Michiganders mingle over cocktails, politics

Just as old friends do, Debbie Dingell, wife of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), dropped by the annual fundraiser for the Michigan Democratic Actions Network (MDAN) and worked the room at a feverish pace.

“You are looking at some of the future legislators from Michigan,” Dingell, president of the General Motors Foundation, said amid 50 young Hill staffers and interns from Michigan last week. “And it’s the people in this room who make the current lawmakers look good.”


 
 


Dingell, fashionable in a light-blue-and-white-striped pantsuit paired with Jackie O blue-framed sunglasses, joined the Michigan staffers as they created a home away from home for the young guests from the Wolverine State. They were mingling over a spread of cheese, grapes and fried shrimp and visiting the well-stocked bar at the home of Maggie Springer, owner of the Springer and Associates consulting firm.

Jonathan Beeton, MDAN board member and communications director for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), said he has attended every MDAN house party since the group was created in 1999.

Back then, with an eye on the 2000 elections, the group wanted to give Democrats a leg up in Michigan races. “In 2000, the Democrats didn’t win — we lost three congressional seats,” Beeton said while sipping on Vernors ginger ale, a Michigan-based soft drink. “But in the next cycle we’ll have a chance.”

Because of late votes, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) was the only congressman able to attend the party. Even though he bailed after a few minutes to meet with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), he would not miss out on meeting home-state constituents, who welcomed him with a standing ovation.

MDAN “is a brilliant idea that should be replicated almost everywhere,” Conyers said while munching on a handful of grapes. “Through the exchange you build interest in government and real-life issues. This is good stuff.”

Being a congresswoman is something Jeana Plas can only dream of for now. One of the newest MDAN members, the Freeland, Mich., native moved to D.C. in May to intern in the office of Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.). “You want to do everything for your home state,” she said. “I was interested in politics ever since Bill Clinton came to my town in 1992.”

She counts on MDAN meetings to relieve her homesickness. “This is a way to connect to Michigan,” she said. “If you are in a room full of people from Michigan, you are at ease.”

For now, the recent college graduate is getting a feel for what D.C. has to offer. There are definitely political aspirations, she said, smiling whimsically. But “my home is Michigan and will always be.”

A former Capitol Hill staffer who worked in the Michigan delegation for 22 years, Marda Robillard has been acquainted with the network since its formation. She has donated generously over the years and said she thinks MDAN’s campaign work is crucial because “they don’t have a lot of money but [they have] commitment and energy. It’s great to support their efforts.”

Over the years, the state PAC has been able to raise about $60,000-$70,000. “As far as we know, we are the only organization of its kind,” Beeton said.

One thing was certain Wednesday night, as these Michiganders partied well into the evening: They showed that they are serious about what they do and seriously into politics, as seen in MDAN co-founder Andy Meisner, who is now a Michigan state representative.