Why I chose to be a Democrat
Let’s get this out of the way first thing: I started off my service as an elected official as a Republican.
I’m sure it will come up in the Democratic primary election campaign for State Senate, so I’ll address it here so we can move on to more pertinent discussion on how my experience and record demonstrate how I will be a responsive and effective Senator.
It’s important that you know this, too: I’m a loyal and proud Democrat, but party politics never has and never will be more important than doing what’s best for the people I represent. I’ve demonstrated that many times as an officeholder. Someone wise once told me, “Do good work for the people you represent, and the politics will take care of themselves.”
So, here’s the story, and it’s not very complicated.
I was recruited to run for State Representative by Republican officials assigned to find candidates for Legislature. I didn’t have any real political party identification at the time, and they were looking for a candidate who was known and active in my district. I fit that description.
In other words, I didn’t choose them, they chose me, and I became State Representative for the 15th House District.
It didn’t take long for it to become evident that I was not a good fit within the Republican Party. I was listed in a Lansing news publication as one of the least conservative Republicans in the House, and disagreed with my Republican colleagues on core issues like public education, collective bargaining and wages.
Undoubtedly, there were times I went along with Republicans on some issues on which I would vote differently today. But also, as a Republican, I was able to win bipartisan support to obtain millions of dollars more for my local school district’s at-risk programs, and for higher unemployment benefits.
At the same time, I fought against core Republican issues like charter school expansion.
Perhaps my biggest separation from the Republican caucus was when I was the only Republican in the state House to vote against the Republican controlled redistricting plan in 2001.
A vote on new boundaries for legislative districts is the most partisan vote taken in the Legislature, and I went against the Republican Party. Why? Because the new districts were designed to hurt Congressmen John Dingell and John Conyers. I voted “no” because it was a bad plan for my district – and remember, the people I represent always come before political party.
When I was leaving the state House in 2004 because of term limits, I was elected to the Wayne County Commission, still as a Republican (contrary to any claims that I changed parties in order to run for the Democrat-dominated Wayne County Commission). But it was becoming clearer to me that I would not be as effective for my district if I continued to grow more and more uncomfortable as a Republican.
So, in my first year as a County Commissioner, I took an action that is very uncommon among elected officeholders: I changed political parties.
I chose to be a Democrat. I made the change out of principle, and not for personal advantage.
Changing parties was difficult only because of the respect and affection I have for many Republican officials and grassroots activists with whom I had worked and who had supported me over the previous six years. And, truth be told, some people were downright angry. But it was right for me, and it was right for the people I represent.
I had great support in my transition to the Democratic Party from Congressman John Dingell, as well as the UAW, AFL-CIO, Dearborn Federation of Teachers and others in organized labor.
I have now been a loyal Democrat for more than 12 years, and any who question my credentials as a Democrat should only consider that I have been elected Chairman of the Wayne County Commission for four consecutive terms, unanimously, with votes from great Democratic County Commissioners like Irma Clark-Coleman, Alisha Bell, Martha G. Scott, Burton Leland and others. These are not people who would support anything less than a true, fellow Democrat.
But, in the end, I stand by my conviction that an elected public servant is not defined by the party label next to their name, but by the good work they do for the people who elect them.
It would be my great honor to demonstrate that conviction as the next Senator in the 3rd District.
I had the rare opportunity and honor to meet President Barack Obama at an event at Henry Ford Museum in 2012.
Greeting from Gov. Granholm
Here I am with Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2003, when she signed a bill of mine into law to increase protections for seniors at nursing homes. Gov. Granholm was one of the first to welcome me into the Democratic Party. She left a voice mail message the morning of Nov. 18, 2005, that I transcribed and saved: "This is Jennifer Granholm calling, I am calling about your party change and I just wanted to say it’s the best news I’ve heard all week, and I just wanted to congratulate you on it, welcome you into the tent, even though I know you’ve been tremendous and moderate in the past, I’m really pleased that you are with us, and I look forward to working with you, and if there’s anything I can do please let me know. So, I just wanted to reach out to you and say I’m very glad our tent got a little bit bigger this week."
Congressman John Dingell was my biggest supporter among elected Democrats when I joined the Democratic Party. I often refer to him as my sponsor into the party because of the great assistance he provided. What better hero to have than the man who served longer in the United States Congress (59 years) than anyone in history?