Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
Sitting in the Democratic Party Headquarters in Lansing on the day before the filing deadline, the Director of the Joint Legislative Campaign Garnet Lewis is calm, cheerful and glowing with resolve. The 50-year-old Freeland-based lesbian is a beacon for the party, helping Democrats across the state find their place representing the people.
1. So what is your job with the Democratic Party?
Right now it’s all about the recruiting deadline for State Legislature tomorrow. For the short term we’re in massive recruitment mode. The long-term goal of the Joint Legislative Campaign is to build a Democratic team. We’ve been very reactive in the past as far as candidate recruitment. I started last June, and I’ve made enough contacts so that we are set for the next cycle. Our goal is to have a candidate for every seat. It looks like we may end up with three spots empty for 2012, and those are in places that are less than 25 percent Democratic.
After the filing deadline, the focus will be on training and campaigning. We help candidates put a plan in place. You do need to have money. Doors, dollars and volunteers. That’s what I like to tell candidates. You need all three.
2. How do you find candidates and what are some of the obstacles to doing that?
A lot of districts and county parties have networks of volunteers in place, it’s just a matter of finding out who would make a good candidate and would be willing to run. It’s hard especially in conservative areas. Running for office is a lot of work, and you need to be ready for it. Often they need to consult with their partner or spouse, because you don’t run a campaign yourself, your family is essentially campaigning too. Sometimes there are good candidates but it’s just not the right time for them. They also need to be emotionally ready to face the negativity and the lack of privacy that comes from being a public figure.
3. Before taking this position, you had run against incumbent Republican James Stamas for the 98th District. What made you decide to run and did it turn ugly like some potential candidates fear?
Really I’m an educator. I taught at Central Michigan University College of Education. But after the ’04 election, that was when (John) Kerry lost and the marriage amendment happened here, it hit home. I had been involved in politics online, and I knew that my community was trending from Independent to Democratic, so I thought ‘I may not be able to make change, but I can do my part.’ I got involved with the County party and I caught the bug.
It did get bad. (pause) I had a gal I was talking to for the Shiawassee seat, and she had a list of questions. It was great. She was so well-prepared. She wanted to know if it would go bad and get personal. I told her ‘When they go negative on you, it’s a good thing. It means they’re worried about you. They only go negative if they think you might win.’
For me the conservatives took out 30 second radio spots that just kept saying that I was ‘ho-mo-sexual’ I don’t know how many times. It hurt every time I heard them say that word. They also took out a full page ad in the Midland paper.
I told my people ‘We may get comments at the door,’ and said that if they didn’t feel comfortable going out and facing the questions and comments they didn’t need to. But once we got out there, the doors we got to and people had heard it, they found it offensive and unprofessional.
4. Are there any open LGBT candidates for the State Legislature?
No. Unfortunately there are not any ‘out’ candidates. However there are a lot of progressive Democratic candidates that are strong allies.
From a (LGBT) community standpoint, people have got to get out and vote. The Democrats may not be perfect, but they are looking out for us. We’ve got to vote for them and we need to stay on them to hold them accountable. If there was ever a time to get involved, this is the time.