ESCANABA - Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer recently kicked off his annual tour of Upper Michigan, which included a visit to the Daily Press Monday afternoon.
Brewer said this time he's able to meet with approximately 14 local Democratic parties around both the Upper Peninsula and the northern portion of Lower Michigan during his trip. He will begin discussing the 2014 midterm election and the search for candidates to challenge Gov. Rick Snyder, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, and Attorney General Bill Schuette, among others.
"Of particular interest is we're going to be campaigning very vigorously against Congressman Benishek again," he said.
Brewer criticized U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek (R- Iron River), who narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Gary McDowell (D-Rudyard) in November, and his "terrible record" - most recently for voting against emergency disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy. The bill, known as H.R. 152 or the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, makes supplemental appropriations for FY2013 to specified federal agencies and programs for expenses related to the consequences of the hurricane.
"His votes are unpopular. He's out of step with the district. He doesn't serve the district well," said Brewer, of Benishek.
Other locally targeted races of interest include State Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and State Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan).
"We've picked up five seats in the House," said Brewer. "Our goal is to get back into a majority and so races like the one against Rep. McBroom would be a priority for us. Same with the Senate - we're the minority. We want to get back into the majority so that's where Sen. Casperson's seat up here would be big."
One major topic of discussion Brewer will discuss on his tour is potential legislation that would change the state's "winner-takes-all" approach to the Electoral College voting system to a proportional system based on each congressional district's results.
According to a recent Detroit News article, State Rep. Pete Lund (R-Shelby Township) announced plans to re-introduce the legislation, which would award all but two of Michigan's 16 Electoral College votes based on congressional district results. Lund feels this system is more representative of the people, but Brewer disagrees.
"That's part of a national plan the Republicans are engaged in in a number of states where they can't win elections the old-fashioned way," he said. "...So what they've decided to do is change the rules in a number of states. Under their plan, even though the President carried Michigan by almost half a million votes - 10 percent last year - he would have actually lost the Electoral College vote and that's exactly their intention is to change the way the Electoral College votes are cast to rig it, essentially."
Brewer said this system is "not fair" and the party is urging Republican legislators and Gov. Snyder not to go down this path, also asking local Democratic activists to get involved by contacting their legislators.
Brewer also said a recent emergency manager law signed by Snyder is just one example of him ignoring the will of the people in the state. The new law will give local governments and ailing school districts a set of options regarding emergency management. If a review team finds that a financial emergency exists, communities can request an emergency manager, ask for a mediator, file for bankruptcy or introduce a reform plan with the state. The legislation was passed after Public Act 4 of 2011, Michigan's so-called emergency manager law, was repealed by a vote of the people in November.
"That law is essentially no different than the law that the voters rejected in November," said Brewer, adding it's just one of the issues that will come back to hurt Snyder.
"I think those who weren't convinced ... are convinced now that he's not a moderate," said Brewer. "He's not somebody who's going to be bipartisan...He'll pretty much sign any Tea Party legislation that comes out of the Republican Legislature. So that bill and others like it are going to be part of our case against him come 2014."
According to Brewer, the entire process of pushing through the amount of legislation the State Legislature did at the end of 2012 was "undemocratic."
"The Capitol was literally closed to the public during part of that process," he said. "People couldn't even get into the building to lobby. Bills that were passed never even had a committee hearing. There were legislators ... who didn't have a chance to read the legislation. They were ordered to vote 'Yes' on it and I think that offended a lot of folks - Democrats and Republicans around the state - that there was that kind of process that was very undemocratic."
Perhaps most notable of these bills that passed was controversial right-to-work legislation which will prohibit requiring nonunion employees to pay unions for negotiating contracts, representing them in grievances and other services. Supporters believe the laws give workers freedom of association and promote job creation. Critics argue the true intent of right-to-work is to drain unions of funds needed to bargain effectively.
Brewer said the party is working with the labor movement on a variety of options that deal with right-to-work moving forward.
"No decisions have been made. There could be lawsuits that'll be filed over it. There could be a ballot proposal. There could be recalls. All options are on the table but no final decisions have been made. And they're not mutually exclusive. You could follow two or three of those paths simultaneously," he said.
Brewer spent Monday in the Escanaba area and is scheduled to travel to Gogebic and Ontonagon counties today before heading to Houghton, Marquette, Munising, Newberry, and Sault Ste. Marie for the remainder of the week.