You wouldn’t know it from the news coverage of those gun-toting, mouth-breathing, Nazi-loving GI Joe cosplayers marching around the Capitol Building with guns in Lansing, but Michigan is on the verge of turning blue once again.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has become a star thanks to her handling of the coronavirus. Progressive ballot initiatives — including independent redistricting — passed with overwhelming majorities in 2018. And Dems are just a few seats away from flipping the gerrymandered State House of Representatives.
And yet, because national media can’t get enough of the domestic terrorism schtick, we’re often given a very different impression. As a result, a parade of far-right degenerates wind up setting the national agenda. Progressives tend to focus on the far-right fringe as well, but the smarter move is to point out their irrelevance and move on. During a conversation this weekend with Christine Morse, the Democrat running for State House in the very flippable 61st district in Michigan, I was guilty of pushing for her thoughts on the protests — fortunately, she was very smartly unwilling to cede the narrative to these fringe fear-mongers.
“There’s a lot of talk about these protests, which are actually organized by national groups,” Morse said, referring to the dark money from billionaires fueling the rallies. “They have the appearance of being this grassroots effort, but it’s 200 people. The polling is showing that the governor still has quite high levels of support. People take it personally when it impacts their life, so you can’t blame everybody, but I don’t feel like the protests really reflect what’s going on.”
That quote really says it all. Morse is empathetic and focused on achievable goals, unwilling to get distracted by peripheral clown shows or relentless right-wing attacks. And because she’s going to face a former Trump administration and Mitch McConnell campaign official with literally no mention of any issues on her campaign website, she’s likely to face a lot of right-wing attacks over the next six months.
It’s an unusual discipline for someone who only entered politics in 2017, but she’s got to be on the ball right now. Not only is she running for office and handling her responsibilities as a Kalamazoo County Commissioner during a pandemic, she’s also overseeing her children’s homeschooling during the quarantine. It sounds exhausting, but her biography reads like a training manual for being an effective multi-tasker and public servant.
Michiganders we must now Stay Home, Stay Safe! I am staying home to protect our medical providers and people like my parents. Who are you staying home for? #kalamazoostayhomefor #kalamazoo pic.twitter.com/0QuYBMLL4s
— Christine Morse (@Vote4Morse) March 23, 2020
Morse is a Michigan native, the daughter of a union auto-worker. She got her law degree and then practiced as an attorney for a while, before moving around the world with her husband while he served in the Navy. Eventually, they wound up in Kalamazoo, where they raised their three children. Like so many of the candidates we’ve spoken to over the last three years, it was the election of Donald Trump that first inspired Morse to run for office, and after considering a run for the State House, she decided to start locally, setting her sights on the Kalamazoo County Commission.
The odds were steep, as Morse was facing off against a long-time incumbent Republican very entrenched in the community. Unwilling to be intimidated, Morse spent the year tirelessly campaigning; she sent out 30,000 pieces of mail and knocked on 5,000 doors herself, willing herself to an upset victory.
“I just ran on what I wanted for myself, which was accessible representation that was responsive to the public,” Morse reflected. It’s been a crash course in government ever since, with Kalamazoo suffering from devastating flooding and the dysfunction in Lansing — remember when Republicans used a lame-duck session to strip Whitmer of some of her authority? — resulting in unfunded mandates and ignored problems.
Kalamazoo is going to have to cut its budget, she says, which will also be devastating. With Republicans in the legislature blocking all solutions, Morse decided to run for State House herself, targeting an open Republican seat that is very winnable for Democrats. She’s got a good grasp on the particular issues that impact people in her community, but she’s also got a bigger vision, focused on making healthcare accessible and affordable for everyone, working to create economic inequality, and dramatically increasing education funding.
Those are bread and butter issues for Democrats, but she does come at them from very personal places. Morse is a cancer survivor, has two children still in public schools, and knows that the opportunities afforded her father as a union member are rapidly disappearing.
“This legislature has done everything it can to reduce the power of unions,” Morse said. “Now look at the wage inequality we have in this country. It’s outrageous and it’s because there’s no balance in the system anymore. It’s all about what the corporations want to do. That’s another area where I would make some change.”
Campaigning isn’t easy right now; people are broke and worried and there’s no way you can go knocking on doors, like Morse did so effectively last time around. But she’s focused and determined, moving her campaign online with live-streamed events, texts, phone banking, and fundraising. With Michigan such a crucial part of Democrats’ plan to win the White House, helping Morse any way we can to get out the vote in her swing district is a way to help turn the White House blue, as well.