not everyone has agreed with her strategy or tactics along the way, Nessel said, "No one can question my commitment to helping the community in any way I possibly can."
Since announcing her run in August last year, Nessel has been pushing back against any notion that the MDP shouldn't have an all-female ticket in 2018. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is up for re-election and Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Jocelyn Benson are both front runners in their races for governor and secretary of state, respectively.
Nessel sent a bold message via YouTube recently to elect more women. Her campaign ad to vote for candidates "without a penis," she said is meant to address the barrage of sexual harassment allegations making headline news. It has garnered national attention and has received mixed reviews.
Miles, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, is known for combating gang violence, child exploitation, financial fraud and organized crime, among other civil and criminal matters. Miles said as attorney general he will prevent and prosecute crimes against the most vulnerable members of society, but he has been silent on LGBTQ rights and lacks a pro-LGBTQ record. Prior to his confirmation as U.S. Attorney by the Senate, he served more than two dozen charitable and professional boards and committees, some of which champion anti-LGBTQ causes. One might question how his past – intertwined with homophobic religious affiliations – has informed where he is today. While many politicians "evolve" for the sake of political expediency, Miles said he "has a heart for these issues" and "have been on the wrong end of discrimination myself so I definitely empathize with what's happening."
If elected, Nessel would be the first lesbian and the second woman (Jennifer Granholm was the first) in the attorney general's office. Miles would be the state's first black attorney general. Beyond adding diversity to the Democratic ticket, both Nessel and Miles agreed to answer various questions about what they can and will do as individuals to advance the needs of the LGBTQ community. They were asked to make their best arguments about where they stand on particular issues such as fighting against hate crimes, adoption, religion, anti-bullying, and decriminalizing HIV.
It is the attorney general's job to protect and serve the people and interests of Michigan through a broad range of duties as the state's top lawyer and law enforcement official. While overseeing more than 500 lawyers, investigators, and other employees, the attorney general's responsibilities include safeguarding the public from violent criminals, helping victims of crime, leading the fight against human trafficking and opioid abuse, preserving Michigan's spectacular natural resources, protecting consumers and addressing illegal business practices.
Name: Dana Nessel
Occupation: Managing partner of Nessel & Kessel Law in Detroit; president and co-founder of Fair Michigan
Education: Graduate of the University of Michigan and Wayne State University Law School
Experience: Nearly 25 years of legal experience covering a vast array of disciplines as both a defense and prosecuting attorney.
Personal note: Nessel lives in southeast Michigan with her wife, Alanna Maguire, their twin sons, Alex and Zach, along with various cats.
Noteworthy: In less than a year the Fair Michigan Justice Project has secured seven convictions for hate-based crimes against members of the LGBTQ community.
Priorities: To protect the environment, senior citizens and consumers while addressing marijuana laws and fighting for civil rights.
Some endorsements: LPAC; Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy; Ellis Stafford, retired Deputy Chief of the Michigan State Police and president of the Metro Detroit Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Executives
Name: Patrick Miles
Occupation: Of Counsel and a member of the Litigation Department at Barnes & Thornburg in Grand Rapids
Education: Graduate of Aquinas College and Harvard Law School
Experience: Appointed as the first African American to the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2012 during the Obama administration, serving as the chief federal law enforcement officer covering 49 counties.
Personal note: Miles is a lifelong, fifth generation Michigander who grew up in a family that believes in hard work and service to others.
Noteworthy: As U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, Miles prosecuted the first-ever child sex trafficking case in the district and went on to prosecute 11 other defendants for sex trafficking minors.
Priorities: Fighting government corruption, protecting the vulnerable (children, seniors and veterans), combating the opioid crisis, safeguarding consumers and improving police and community relations.
Some endorsements: Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights; former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade; U.S. Senator Carl Levin
|Learn More About State Conventions
Inside the Michigan Democratic Party, state conventions are a yearly occurrence that offer members an opportunity to collectively make decisions on the future of the MDP. The nomination convention will take place Aug. 25-26 in Lansing. To allow candidates more time to campaign, the MDP has added an endorsement convention on April 15 at 9 a.m. at Cobo Center in Detroit. The nominee will be pre-determined at this endorsement convention. While state conventions are open to all Democrats, only those who have been members for at least 30 days prior to the convention may vote or run for party office. Members of the community who wish to vote must fill out an MDP membership application via mail or online before March 15. Still have questions? Contact the MDP by phone at 517-371-5410 or by email at midempart[email protected]. The state convention is explained online at michigandems.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/guide-to-convention.pdf.