Opinion | An all-white slate is a disaster for Michigan Democrats

The Michigan Democratic Party likely emerged from its convention this weekend in Detroit with an all-female, all-white ticket, thanks to the nomination of Dana Nessel as attorney general.

If the pundits and pollsters are correct, and frontrunner Gretchen Whitmer wins the primary, we will have the least diverse Democratic ticket in years.

How can the party be so tone deaf?

Steve Hood is a Detroit political consultant and owner of Ronin America. He is not affiliated with any political campaigns this year.

Does Michigan Democratic Party really believe it can woo back the Democrats statewide who voted for Donald Trump without a single white male on the ticket? Does the party really think it can ignite the minority vote without at least one minority on the ticket?

This is a recipe for disaster.

Since 1970, when Richard Austin was elected secretary of state, Michigan Democrats have nominated at least one African-American for one of the top three statewide offices in all but one election. And even that election in 2010 included future U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, an African-American, on the ballot for lieutenant governor.

In a big upset, Nessel rode a progressive wave to defeat Pat Miles, an African-American and former U.S. attorney, during Sunday’s convention at Cobo Center in Detroit. Miles was backed by unions and traditional Democrats, but she brought thousands of new members to the party by forging a coalition of LGBTQ activists and cannabis proponents.


The convention also nominated Jocelyn Benson as its candidate for secretary of state, and polls indicate that Whitmer, the former Senate minority leader, remains the favorite in the August primary for governor.

The top of the ticket paves the way for the rest of the ticket. The 2018 Democratic Party ticket might as well be clones of Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 nominee for president. These Hillary-bots will have the same result as her: Failure.

Before last weekend’s convention in Detroit, the unpopularity of President Trump meant Democrats had a good chance of gaining two seats on the Michigan Supreme Court and taking back the state House.

To do so would require substantial turnout, particularly in southeast Michigan, and an energized base. But those hopes are fading due to a lack of diversity.

Because of that –  and for the sake of diversity –  those of us who support the Democratic ticket must now take a look at other gubernatorial candidates: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Detroit’s former health director; Bill Cobbs, a retired Xerox executive; and entrepreneur Shri Thanedar.

Michigan has come too far to have a single gender and single race ticket.

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Betty Bushey
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 9:07am

Single race is problematic but not single gender. For many years Michigan has had only males in control. Finally, an all female top of the ticket. It’s time.

Sharon Kelly-Person
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 9:10am

Last Sunday was my first Michigan Democratic Convention and I was very disappointed with the results. Pat Miles has the experience to start work day one at the Michigan Attorney General with his vast experience. I believe his race played a part in the results. I think the convention needs to convert to every Democratic member vote counts individually. I think its going to be hard to support an all White Michigan Democratic ticket for November 2018.

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 1:44am

Pat Miles being boring and his lack of energy as a candidate played a part in the results. It wasn’t race or institutional racism that lost Pat Miles the AG nomination. There were plenty of African Americans and union members who were pretty clearly supporting Dana. If you were a big union supporter, would you really vote for a guy who works at a law firm that publicly brags about its anti-union strategies? If the best thing someone can say about your candidacy is you can pass an FBI background check — this was in a real speech given to supposedly inspire thousands of voting delegates during the main convention — then you probably were still in need of an actual reason to run. The real story here isn’t about race. The real story is the convention attracted 3 to 4 times the number of Democrats it usually does and we want to kick some GOP ass, not get involved in some barely real internecine battle. We need to get it together in Nov. to take back our state and our country!

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 11:52am

Dana Nessel worked for her win. She traveled to 69 out of 83 counties. She ran a completely grassroots campaign. She signed up over 3000 New MDP members. The votes are weighted. All of the MDP members from up north came in to vote for her. The came in the day before the storm. Their vote has more weight due to under representation. It’s in the MDP Rules.
Pat Miles sent out A TON of fliers.

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 9:12am

It is kind of crazy to me to say that we wont do well unless we "insert specific minority" here. How is that actually answering the concerns we have on racism in this country?

Susan Bender
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 10:47am

A lily white platform of candidates is problematic because it doesn't represent the population and makes the group look to be tone deaf. Self-defeating strategy. Look at the "quality"
leadership we have in Washington composed of almost entirely old white men.

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 10:06am

If the party wants more African-American candidates, it needs to put up better African-American candidates. Nessel won by getting more people to turn out and vote for her, not by some back-room dealing. If Pat had taken the same approach rather than sit back and rely on the UAW and other established organizations, he might have had a better showing. But he didn't, and it was plain at the convention that he didn't energize the crowds like she did. Heck the reverend that nominated Pat pumped people up more, maybe we should run him?

Secondly, I could just as easily assert that relying on union orgs to turn out voters who flipped from Obama to Trump is just as foolish as comparing the ticket as it stands to "Hillary-bots". If you want your ideas and candidates to be taken seriously, maybe don't insult people if you want to make a point.

Nancy Wilson
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 12:32pm

Thank you John- totally agree

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 2:01pm

Well said. Why focus on the color of the candidates, rather than their qualifications to do a good job?

Paul Jordan
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 10:45am

I think the biggest handicap is not the lack of diversity so much as it is that the Democratic Party doesn't really stand for anything beyond electing its 'team'. Its behavior over the years shows that it doesn't really have any genuine vision to improve the lives of working people.

Where has the party been as far as redistricting reform is concerned? How about using the referendum process to undo right-to-work-for-less, or to overturn the emergency manager law?

Answer: They have been totally absent.

Why should we support them, when they haven't supported us?

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 4:49am


David Richards
Fri, 04/20/2018 - 9:19am

There are reasons to criticize the Democratic Party ("I don't belong to an organized political party, I'm a Democrat" - Will Rogers) but I think you need to reconsider your concerns. On redistricting, the Democrats do not want to make it a partisan issue intended to benefit one party. If they are unsuccessful, and the issue appears to be a Democratic Party initiative, the idea will lose support, and that could damage the proposal's prospects for passing. With respect to referendums on RTW or the emergency manager law, such things require a major investment in resources, either in money or manpower. Are referendums on those matters likely to justify the effort (which takes away from other efforts), and are they likely to be successful? Certainly, if a referendum on RTW would have been easy and a sure-fire winner, the unions would have done it regardless of what the Dems did. We know from experience the success records of such projects is spotty at best. In my opinion Democrats have not done a good job of paying attention to working people and publicizing "meat and potato issues", a message problem. But if you follow what legislation is introduced in Lansing or in Washington, and the votes on what has been introduced by either party, the Democrats are very supportive of working people, and there is a grand canyon of difference between them and the Republicans in that regard.

Ann Farnell
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 10:46am

I put in a little money for Pat Miles even as I recognized that Nessel was highly to equally qualified. However, I do not agree that an all female ticket does not represent diversity, because Blacks or other minorities don’t have a slot. Nessel is a double minority because she is gay. I also disagree that inevitably women are doomed to failure because Hillary lost electorally, but not popularly, and likely, to her credit, without the cyber help of Russia. I also suggest readers consider not only the writer’s logic as well as his glaringly chauvinistic attitude.

Jane Thomas
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 11:04am

Well-said, and I totally agree.

Jane Thomas
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 11:02am

Race is not the only factor in diversity. We have women, one of which is an LGBT person, and both of those factors fall into the "diverse" category. We have had all men candidates a lot of the time. There's nothing wrong with having all women this time.

Tim Beck
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 3:19pm

Mr. Hood, I was a voter at the convention. First time ever.

Ms Nessel and Ms Benson won fair and square. If Ms Whitmer wins the statewide primary, she too will have earned it.

The days of labor bosses and other traditional constituencies hand picking nominees are over.

If not having a black person in one of those slots is so fatally flawed, then you and your followers have two choices. Sit it out or vote for a Republican. Either way the Dems will win in November. The stakes are just too high this time around.

John DeWilton
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 8:36pm

Well stated Mr. Beck!

George E Jones Jr
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 3:26pm

I worked as a volunteer for the MDP in the Saginaw office for a month before they decided to let me go because I did not agree with how they cow towed to Brooklyn by not focusing on Michigan. I agree that the lack of diversity is a HUGE issue. I've talked with Bill Hobbs last year when he first announced and I liked his thoughts about most things Michigan and I plan to meet both Dr. Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar, but not having one Black face on the slate is a mistake, in my opinion.

Lou Adams
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 5:50pm

I would have liked to see Pat Miles Jr receive the nod - he didn’t and that’s it. There was one candidate for Secretary of State. The primary has not been held so who knows who will win? This is seems to be a complaint without much to support it. Sure you can frame it as a race issue and others can frame it as a rise in new progressives in the party or a shift in union power from the auto workers to the teachers or the long overdue rise of woman candidates. All of these have as much credence if not more than the way it was framed and interpreted in this opinion piece.

Rev. Steven B. ...
Tue, 04/17/2018 - 6:42pm

You sir, are just plain wrong in so many ways. I could give a hoot about a candidate's gender or race. What I am passionate about is that I want a candidate who has passion for ALL of the people, and not for sale to the highest bidder. When I first met and talked to Dana here in Benzie County, my prayers were answered. In fact, I was so inspired by her, at age 70, I survived a trip thru hell & back to attend my first ever political convention, just so I could vote for her. It is way past time for us to send in strong, yet loving women to clean up the mess that the men have made, and that is exactly what is going to happen this November. God is love!!

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 6:53pm

Reading this commentary makes me realize that we haven't come as far as I had thought, in having a society that is truly blind to things like race, gender or sexual orientationa People talk a good game about having a society that is blind to those things, but out the other side of their moutns, choose to make it an issue each and every time. As long as that's the case, we'll never see progress. Discrimination will thrive until we all make the choice to end it, including those who claim to be disenfranchised, based solely on those factors.

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 12:06am

David I agree 100%. I also like to know where all the “discriminated against” candidates are? 1 defeat in a political season does not show the outcome of the entire season. It takes hard work and drive to win the prize.

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 1:53am

I was there campaigning and voting for Dana on Sunday, but she didn’t really bring me in except into the endorsement convention. A lot of us showed up at the Democratic clubs across the state in the wake of Trump’s victory. I’d never heard of Dana before a few months ago. The party, the clubs and other candidates did very little to involve us except to tell us to keep coming back. Out of a small parade of people giving speeches and asking for our vote at these gatherings, Dana was simply the only candidate who reflected our issues and our anger. While she could proudly point to her recent past of LGBTQ civil rights victories, she wasn’t really talking about that or even about what I would regard as particularly progressive causes. She spoke to our main concerns — Trump’s policies and effects on the nation, and the whole Koch Bros.-corporatocracy agenda of which Rick Schneider and his cronies are a huge part at the state level, including endangering our lakes which all Michiganders claim to treasure. She speaks with passion and acts like, bluntly, she gives a shit, which no one else seems to do. Her victory isn’t some white, progressive victory or a party decision against diversity. I saw many union members holding “Dana for Labor” and African Americans holding her signs as well. She got people, many of whom like me just happened to show up at about the same time, excited to go kick some GOP ass. We were there waiting for some leadership and she showed up. Don’t blame Dana. Don’t blame the people who voted for her. Don’t blame the 4,000+ extra people who showed up at a Democratic Party Endorsement Convention who never showed up before and want nothing except to drain the GOP swamp. Blame the party leadership for endorsing moribund candidates. The real story of the convention isn’t that the progressives have taken over. The real story is that people are energized, frightened of the GOP and fighting mad to do something about the Republicans’ insanity.

Gregory Murray
Wed, 04/18/2018 - 7:35pm

This should be the start of the
#NotWithoutUs movement. We should make it clear we will not vote for this bleached ballot.

Blacks should spend the next 4 or 8 years forging a third party alternative coalition block and force the Democrat party to acknowledge their unconscious bias.

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 12:46pm

Just because they are women running for office they are clones of Hillary Clinton? I don't see the connection there unless it is based on sexism.

Rodney Moore
Thu, 04/19/2018 - 2:16pm

All democratic party members and folks who vote for democrats should have decided who the
ccandidates for office are not a handful of party members and special interest groups. But it would be pure folly to stay home and not vote in the fall and allow another Republican trio of doom to be elected to the top state offices. Folks stayed home and Jim Blanchard was replaced by John Engler.

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 11:47pm

What are Michigan Dems going to run for and against? Unemployment is rock bottom, the budget is balanced and the rainy day fund is well funded. So where is the driving issue to get Dems to the polls? Pot holes in the roads? Like it or not, times are pretty good in Michigan and the party in power gets the responsibility for that. As in Bernero, Whitmer will go down in flames. Believe it.

Truth seeker
Mon, 04/23/2018 - 5:55am

Hi All,
My take on this is RACE/SEX/RELIGION Shouldn't matter. Michiganders whether Black/White or POC , have to think critically about which Candidate represents them best. POLICY has to be key so if someone is a different RACE/SEX/RELIGION however represent your views then he should be the Candidate you should canvas for and vote.

Victoria Bowman
Mon, 04/23/2018 - 6:05am

Abdul El-Sayed, a POC, of Egyptian decent, is a progressive gubernatotial candidate for Governor of Michigan.
Dr. El-Sayed best represents the issues that I am passionate about.
Abdul For Michigan!