The way Michigan selects its candidates for all statewide offices except governor and U.S. senator is profoundly limiting and allows for manipulation by the most extreme elements on the political spectrum.
More than 2.1 million voters participated in the August 2018 primary and selected Gretchen Whitmer, Bill Schuette, Gary Peters, and John James as the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties. All other nominees for statewide offices — lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, justices of the supreme court, state board of education, and the governing officials of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University — are selected by a few thousand party insiders who are either Republican or Democratic convention delegates.
It’s a flawed, and arguably dangerous, method to select candidates for these critical statewide offices that control billions of dollars and set policies, regulations, enforce laws, and render decisions that affect the ten million residents, workers, and businesses in Michigan.
Instead of candidates and campaigns geared toward building the broad voting coalitions needed to be viable to a majority of voters in November elections in a purple state, we’ve designed the process to produce the most intensely partisan red and blue candidates — candidates who are hand-picked in back rooms populated by party apparatchiks. These party bosses manipulate the selection of candidates based often on single issues, or to satisfy particular special interest groups aligned with either party. The wide swath of Michigan voters may be concerned with issues like jobs, schools, or roads, but our strange system presents us with candidates concerned only with pleasing people like the National Rifle Association or labor unions.
The three Republicans who are vying for the nomination this year to take on incumbent Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel were asked last month about their position on the landmark 1965 U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v Connecticut. That case outlawed prosecuting married couples for using birth control. (You read that correctly: States had laws on the books that allowed people to be prosecuted for using condoms or other forms of birth control. That seems puritanical and nuts in 2022 America.)
Yet all three GOP candidates contending to be Michigan’s top law enforcement official said that Griswold should be overturned. Let me repeat – whichever candidate is chosen to be the Republican nominee for attorney general has gone on record saying the decision that ended criminalizing use of birth control should be upended.
That’s extreme, radical, and in no way supported by virtually anyone – except the Taliban and perhaps Michigan Republican convention delegates who will choose their attorney general nominee. These Republican attorney general candidates claim Griswold is a “states’ rights” issue and should be overturned so that each state could decide whether things like birth control should be criminalized. Their “states’ rights” logic would apply also to reversing court decisions like Brown v Board of Education.
Protecting fundamental universal rights of Americans is why we have the Constitution of the United States. It’s how we ended Jim Crow and integrated schools. The legal philosophy espoused by these GOP candidates in Michigan argues issues like these should be left to each state to determine.
I cannot say with certainty that any of these three GOP candidates or the delegates who will attend the Michigan Republican candidate endorsement convention in April take ivermectin horse-paste to ward off COVID-19, but the odds are greater than zero. Determining the nominations of possibly the next attorney general or justices of the Michigan Supreme Court should not rest with 2,000 party insider extremists.
The Democrats aren’t immune from extreme candidates or delegates unrepresentative of Michigan or outside the national mainstream, either. Which is why there should be a serious effort to amend Michigan’s Constitution to move selection of these offices to primary elections. It’s well past time we do this.
Bob LaBrant is a lobbyist who played a critical role in the 2011 redistricting plan that secured Republicans control of the Michigan Legislature. He was senior vice president for political affairs and general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce until his retirement.