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Commentary

Democrats choose inexperienced youngsters to replace Rep. Plawecki

Jack Lessenberry

I never met Julie Plawecki, the state representative from Dearborn Heights who died unexpectedly last month while hiking in Oregon. By all accounts, she was a hard-working legislator and someone who virtually everyone liked and respected.

And she had the sort of background I’d like to see more lawmakers have. Too many are lawyers or real estate agents. Plawecki, who was 54, had worked in medical technology, but spent most of her life as an elementary and high school math and science teacher.

When a tragedy like this happens late in an election year, it’s up to district party officials to designate a legislative candidate to replace the one who died. In this case, the precinct delegates selected a panel of three people to do that in secret.

Well, Representative Plawecki’s funeral was scarcely over when her 22-year-old daughter Lauren announced she wanted her mother’s job. I have to admit, I rolled my eyes. Lauren Plawecki seems to be an accomplished young woman. She just graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in art history, and worked at a museum in Florence, Italy.

That’s all wonderful, but doesn’t say a lot about her ability to understand and represent the concerns and needs of about 85,000 people. The legislature isn’t supposed to be like European nobility, where when the duchess dies, her daughter automatically becomes duchess.

But I needn’t have worried. The panel of three didn’t choose Lauren. They chose someone even younger, a young man named Jewell Jones, who is just 21 and still in college at the U of M Dearborn. Matter of fact, he wasn’t even around for the selection – he is off in the army reserves.

He’s clearly ambitious, however; last year, right after he finished being a teenager, he became the youngest member of the Inkster city council in history. Being from Inkster is why, by the way, he was chosen over a group of other candidates.

Inkster is just a tiny part of the district, but for some reason I can’t fathom, almost all the 58 precinct delegates eligible to select a panel to choose  somebody were from … Inkster.

And while there will be a November election, Jewell Jones is all but certain to be win regardless of what happens between now and then. That’s because this has been gerrymandered to be an entirely safe Democratic seat. Thanks to term limits, assuming he serves his allowed three terms, Jones will have maxed out and be forced to retire at age 27.

What a country. But Jones won’t be the next legislator from this district. That will be … Lauren Plawecki. See, they will also have both a primary and a general election to fill the last couple months of her mama’s seat, and they agreed to let Lauren run for that.

Now, the odds are that neither of these young people will make any kind of major contribution, especially if Republicans continue to control the legislature. But they will make $71,685 a year, which ought to help them pay down their student loans.

See, who said the legislature wasn’t good for anything.

On a serious note, this isn’t how things are supposed to work. But we’ve so trivialized and marginalized politics and government I’m not the least bit surprised.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan

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