26th Term Not a Certainty for Michigan Rep. John Conyers

Image: 26th Term Not a Certainty for Michigan Rep. John Conyers

Thursday, 01 May 2014 11:33 AM

By John Gizzi

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Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan insists he has qualified to seek a 26th term this year, but there are still major questions and serious doubts about whether the lawmaker will appear on the Democratic primary ballot on Aug. 5.

Questions surfaced Tuesday about the ballot status of Conyers, who is 84 years old, a U.S. representative since 1965, and a major figure in the modern civil rights movement. The Rev. Horace Sheffield III, Conyers' primary opponent, filed a challenge to the veteran congressman's nominating petitions in the Detroit-based 13th District.

Sheffield's campaign specifically charged that two of Conyers' petition circulators were not registered voters when they gathered signatures.

"State election law requires that petition circulators must be registered voters," Bill Ballenger, editor of the influential Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, told Newsmax. "Much has been made of this, and it's an evolving story."

Michigan's election law requires that a minimum number of signatures from voters in a U.S. House district need to be legally verified in order for a candidate for Congress to be certified on the primary ballot.

In the 13th District, the number is 1,000 signatures. Conyers' office told reporters he submitted 2,000 signatures.

"If one is filing in the 13th District, he or she files with the Wayne County clerk rather than the secretary of state's office," Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan secretary of state, explained to Newsmax.

"In all of our 14 congressional districts, except the 13th, the filing is done with our office. The 13th is a unique situation. Since it is contained entirely in one county [Wayne County, which is mostly the city of Detroit], election law requires that the filing and certification be done with the office of the county clerk."

Conyers issued a statement Wednesday saying that the county clerk "had determined that there are a sufficient number of signatures to allow my name to appear on the ballot in the upcoming Aug. 5 primary election."

But the question of whether all of his circulators were registered voters in the state was unclear, and the office of Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett did not return calls from Newsmax.

Woodhams said that once the county clerk makes her decision on the status of a candidate's ballot position, "someone who doesn't agree with that decision has three days to file a written appeal with the [Michigan] circuit court."

Ballot position needs to be settled "by early June," Woodhams said, so the secretary of state's office can prepare the primary ballot.

Sheffield, pastor of the New Destiny Christian Fellowship Church, is a serious opponent.

The father of Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield, the pastor-politician told WJR Radio's Frank Beckmann in February that Conyers "is not all there."

Suggesting a bare-knuckles campaign, Sheffield went on to charge that "people other than the congressperson actually make decisions for the interests of our district."

One of four Korean War veterans now serving in Congress, Conyers won the Democratic primary for Congress in 1964 by 78 votes over Richard Austin, who later became Michigan's secretary of state.

Conyers was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and is now the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. After his first cliff-hanger of a primary, he never had to worry about primaries or elections at home — until now.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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