Breaking: Whitmer endorses Barnes for Michigan Democratic Party chair

Gretchen Whitmer | Wikipedia Commons

Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer today endorsed Lavora Barnes as the next Michigan Democratic Party chair.

In an exclusive interview with the Advance this morning, Whitmer said that she believes that Barnes, who currently serves as the MDP’s chief operating officer, is the best person for the job.

Lavora Barnes

“Lavora was a critical partner in this last cycle,” said Whitmer, a Democratic former state Senate minority leader. “She is so smart and works so hard and I think is an inspirational leader. … There is no one better prepared to take it on than she.”

Current Chair Brandon Dillon, who has served since 2015, announced last week he will not run for re-election next year. Dillon told the Advance in an interview last week before Barnes declared that she “would be an incredible state party chair.”

Dillon’s decision to step aside came after big 2018 victories for Dems. They 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.

Brandon Dillon

The endorsement of the incoming governor will loom large over the developing MDP chair race. Other candidates include Lisa DiRado, a chemist and Southeast Michigan party activist, and state Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor). Abdul El-Sayed, who Whitmer beat in the August Democratic gubernatorial primary, has said he is not interesting in running for chair.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Advance, Whitmer also talked about the transition and meeting with Gov. Rick Snyder, the GOP-led Legislature’s “power grab” bills, the 2020 election, meeting with President Trump at the White House last week, sexism on the campaign trail and more. The Advance will have additional coverage.

Whitmer defeated Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette by 9 points on Nov. 6. She will be sworn in as Michigan’s 49th governor on Jan. 1.

Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.


  1. Lisa DiRado isn’t just some activist: She is President of the Northville Democratic Club, among the largest local clubs in Michigan, 2nd Vice Chair of the 11th District Democratic Party, a longtime member of the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee, and a Hillary Clinton delegate to the 2016 convention. Lisa’s efforts helped flip multiple seats in November, including wins by Haley Stevens, Dayna Polehanki, Laurie Pohutsky and Matt Koleszar.


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