In late January, an article at Bridge magazine raised questions about Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed’s eligibility to run for this position due to his having lived outside of Michigan for a time. Experts on campaign law weighed in and were not in agreement. Some said he’s fine. Others expressed concern that he may not be fine at all and that this could derail his candidacy. Worse, if it derailed his candidacy after he had secured the Democratic Party nomination, it would all but ensure that Michigan’s next governor will be
Bill Schuette a Republican.
Dr. El-Sayed immediately used this story to attack unnamed Democrats by comparing them to “Birthers”, conservative racists who claim Barack Obama was not born in America. He also appeared to describe his chief opponent, at least at the time, former state Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer, as a “sub-standard candidate”.
The Michigan Democratic Party asked Dr. El-Sayed to ask for a ruling on the matter and in March, he did so by filing a lawsuit against Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. He did this to force the court to weigh in on the issue because there is no other way to get a ruling from the courts on his eligibility outside of the context of a lawsuit that needs to be resolved.
Yesterday, state government lawyers acting on behalf of Ms. Johnson asked a judge to dismiss the case, saying that it is premature. They say it’s premature because no “interested parties” have filed a complaint against Dr. El-Sayed on the matter of his eligibility:
State attorneys are asking a judge to dismiss Democrat Abdul El-Sayed’s request that Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson declare him an eligible candidate for governor, calling it “premature” because no one has challenged his status.
El-Sayed filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in March after a Bridge Magazine article raised questions about whether his voter registration history in New York could open him up to a constitutional challenge in Michigan’s 2018 election.
The Michigan Democratic Party asked El-Sayed to pre-emptively pursue an eligibility review, but an attorney for Johnson said Tuesday there is no “actual controversy” because nobody with the state has taken, or even hinted at, action to reject or disqualify his candidacy filings.
“The controversy, such as there is, is the creation of the media and the Michigan Democratic Party — not state action,” Assistant Attorney General Heather Meingast wrote in a filing to Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray.
That last bit is a clear effort to sow discord and confusion among and against Democrats and it comes from the office of Bill Schuette who is the likely Republican gubernatorial candidate who will run against the Democrat who receives the nomination. Schuette, of course, wants this dissension and confusion and discord to continue for as long as possible to keep the Democratic Party tied up in knots, arguing among themselves. In fact, this is not an issue that has anything at all to do with the Michigan Democratic Party itself, despite what Heather Meingast says. They simply want the matter resolved as quickly as possible so we can have a primary race free from question marks. And, of course, if the courts were to rule against Dr. El-Sayed, it would prevent a catastrophe for the Party in November.
Dr. El-Sayed is portraying this request as a victory for his campaign, calling it “a decisive statement putting the issue to rest, and vindicating [my] eligibility to run.” It is, of course, nothing of the sort. This matter will not be resolved until the court resolves it. It cannot be resolved by lawyers working for the person who will run against El-Sayed or whoever wins the Democratic primary. In fact, the request for dismissal takes us back to Square One where we don’t know how the court will rule if and when an interested party files a complaint against him based on residency requirements.
Dr. El-Sayed may be declaring victory and moving on but that’s not how it works and the matter is still hanging out there to be resolved. In the event that El-Sayed receives the nomination, you can be very sure that his Republican opponent, whether it’s Bill Schuette or someone else, will wait until the very moment when raising the issue will do the most damage to the Democrat and will then file a complaint at that time. Given that these sorts of eligibility questions have derailed Democratic efforts in the past, anyone claiming that this is “a manufactured controversy” created by his Democratic opponents and that it has now been resolved (as El-Sayed’s campaign and many of his supporters are saying) is simply wrong.
And so we wait. We wait until an interested party, presumably one of Dr. El-Sayed’s opponents, files a complaint. Only then will the courts weigh in and settle this once and for all. For every
one Democrat involved, the sooner this happens, the better.
In the meantime, those claiming this is an attack by “establishment Democrats” (whatever THAT means) on a “true progressive” (what THAT means) are doing nothing more than playing the victim card on behalf of Dr. El-Sayed. Those of us who want this resolved quickly want it resolved quickly so we don’t get an “October Surprise“, not to sabotage the campaign of a Democratic candidate, no matter HOW we are portrayed by Dr. El-Sayed’s supporters.
UPDATE: Immediately after I published this, El-Sayed’s Campaign Manager Max Glass sent out a fundraising letter in which he reiterates the contention that Dr. El-Sayed is a victim (emphasis mine):
There are those out there who are worried about what the success of our movement means for their chokehold on political power. Rather than do the work, they’re pushing backroom coronations and deals to promote candidates that fall in line around the usual ‘bought and sold’ brand of politics they’ve always pushed.
But, this time, it’s not working. Only one campaign is building the momentum of a grassroots movement, and that’s worrying them.
If our movement steps up right now to spring back from these attacks, we will leave our opponents’ brand of bought-and-paid-for politics in the dust. And heading into the Democratic primary, we will be unstoppable.
Let’s show the world that we’ve got the guts, the heart, and the numbers to win against the power and money of establishment party politics.
For the record, despite Glass’s contention that their campaign is building momentum, El-Sayed is actually in third place according to the last four polls conducted in this race.
[Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]