Helped by Explainer-in-Chief Bill Clinton, Michigan Dems fire up at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner


“Politics is all about power for them. Politics should always be about people for us.”

Michigan Democrats took over the newly-renovated Cobo Hall in Detroit last night in a show of forceful solidarity unlike anything I’ve seen in the recent past. A sold out crowd of over 2,200 packed the venue, over 700 more than attended the event in 2012 when Vice President Joe Biden was the keynote speaker for their annual fundraising dinner. While the keynote speech by President Bill Clinton was certainly a major draw this year, the energy in the building went beyond just admiration for one our favorite Democratic presidents. Michigan Democrats are fired up and ready to win big in November.

The event was emceed by Michigan Democratic Party Executive Director Garret Arwa.

Speaker after speaker went to the podium to talk about what’s at stake in our election this year:

MDP Chair Lon Johnson. Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer. Senator Carl Levin. House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel. Congressional candidates Pam Byrnes (7th District) and Jerry Cannon (1st District).

And, of course, candidate for Governor, Mark Schauer and his running mate Lisa Brown.

While all of the speeches were fiery and excellent, two particular speeches stood out for me personally. First, Gary Peters was on fire in a way that I have never seen him before. His rousing speech had the audience cheering as he talked about the corrosive impact of money in politics and the lies told in the ads paid for by millions of dollars of Koch brother money.

As he has in the past, Peters embraced his vote for the Affordable Care Act. “I believe in my heart and soul that everybody, no matter who you are, you are entitled to health care,” he told the attendees. “That’s what we do in the greatest country on earth.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow had the best line of the night, however. She told a story about a woman whose company went out of business. It was only after the company went under, she explained, that the woman discovered that all of her male subordinates, the men whose boss she was, made more money than her.

Really?” Sen. Stabenow asked. “Just think about that for a moment.” She then slowly picked up a coffee cup, took a drink, and then checked her watch, a clear mockery of Terri Lynn Land’s recent bizarre and insulting campaign ad. The audience nearly fell out of their chairs laughing.

I learned later that Sen. Whitmer almost did the same joke before being told that Sen. Stabenow had it teed up. Great female leader minds think alike, it appears.

President Clinton’s 50-minute speech had one major focal point: if we can turn out our voters as well in midterm election years as we do in presidential election years, we can change the country. It’s only because we don’t that things have gotten to where they are today in states like Michigan where the majority of voters are Democrats yet we’re governed by Republicans. “Shame on us if we can’t convince the people who vote for us in presidential elections to show up in midterm elections. It’s the biggest problem we face,” he said. “If we don’t show up, how can we expect to have anything but a profoundly divided country?”

Clinton used the example of the election of Democrat Terry McAuliffe as the Governor of Virginia last fall. It was an important election, Clinton told the audience, because Democratic voters including women and people of color turned out to vote at the same rate they did during the presidential election the year before.

It’s a lesson that Democrats seemed to understand and, judging by the energy at the dinner, it’s a challenge they seem ready to take on.

On a personal note, I was honored to be selected as one of two 7th District Honorees for my work as a Precinct Organizer with the Washtenaw County Democratic Party.

The other honoree was a woman named Cecily Savick and there is an interesting story about this that goes beyond the similarity in our names: As it turned out, Ms. Savick was sitting next to me during dinner. We got to chatting and she told me she is from Jackson. I told her that I was born in Jackson and then she told me that she had taught history and geography in Michigan Center schools. I shared that I had actually gone to Michigan Center schools in kindergarten and first grade and then again in sixth through eighth grade.

“I had a couple of teachers who really left their mark on my life in Michigan Center,” I told her. “One was my civics teacher. One of the reasons I am so interested in government and politics is because of him. There was also a history teacher I had. She was amazing.”

She looked at me and asked, “What year was that again?”

When I told her, she said, “I think that was me.” And it was.

When I am giving a talk to a Democratic County Party group or club and the subject of teachers comes up, I frequently make the observation that every one of us has a teacher or two in their past who we can point to and say, “That person made a difference in my life.” Last night, without realizing I was doing it, I had a chance to tell that person to their face. It was gratifying for both of us.

All photos by Anne C. Savage.