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MI Democratic Party Chair resigns to run for first congressional district – state representative likely replacement

June 30, 2015

Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Lon Johnson, 44, announced in Ishpeming Thursday that he is stepping down from his post to run for the 1st Congressional District, presumably to take on three-term incumbent Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls).

Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) and the House Democratic campaign staffer who helped him win his seat in 2010, Lavora Barnes, began presenting themselves Thursday to Dem stakeholders as a one-two punch that could best succeed outgoing Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Lon Johnson.

Dillon will be running for the chair position while Barnes will be a high-ranking official within the MDP, most likely executive director. 

Rep. Brandon DILLON (D-Grand Rapids) and the House Democratic campaign staffer who helped him win his seat in 2010, Lavora BARNES, began presenting themselves Thursday to Dem stakeholders as a one-two punch that could best succeed outgoing Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Lon JOHNSON.

Dillon will be running for the chair position while Barnes will be a high-ranking official within the MDP, most likely executive director. 

Dillon and Barnes were flagged earlier this week as the likely successors for Johnson, who announced Thursday that he was running for the 1st Congressional District seat in 2016 (see related story). 

The MDP’s next state central committee is scheduled for July 11, which is when Johnson’s resignation becomes official. MIRS has learned Dillon has received the signoff from organized labor, which is taking a much less active role in picking the chair than what occurred in 2013 when a coalition led by the UAW drove then-Chair Mark BREWER out of the job with Johnson’s candidacy. 

“I think I bring a lot of skills to the table and Lavora has complementary skills that will allow us to pick up the ball and move this party forward,” Dillon said. 

Dillon, 43, was one of the few success stories for Democrats in 2010 when he narrowly defeated Bing GOEI by 662 votes in the 75th House District, which has since been made a non-competitive district through redistricting. 

During the 2014 election, he was the House Democrats’ campaign chair. In that role the Dems went toe-to-toe with House Republicans on fundraising front, but lost seats during a gubernatorial year that saw the GOP run the table. 

Asked if he planned to resign from the Legislature to be state party chair, Dillon said, “I don’t want to get too far out in the process. There has to be an election and I don’t want to presume a result. If the committee believes the two of us can make a strong team and approve of us, there will be a lot of logistics that I will have to work out.” 

There is no requirement that Dillon resign as a member of the Legislature. Former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Sandy LEVIN served in the state Senate during his entire two-year stint, but it hasn’t been done since. 

Michigan Freedom Fund President Terri REID, however, said today if Dillon is taking on a new “full-time job” as running the MDP, “He needs to do the right thing and resign from the state House.” 

“Grand Rapids residents deserve a representative in Lansing who is looking out for their best interests, not one who will continue to collect a taxpayer-funded $72,000 check while working full time as a partisan political chairman who gives them nothing in return.” 

Barnes is currently the deputy clerk under Oakland County Clerk Lisa BROWN. She served as President Barack OBAMA’s Michigan director in 2012 and was one of the top staffers within the House Democratic Caucus from 2007-10. 

The two were seen earlier this week as the most likely successors to Johnson. 

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