Michigan Democrats endorse Benson, Nessel: 'Democracy is on the ballot'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Detroit — Michigan Democrats endorsed Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel for reelection Saturday, arguing the future of abortion rights and democracy itself are up for grabs in November. 

During a convention inside Detroit's Huntington Place, Democrats gathered to support their party's candidates for the general election. There were no competitive races Saturday, allowing attendees and speakers to focus on their Republican opponents.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein, front row, left, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Supreme Court nominee Krya Harris Bolden wave at supporters as the Michigan Democratic Party holds its 2022 State Endorsement Convention at Huntington Place in downtown Detroit, Saturday afternoon, April 9, 2022.

"I am asking you, every single one of you, to roll up your sleeves and prepare to work harder than you worked in 2018, work harder than you worked in 2020, harder than you have ever worked in any other election before to ensure that every single voter in this state knows that their democracy is on the ballot this fall," Benson told the crowd at one point.

Both Benson and Nessel were first elected in 2018. They are seeking their second terms in November. In addition to them, Democrats also endorsed Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein for reelection and state Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden of Southfield for another seat on the court. That seat is currently held by Republican-nominee Brian Zahra, who is seeking reelection.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the crowd during the Michigan Democratic Party's 2022 State Endorsement Convention at Huntington Place in downtown Detroit, Saturday afternoon, April 9, 2022.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke at Saturday's convention and will be up for reelection in November. However, she is nominated through the August primary, not through the party's convention system.

Whitmer said she's the "last line of defense" in Michigan, where Republicans control the House and the Senate, against GOP efforts to restrict abortion rights and weaken democracy.

"Every single week, it is clear how much is at stake in this election,” Whitmer said.

Catherine Cheung takes video during the Michigan Democratic Party's 2022 State Endorsement Convention at Huntington Place in downtown Detroit, Saturday afternoon, April 9, 2022.

Saturday's convention drew hundreds of Democrats, but many seats in the room where the event occurred were empty. The party offered an online participation option for Democrats who couldn't attend in person or preferred not to.

Benson of Detroit, the former dean of the Wayne State University Law School, won her first term in 2018 by 9 percentage points.

She focused her convention speech Saturday on her attempts to make it easier to vote and to defend the results of 2020 election as former President Donald Trump attempted to reverse its outcome and undermine his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

Benson said a "national network of conspiracy theorists" has been trying to take away people's voting rights. Democracy prevailed in 2020 because people of integrity stood up to defend it, Benson said.

"Those who want to diminish democracy in our country are working to replace those people of integrity with people who … will try to interfere in the sanctity of our elections," the secretary of state said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the crowd in front of a huge U.S. flag, Saturday afternoon, April 9, 2022.

Republicans will hold their own endorsement convention in Grand Rapids on April 23. Three Republicans, Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry, state Rep. Beau LaFave and GOP state committee member Kristina Karamo, are pursuing their party's nomination for secretary of state.

In Michigan, the secretary of state oversees elections and Department of State offices.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel poses with Supreme Court nominee Kyra Harris Bolden prior to the convention.

For attorney general, Michigan's top law enforcement position, Nessel is also seeking her second term. She's a lawyer from Plymouth. She won in 2018 by fewer than 3 percentage points.

Nessel said her office had helped to save democracy in 2020 by charging people who spread disinformation about the election and beating back efforts to subvert the results.

Nessel emphasized that she had successfully sought legal sanctions against Texas attorney Sidney Powell and others who tried to overturn Michigan's results in court. Powell led multiple suits across the U.S., attempting to overturn Biden's victory based on unproven claims of fraud.

By the next election, Nessel said, “I expect we will refer to her as former attorney Sidney Powell."

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein, left, talks with friend Paul Massaron, of Southfield, before the convention.

Three Republicans are running to challenge Nessel in the fall, state Rep. Ryan Berman, lawyer Matt DePerno and former House speaker Tom Leonard.

Democrats' endorsements Saturday will be solidified in August at a convention where the candidates are formally nominated.

Democrats also endorsed Pamela Pugh and Mitchell Robinson for two seats on the State Board of Education. Pugh is an incumbent.

For two seats on the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, Democrats endorsed Renee Knake Jefferson and Dennis Denno. Knake Jefferson is an incumbent.

For two seats on the University of Michigan Board of Regents, Democrats endorsed Michael Behm and Kathy White. Both individuals are incumbents.

And for two seats on the Wayne State University Board of Governors, Democrats nominated Marilyn Kelly and Danielle Atkinson. Kelly is an incumbent.

cmauger@detroitnews.com