ALPENA - Michigan's Democratic Party Chairman said it's time for a new team in Lansing, and his party's candidates stand a good chance in November statewide and nationally.
Lon Johnson, 42, came to Alpena Friday as part of a trip around the northern Lower Peninsula to fill in local Democratic party organizations on the strategy for this election. That strategy can be summed up in six words: "Turn out, turn out, turn out."
"Michigan's an overwhelmingly Democratic state," he said. "When we turn out, we win. When we don't, we lose."
That's been a challenge for Democrats for off-year elections, Johnson said. So the party's identified 995,000 Democrats who didn't vote in 2010, and now the candidates and county party organizations must find them and get them out to vote.
With Michigan's govenor, the entire state legislature and a seat each in the United States Senate and House in play, 2014 is a big year for the state politically, Johnson said. He believes Democrats have a chance to go all the way. Gary Peters is better suited to carry on the legacy of Sen. Carl Levin, and Jerry Cannon has a track record of serving his country.
"Neither of them are going to Washington to fight for a party, they're going to Washington to fight for the people of northern Michigan," he said.
Mark Schauer is after the same in Lansing, Johnson said. He's been elected in traditionally Republican districts, and along with Peters has a history of winning tough general elections and beating incumbent Republicans.
There are three Democrats running for the nomination to run against state House incumbent Peter Pettalia for the 106th District, Johnson said. It's a race the state party and caucus will be targeting, and Johnson believes the number of candidates won't distract or divide Democratic voters.
The election boils down to which candidates are going to create a state that people can stay and succeed in, Johnson said. While Democrats believe this can be done by investing in people, the land and the Great Lakes, Republicans are taking care of the wealthy and well-connected. He cited the $1.8 billion tax break for businesses, taxes on pensions and cuts to school funding Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law. Johnson said Michigan voters are universally frustrated by what he called failed policies of the Snyder administration and Republicans in Lansing, and by the gridlock in Washington.
The state needs to invest in people, especially education, Johnson said. It also needs to be preparing for tomorrow's economy, especially in northern Michigan. The workforce is changing to where more and more people can choose to work from wherever they wish.
"When you can choose when you want to work, people are going to choose where it's beautiful," he said. "And that's where northern Michigan can compete and win."
First, the region needs more high-speed internet, roads that work, rail service and other infrastructure, Johnson added.
Democrats believe no one working full-time should be living in poverty, Johnson said. He agreed with Schauer's endorsement of a bill passed by the state Senate. It's not perfect, but it's close to what Schauer had called for, and a win for hundreds of thousands of working people.
Emergency managers aren't a solution to bringing Michigan's municipalities back to solvency, Johnson said. Instead, lawmakers need to take a good look at how the municipalities have been funded. Over the past 10 years, they've lost out on $6 billion in revenue sharing, and residents are seeing local government services being cut and police and fire response times grow.
Residents also are paying a hidden tax when they pay to fix damage to their vehicles inflicted by the state's poor roads, Johnson said. The roads need fixing, and increasing the gas tax could hurt tourism in northern Michigan. State lawmakers instead should look at how they're spending money already coming into the state.
"We don't need to increase taxes on people who are working any more," he said.
Johnson's been the state Democratic Party Chairman since Feb. 23, 2013, he said. His wife worked for President Obama, and Johnson has worked for political campaigns before, as well as running himself for the state House in 2012.