August 23, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Michigan Democrats stress unity, honor retiring Levin, Dingell

Lansing — Democrats stressed unity at their convention here Saturday amid their hopes that will be an advantage against what they perceive to be a more-divided Republican Party going into the November election.

Party stars such as Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing were happy to describe their gathering as “boring” while mainstream and tea party Republicans in Novi skirmished over the party’s lieutenant governor and University of Michigan regent nominations.

“We’re walking out of here united,” said Party Chairman Lon Johnson during an opening speech in which he described the same-day GOP gathering as “a goat rodeo.”

Highlights of the convention included speeches honoring Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. John Dingell, two of the longest-serving members of Congress who will retire at the end of the year.

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, the Democratic primary election winner for Levin’s seat, continued an election-year pattern of Democratic candidates taking ownership of the Affordable Care Act their party and President Barack Obama wrestled through Congress.

Decrying ads against him he characterizing as polluting the state election process and fueled by “Koch Brothers” money, Peters said the one true thing they’re saying “is that I voted for the Affordable Care Act. We will not let Republicans undermine that law,” Peters added.

The unity theme was challenged only by a brief abortion rights-related protest that failed to block the nomination of Michigan Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Murphy as one of the Democrats’ three November candidates for state Supreme Court.

Despite a show of opposition, Murphy was nominated for an eight-year term on the state’s high court. One potential challenger opponents tried to recruit, Macomb County Probate Judge Carl Marlinga, decided against running.

Murphy’s nomination was criticized by the party’s Justice and Women’s caucuses because of an endorsement he received from Right to Life of Michigan when he was an unsuccessful 1996 Supreme Court candidate.

Caucus members, who argued the party’s candidate should be pro-choice, stood holding pink signs saying “Women Are Watching” and shouted their opposition to his nomination during voice voting. They stood with their backs to him as he made 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.” What matters is the law, he said, pledging, “I will follow the law.”

He elaborated on that as part of a prepared statement handed out by supporters: “The law of the land is Roe vs Wade. It is not the place of any judge to rule based on ideology but to be guided by the United States Constitution and the precedents established by the United States Supreme Court.”

At 69, Murphy is eligible to serve just one term on the Supreme Court. Justices and appeals court judges can’t serve beyond the term in which they turn 70.

Farmington Hills attorney Richard Bernstein also was nominated for a Supreme Court seat at the Saturday session. Bernstein’s a family member and partner in the law firm with the widely-advertized “Call Sam” theme.

Democrats expect on Sunday to pick Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah Thomas as their nominee for the third Supreme Court seat up for election in November. It’s a two-year partial term also being sought by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s appointee, David Viviano.

On Sunday, the party formally will nominate Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown as their lieutenant governor candidate, Michigan State University law professor Mark Totten of East Lansing for attorney general and Detroit civil rights attorney Godfrey Dillard for secretary of state.

Ex-Congressman Mark Schauer of Battle Creek is the nominee for governor. He was unopposed in the August 5 primary election.

The other Democratic candidates nominated Saturday were:

■Incumbent vice president Casandra Ulbrich of Rochester Hills and retired teacher and Michigan Education Association activist Pamela Smith of Saginaw for State Board of Education.

■Flint attorney Mike Behm and incumbent Chair Katherine White of Ann Arbor for University of Michigan Board of Regents.

■Incumbents Faylene Owen and George Perles, both of East Lansing, for Michigan State University Board of Trustees.

■Retired Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly and University of Michigan law professor Dana Thompson for Wayne State University Board of Governors.

Candidates for the Supreme Court are nominated at state political party conventions but will be listed as nonpartisan candidates on Nov. 4 general election ballots.

GHeinlein@detroitnews.com
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