Former Lansing Fire Chief Tom Cochran and former East Lansing Mayor Sam Singh both received the endorsement of the UAW CAP Council on Monday, securing their spots as the frontrunners in their respective state House races.

Cochran is running in the Democratic primary in the south Lansing/Delhi Township/rural Ingham County 67th state House District against former radio personality Walt Sorg and Delhi Township Trustee Jerry Ketchum.

Singh is in a battle with former East Lansing School Board member Susan Schmidt for the Democratic nomination in the East Lansing/Meridian Township-based 69th.

Meanwhile, the UAW took a pass on the seven-person Democratic primary in the Lansing-based 68th, with Local 602 President Art Luna saying there were too many “friends” of organized labor to choose among.

The decisions are significant in the sense that given the choice of several pro-labor Democrats in state House races, the UAW — like most unions, PACs or endorsing organizations endorses — uses winnable as a tiebreaker. 

Nobody likes to bet on a loser, especially in this term-limited environment where long-time relationships between lobbying groups and politicians don’t exist because there are no long-time legislators. That makes endorsements during the primary election season critical.

In the 67th, Cochran is seen as the moderate who, on paper, stands up best against former Vevay Township Supervisor Jeff Oesterle, the likely Republican nominee in this competitive, 50/50 swing seat. Being a former UAW member for eight years certainly didn’t hurt Cochran´s chances either.

In the 69th, the ball seems to keep rolling in Singh’s direction. The former East Lansing elected official has had excellent relations in Lansing for years. He already has the support of the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Michigan Laborer’s District Council, the Michigan Nurses Association, the Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, the SEIU and the Teamsters.

The UAW’s decision to stay out of the 68th District is interesting in the sense that it didn’t endorse Andy Schor, who’d already nabbed the local Operating Engineers and the Plumbers and Pipefitters endorsement.

Schor is also the perceived frontrunner, having campaigned for the job for about a year now. He’s got the money and the institutional support.

The problem is before he took a leave of absence to campaign, Schor worked full time for the Michigan Municipal League, which has pushed for reforms to the binding arbitration laws for police officers and firefighters.

The League also was painfully neutral on P.A. 4 of 2011, the law that allows gubernatorial-appointed emergency mangers to revoke negotiated union contracts in troubled cities and school districts.

While the changes to the binding arbitration law ended up being agreeable to all sides, the debate was contentious. Schor doesn’t personally support P.A. 4, but his choice of employment didn’t put him in a position to stop it either.

For those reasons, picking Schor over candidates like Dale Copedge, Ted O´Dell, Griffin Rivers, A’Lynne Robinson or anybody else who has been there for labor may not be 100 percent defensible to its members. Instead, the UAW made the safe bet and took a walk on the race and vowed to endorse whoever emerges from the Democratic primary.

Nothing new about censuring

The latest fuss created by Rep. Lisa Brown, D-Bloomfield Hills, and Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, being censured on the Michigan House floor for saying “vagina” and “vasectomy” during an abortion debate is surprising in that it’s taken the media this long to write about the open censuring that goes on the House floor.

For years, the majority party — whether its Republican or Democrat control — has routinely put the squeeze on free speech. House Speaker Jase Bolger’s spokesman, Ari Adler, said the Marshall Republican, as a lonely freshman, was once banned from speaking for a three week-stint for saying something the majority Democratic Party didn’t like.

There was a time during the tenure of House Speaker Andy Dillon, a Democrat, when major pieces of legislation passed without debate. The situation has improved remarkably under Bolger, but it’s still not where it should be, obviously.

Each of the 110 members of the Michigan House represents around 89,000 people. The House is the people’s house. Everybody’s voice should be heard.

I understand that can create a long session, which can be torturous for everybody watching — media included. But what gives one set of 89,000 Michiganders the right to silence another set of 89,000 Michiganders?

The majority party may not like what members of the minority like to say, but once we lose the ability to openly discuss significant changes of public policy, our government stops looking like a democracy.