When John Conyers retired from the U.S. House of Representatives officially on Dec. 5, 2017, an unprecedented situation took place.
The 705,094 residents in the 13th congressional district of Michigan, which is 56 percent Black, have no representative who can advocate on behalf of their interests. Unlike the U.S. Senate, in which the governor of the state picks the successor, the U.S. Constitution mandates that all vacancies be filled by election. However, that hasn’t stopped Detroit attorney Michael Gilmore, who filed to be a candidate for the office before Conyers resigned because of health reasons last year.
Gilmore is suing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) for refusing to call a special election to fill the position, saying that Snyder “continues to treat residents of urban areas across the state as second-class citizens and is violating a laundry list of constitutional laws in doing so.
“By holding this congressional seat vacant for 11 months until the November 2018 general election, he is denying minority residents of the 13th Congressional District the right to vote and the right to be represented in Congress,” Gilmore said in a statement on Dec. 8, 2017. “This is yet another attempt to further silence the voice of minorities in the state and disregard their views.”
During his tenure in the House, which started in 1965, Conyers successfully passed bills that became law on matters such as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, Motor Voter and preventing violence against women and was a passionate advocate for a single-payer health care system, fighting apartheid in South Africa and consistently sponsoring a bill that would explore reparations for the descendants of slaves.
However, in early December of 2017, sexual harassment scandal from 2015 forced him to leave office.
Snyder responded to Gilmore’s letter by stating that the special election and the Democratic primary will be held on Aug. 7, saving the state $2 million. Gilmore found that unacceptable.
“Here he is once again attempting to balance the state’s budget on the backs of Black people, in the name of ‘cost savings’,” he said. Gilmore said mathematically, the election would cost the voters of the 13th congressional district $3 each.
“That is a drop in the bucket of the State of Michigan’s annual $56 billion budget,” he said. Gilmore formally filed his lawsuit on Dec. 29, 2017, and wants the federal court to compel Snyder to hold the special election sooner than Aug. 7.
In addition to Gilmore, Michigan State Sens. Ian Conyers, a relative of the former representative, has indicated strong interest in the seat along with State Sen. Coleman Young II, the son of Detroit’s late former mayor. John Conyers son, John Conyers III, hasn’t made a final decision on replacing his father and on Jan. 4, television Judge Greg Mathis said he wanted to run for the seat.
However, the AFRO has learned from a spokesman with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office and a spokeswoman from the Wayne County, Mich., Office of Campaign Finance that no one has filed paperwork for the Conyers seat. However, a spokeswoman for the Federal Election Commission in the District of Columbia said that other than Gilmore, none of the prospective candidates has filed the necessary paperwork for the seat at press time. The deadline to file is TKTK.
When Conyers left, the U.S. House Office of the Clerk took over the administrative operations of the office, the AFRO was told.
“Staff members of Representative Conyers remain on the House payroll under the supervision of the Clerk of the House to receive and undertake constituent casework, to help in handling business with the departments of the executive branch of the government, to provide general status information on pending legislation, and to offer other general constituent services provided by House offices,” the Dec. 6, 2017, news release said.
In these types of situations, constituents are advised to contact their senators on political issues or a nearby congressional office which would be Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.).