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An unexpected guest

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The call came from out of the blue. Or, perhaps more accurately, from out of the black and blue. Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer was on the line, asking whether the Metro Times wanted to talk with him about, well, whatever we liked. Though the next elections are more than a year a way, we couldn’t resist. After all, his party was flattened big time by the Engler steamroller last November – the governor’s office, both houses of the Legislature, even the state Supreme Court were all under GOP control when the dust settled – and we were more than a little curious how the wound-licking and regrouping were going.

For a man who saw his party suffer a string of bitter defeats, Brewer seemed surprisingly upbeat. Sure, he had Democrat Jennifer Granholm’s attorney general victory and a lot of congressional seat-holding to be thankful for, but there was more to it than that. With a high-profile fight for school vouchers on the horizon, a wide-open presidential race under way and a chance to strengthen the Dems’ presence on the state Supreme Court coming up, Brewer said the lessons learned in last year’s shellacking would help guide the party’s course.

First of all, he said, there will be renewed emphasis on grassroots constituent building. And the divisiveness that came with Geoffrey Fieger’s renegade gubernatorial campaign? Don’t expect to see more of the same, predicted Brewer. Party unity is going to be a rallying cry next time out.

Here are some conversation highlights.

MT: What is the Democratic Party’s agenda for the 2000 election?

Brewer: Frankly, it doesn’t look much different than the list in 1996. We need to carry the state for a Democratic presidential candidate, whoever that is. … We lost the state House with a combined 1,300 votes in four districts. We are going to go back after all those seats. We have a good chance of taking the House back. The Supreme Court is going to be another big target as well. … So it is really a multipronged effort. … This is a very competitive state – 10 years ago the Republicans were in the same situation. So, I think the comeback trail will be based on issues and candidates.

MT: The Reform Party’s success in Minnesota seems to indicate that voters are disenchanted with the two-party system. How is the Democratic Party trying to recapture the public’s interest?

Brewer: I come out of (U.S. Rep.) David Bonior’s organization. David’s organization concentrates a lot on door-to-door, one-on-one campaigning. … I am trying to apply it statewide. It is not the entire answer, because there is a big question of voter disaffection, and there are lots of reasons for that. … I think a second piece is voter registration and turnout, making it easier to vote. A third piece is to get away from negative campaigning. So, I think it is a combination of these things. There is no one answer to that. It is a long-term trend: Both parties are suffering from it, and it is not unique to us or the Republicans.

MT: What do you think is next on Governor Engler’s agenda for the state?

Brewer: I think he is basically fine-tuning his image nationally so he either gets on the ticket or ends up in a cabinet slot. … I think, again, he was trying to burnish his image with reforming the Detroit Public Schools. He had eight years to do something… I think he was looking to improve his national image and decided he needed to be seen as an educational reformer (and) that was the way to do it. … So, I don’t think he has much of an agenda.

MT: Talk a bit about the U.S. Senate race between Congresswoman Debbie Stabenow and Republican incumbent Spencer Abraham.

Brewer: The two things Abraham is already pushing, and I frankly don’t think they are going to work, is the money piece … he basically runs around bragging about how much money he is going to raise. I think it sends a message that someone is buying the race, essentially. The second thing is this crap about Debbie being a liberal. … She is progressive, no question about it if you look at her record on health care and the environment and other issues. I think those two things could be perceived as her vulnerabilities, but that’s actually a tribute to her. … She will be outspent, but she will be competitive.

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