August 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

Michigan political parties hash out issues as election nears

Lansing— With 10 weeks to go until Election Day, Gov. Rick Snyder and his Democratic challenger, Mark Schauer, both portrayed the election as a referendum on policies of the past and present during weekend political conventions designed to energize their bases.

After Lt. Gov. Brian Calley survived a tea party-inspired nomination scare, the Republican governor stressed his pro-business policies are working to turn around a “broken state” plagued by budget deficits, economic turmoil and population loss.

“The real question in November is a simple one — it’s about going back to the Michigan of 2009 or before or actually accelerating the progress and moving Michigan forward,” Snyder said Saturday in Novi.

Speaking to Democrats in Lansing, Schauer said the governor’s policies only benefit the wealthy and powerful, while retirees cope with expanded taxes on pensions and families face higher taxes because popular breaks were eliminated.

Organized labor, a bread-and-butter Democratic constituency, still smarts from a right-to-work law Snyder and Republicans pushed through the Legislature in December 2012 with little discussion.

Schauer, who worked with organized labor’s BlueGreen Alliance and joined union protests on the Capitol lawn during the right-to-work vote, used that issue for the biggest applause line of his Sunday speech.

“As your next governor and lieutenant governor, we will repeal right to work, folks,” he vowed to a crescendo of shouts and applause from nearly 1,300 Democratic delegates in the Lansing Center convention facility.

In seeking to appear unified, the Republican and Democratic parties avoided any disruptions in their slate of statewide candidates at their nominating conventions.

A highly anticipated showdown between Calley and tea party challenger Wes Nakagiri ended with Nakagiri taking an anticlimactic bow and urging 5,000 GOP activists to support the Snyder-Calley ticket in November.

“It’s important that we look forward, be unified and defeat the Democrats,” Nakagiri said in ending a yearlong campaign to deny Snyder his choice of a running mate.

Calley said the race has helped the GOP build a stronger network. “I believe that coming out of this experience, that the party itself and the grassroots has never been stronger,” Calley said.

Democrats dealt with a lower-profile intraparty squabble of their own after abortion rights activists voiced their displeasure with the nomination of Michigan Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Murphy for a Supreme Court seat. Murphy was endorsed by the anti-abortion group Right to Life of Michigan in an unsuccessful 1996 bid for the high court.

In his acceptance speech, Murphy said a judge comes to the bench with his own personal beliefs “but once I put on the robe, my personal or religious beliefs do not control.”

Members of the party’s liberal Justice and Women’s caucuses forced a reconsideration vote on Sunday, a day after his nomination was confirmed, but it proved mostly symbolic. He was approved a second time.

Analysts said opposition to Murphy’s nomination shouldn’t hurt the party in November, since judges are listed as nonpartisan on ballots. Democrats can vote straight ticket if they want, even if they object to Murphy’s candidacy.

'Mood for change'

Schauer said he has now campaigned in all 83 Michigan counties and found there’s “a palpable mood for change.”

“We have the ticket to take advantage of that,” he added.

Leo LaLonde, a former Macomb County Democratic Party leader from Eastpointe, had an answer for skeptics who view Schauer as an underdog.

“People question whether (Schauer) could win and I remind them of John Engler (in 1990),” LaLonde said. “He was 20 points down in the polls on Sunday, nine days before the election. On Wednesday, he was 12 points down and on Friday he was eight points down.”

Engler, of course, pulled off a win over incumbent Democratic Gov. James J. Blanchard — which caught some pundits by surprise.

Schauer appears to be in a much better position than Engler was going into the autumn campaign. Most polls show him and Snyder in a close race — a virtual tie in some, when margin of error is considered.

RealClearPolitics.com’s average of all recent statewide polls shows Snyder leading by 3.5 percentage points, putting the race in the website’s “toss-up” category.

Taking the heat

Despite Calley’s clear victory over Nakagiri, not all Republicans are satisfied with Snyder’s governance.

Snyder has taken heat from the conservative wing of his party for supporting expansion of the Medicaid health insurance entitlement program for the working poor, construction of a new public bridge to Canada and endorsing national Common Core education standards.

Bill Kostin, a delegate from Plymouth Township and Nakagiri supporter, said after the convention he would not vote for Snyder and Calley in the general election and will leave that portion of his ballot blank. The retired Ford engineer doesn’t see much difference between policies Snyder supports and those Schauer would likely embrace, if elected.

“I will only vote for conservatives,” Kostin said. “The Democrats are racing toward socialism. The Republicans are walking.”

Snyder downplayed any need to move to the right to placate conservative voters in an election in which Democrats have pinned their strategy on turning out their voters who stayed home in 2010 when Snyder won in a rout over Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

“I haven’t seen a real issue with that,” Snyder said. “I see people motivated to vote. People can respectfully disagree, have different positions. But in the end, you say we have a lot in common about how we can be successful together.”

gheinlein@detroitnews.com
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