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Michigan Dems fill out ticket, take aim at Trump

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan Democrats on Saturday took a page out of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s playbook, launching a series of bombastic attacks against the billionaire businessman with a reputation for personal barbs.

Trump is peddling “failed philosophies coupled with outrageous racist and sexist pronouncements – and very bad hair,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, a major supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Clinton will top a ticket that Michigan Democratic delegates completed Saturday during a state party convention in Lansing by nominating candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court, Board of Education and university seats.

Michigan Democrats also adopted a resolution to formally oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade deal that Democratic President Barack Obama helped negotiate and is asking Congress to approve.

Trump, set to return to Detroit on Sept. 3 as part of his recent effort to reach out to African American voters, has made criticism of the TPP and other international trade deals a key component of his campaign, working to woo blue-collar workers in Michigan and other states.

Clinton also opposes the TPP but praised the potential of the then-unfinished deal when she served as Secretary of State under Obama.

Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township, speaking to hundreds of party faithful at the Lansing Center, attempted to poke holes in Trump’s promises to working-class voters, labeling him a business-first political novice and comparing him to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

“Elections have consequences. Nobody knows that better than the people of my hometown,” Kildee said. “The Flint water crisis was a man-made crisis, created by decisions made by Gov. Snyder and un-elected emergency managers he appointed.”

Kildee accused both Trump and Snyder of a “failed corporate philosophy” to governing, telling The Detroit News he thinks “both of them should be insulted” by the comparison.

While Trump has promoted himself as a change agent, Stabenow argued that many of his policy proposals amount to “more of the same” for Republicans, who she accused of obstructing the Democratic president that Clinton hopes to replace.

Eight years ago, Obama “ran on hope and change, and they said if there’s not change for working people, they’ll lose hope,” Stabenow said. “No wonder people are mad. I’m mad.”

Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, who garnered national attention for filibustering anti-abortion legislation there, served as a keynote speaker at the Michigan convention. Davis suggested the fall presidential election “absolutely is going to be the most important one of our lifetime thus far,” urging Michigan Democrats to get out the vote.

“We have a choice between a man who stands for no one but himself and a woman who stands side-by-side with all of us,” she said.

Filling out the ticket

Delegates completed the party ticket in undramatic fashion, unanimously nominating candidates for the GOP-controlled state Supreme Court and Democratic-dominated school and university boards.

As expected, state Board of Education President John Austin won re-nomination to the state board and will be joined on the ballot by Ishmael Ahmed of Novi, a senior adviser to the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s chancellor who helped found the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services.

Ahmed had faced competition from former state Rep. John Stewart of Plymouth, but with Austin and education unions backing Ahmed, Stewart withdrew his candidacy Saturday morning.

“This election is for the heart and soul of America, and I’m not being rhetorical,” Ahmed said. “There are those who want to end public education, people that do not believe there is a place for people of color, immigrants and Muslim teachers, who demean women and denigrate the LGBT community. They must be soundly defeated.”

Democrats nominated Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas to take on incumbent Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen for a partial two-year term. Thomas also made the ballot in 2014 but lost in the general election.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Frank Szymanski will compete for a full eight-year term against state Supreme Court Justice David Viviano.

Republicans nominated their own candidates Saturday in Grand Rapids.

Union appeals

With Clinton leading Trump in recent Michigan polls, Democrats are optimistic that a strong showing at the top of the ticket could help them win down-ballot races.

“We have an opportunity to win at every level of government this year, including the nine seats needed to take back the state House,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon.

But officials also stressed the danger of taking anything for granted.

Organized labor often plays an important role in helping Democrats turn out voters, and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence urged union members not to sleep on the presidential race this fall.

“There are some people who are checking out of this race and saying I don’t like either candidate,” Lawrence, D-Southfield, said during a labor caucus. “The person that sits at home is the one I am so worried about.”

While Trump has targeted working-class voters with a populist message, Democrats argue his business record doesn’t match his rhetoric, and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin predicted Clinton will win Michigan so long as no more than 15 percent of union members vote GOP this fall.

“With your help, we’re going to have a big victory here,” Levin, D-Royal Oak, told union members. “A big victory means we can take some of the seats in Congress and take back the state House.”