Dillon stepping down as Michigan Dem Party chair, Barnes seen as frontrunner

By: - December 12, 2018 4:27 pm

Lavora Barnes at MDP’s Best of the West, Sept. 19, 2018 | Paul Kanan

Citing accomplishments in the 2018 mid-term elections, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon announced today he won’t seek re-election for the position he’s held since 2015.

Brandon Dillon

The decision to step aside comes just over a month after the party flipped two congressional seats; elected a Democratic governor, attorney general and secretary of state; re-elected a U.S. senator; and made gains in the GOP-controlled Legislature, among other statewide and local wins. It also comes two years after Michigan was pivotal by voting for now-President Donald Trump, and now as the state Republican Party goes through its own transition.

In a phone call with the Advance this morning, Dillon said that two terms as party chair felt like enough and he believes he’s leaving the party in a solid position heading into the 2020 election.

“The victories were great in 2018, but the real accomplishment was building — really transforming the party — into kind of a grassroots organizing vehicle,” said Dillon, a Democratic former state representative from Grand Rapids. “[It’s] one that put together a really strong field operation for 2018 [and] that should serve as a template for any presidential candidate that is going to be campaigning in Michigan once they get the nomination.”

While no official announcement has been made, Michigan Democratic Party Chief Operating Officer Lavora Barnes has emerged as a likely candidate. Barnes is a longtime party operative who many Democrats credit for engineering big victories on Nov. 6. Last night, Barnes sent out an email asking people to join the MDP, noting big victories in 2018.

“We must stay united, because we cannot allow our opponents to divide us and keep us from tackling critical issues like our healthcare, clean water, voting rights, education, and finally fixing the damn roads!” Barnes wrote.

Lisa DiRado a chemist and Southeast Michigan party activist, has already declared she’s running for chair.

Abdul El-Sayed, who captured the hearts of Bernie Sanders-style progressives with his unsuccessful run in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, had put out a social media poll asking if he should run for MDP chair. But the Atlantic reports El-Sayed said he won’t run.

When asked about Barnes succeeding him, Dillon said she “would be an incredible state party chair,” but wished to let her make any official announcement.

Abdul El-Sayed

Barnes was not immediately available for comment this morning.  

Dillon succeeded Lon Johnson, who left his post in 2015 to run in the 1st congressional district, losing in ’16 to now-U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet). Johnson knocked off longtime MDP Chair Mark Brewer in a bitter 2013 battle. Brewer now works as an attorney for many Dem candidates and causes, including the paid sick time and minimum wage ballot proposals.

Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser has also decided against running again for his post. State Rep. Laura Cox (R-Livonia) has emerged as a frontrunner to take over the position.

State party chairs from both parties will come into their positions at an interesting time, as Michigan is viewed by election experts as one of the few battleground states for the 2020 presidential election. Michigan native Ronna Romney McDaniel, a former MRP chair, is the head of the Republican National Committee. Trump has endorsed her for another term.

Ron Weiser

Dillon told the Advance that he believes his party is well positioned for ’20. He said Michigan emerged in 2018 as a state that will be on the radar for presidential candidates and national political operatives, particularly given the criticism 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton received for not spending enough time in the state in 2016.

Dillon said he believes those days are over.

“We have the people here, the experience and a proven record of winning and that I think will hopefully be something that carries on, not just in 2020, but well beyond,” he said. “We know how to win campaigns in Michigan the Michigan way and folks around the country should take note.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.