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Conyers’ legacy, position at risk

Congressman John Conyers   COURTESY PHOTO

Congressman John Conyers

Staff report

DETROIT — Congressman John Conyers is poised to be the most senior member of Congress, the top U.S. House Judiciary Committee Democrat and  the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).  If reelected, Congressman Conyers, who has served 50 years, would accrue all the benefits of the longest serving members.

Yet, the veteran congressman is not currently on the August primary ballot, and is thus embarking on a campaign that may define his career.

Last week, Conyers was disqualified from the ballot by Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett when she invalidated more than 1,400 signatures. Unregistered voters circulated petitions for the Congressman, a violation of state law.

This week he, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a federal lawsuit asking to be included on the ballot.  Lawyers say the law requiring petition circulators be registered voters is unconstitutional.

His representatives say if he loses this option, he will wage a write-in campaign and has unprecedented support.

“(Congressman Conyers) has the CBC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the White House, the Michigan Democratic party, Labor, Clergy, business leaders, and, more importantly, the hearts and minds of voters,” says Sen. Bert Johnson, who recently stepped up to takeover Conyers’ reelection campaign.

Johnson says Conyers’ reelection is vital to Detroit. He says the Congressman holds the keys to federal dollars and has irreplaceable relationships in Washington, D.C., that can help the city recover from bankruptcy.

“When (Conyers) makes a request, it gets fulfilled,” says Johnson who says others do not have the experience or relationships to navigate the political environment.

In another potential setback, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette filed against Conyers being permitted on the ballot. Schuette argues rule changes, at this point, would be unfair to other candidates. He also says circulators should be registered to vote.

The Secretary of State says her office has not yet decided whether Conyers should be allowed on the ballot but supports the position that circulators should be registered.

Johnson says Schuette is wrong.

“If he believes, during an election year, he should disenfranchise thousands of people, and the law has been deemed unconstitutional before, the AG is probably on the wrong side of history one more time,” he said.

Rev. Horace Sheffield is running against Conyers and is on the Aug. 5 primary ballot.

Federal Judge Matthew Leitman heard Conyers’ case as this paper went to print. He will give his decision May 23.

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