Anyone who follows Michigan politics has come to expect Gov. Jennifer Granholm to make calculating decisions consistent with the middle-of-the-road image she has consciously nurtured. So what possessed our governor to issue a passionate statement last week declaring that it was “reprehensible that anyone would seek to silence” Michigan voters?
Could it be that she was finally abandoning her moderate, follow-the-crowd manner to become a fiery advocate of the people? Not likely. Granholm’s comments and positions with regards to the botched Michigan primary have been all too self-serving. It is an open secret that Granholm – who will be term-limited out in 2010 and has no other viable office-seeking options – would love nothing more than an appointment in a Clinton administration. She has endorsed Hillary and is doing everything she can to aid her campaign.
As we all know, Granholm and other state Democratic leaders pushed for a January primary, violating the Democratic National Committee’s rules, thereby jeopardizing the state’s delegates. They stuck with this plan even when it was clear that they had played a risky game of chicken and lost. John Edwards and Barack Obama withdrew their names from the ballot, while Clinton famously declared, “it’s clear this election they’re having isn’t going to count for anything.”
Of course, Granholm and others bought into the hype that Clinton was the inevitable nominee and would have the nomination wrapped up by Feb. 5. Thus, by their reasoning, Michigan could still help to coronate Clinton by hosting a “beauty pageant” in January. The only risk was sacrificing an anti-climactic caucus, which would be scheduled too late in the primary season to count for anything.
So our cash-strapped state went ahead with an expensive primary that was meaningless for Democrats and half-meaningful for Republicans. Unwilling to admit their blunder, Granholm and the state party leaders insisted they had taken a principled stand that would serve Michigan well. Even though the Democratic candidates refused to campaign in Michigan, the governor stoutly declared that the botched primary had somehow “changed the dialogue” because it had made the economy more central to the primary debates.
Granholm and Sen. Debbie Stabenow both rallied their supporters to vote for Clinton on Jan. 15. And no doubt some Democrats enthusiastically did. But Clinton’s suggestion that she “won” a legitimate election in Michigan is ludicrous, and her demand (echoed by Granholm) that the DNC seat the delegates she “won” is a perversion of democracy.
The facts speak for themselves. Fewer than 600,000 people voted in the Michigan Democratic primary. By comparison, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry carried the state with nearly 2.5 million votes in the 2004 general election. Thus, in this blue state, Republican voter turnout outpaced that of the Democrats by nearly 50 percent. Indeed, Clinton – with her major foe being “uncommitted” – got fewer votes than Mitt Romney, who squared off against multiple contenders. Since enthusiasm is much higher in Michigan on the Democratic side, the obvious reason why as many as one million Democrats stayed home is that they were told their primary didn’t count for anything.
We desperately need a fair and democratic solution to this mess. But it won’t be easy to resolve. What is clear is that Granholm’s latest grandstanding won’t help fix the situation. If she really cared about Michigan voters being disenfranchised, she would have acted to stop this fiasco rather than egging it on.
Instead, she has now joined forces with Florida’s Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who would love nothing more than to see the Democrats bruise each other and demoralize voters all the way through a brokered convention. Granholm is no more a neutral arbiter in 2008 than Florida secretary of state and Bush campaign co-chair Kathleen Harris was when she certified the results in 2000.
The not-so-big news out of Michigan is that Granholm has finally found something worth fighting for: Jennifer Granholm.
Scott Kurashige is an associate University professor of History, American Culture and Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies. He blogs about politics at Huffington Post.