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April 2019

The late William Safire – author, journalist, columnist – tells us in his Political Dictionary that the term “progressive” refers to a “movement of social protest and economic reform” but over time it has become a term adopted by those who prefer that label rather than being pigeonholed as a liberal.

The progressive label took on life in the early 19th century and­ in the 20th century was actually applied to a faction within the Republican party. As an interesting side note, the progressive label was adopted by Theodore Roosevelt and others, like former Michigan Governor George Romney, who had been quoted on more than one occasion labeling himself “as progressive as Theordore Roosevelt.”

Today that label has migrated over to the Democrats in the U.S. House, where they are now the majority party. It's also taken on a variety of interpretations in the current Congress, right along with terms like socialism, democratic socialists and radical left.

These terms are now being weaponized by the GOP who sense a possible vulnerability on the part of Democrats thanks to the several far left House members who are capturing most of the headlines. One writer in the last few months labeled the renegade Democrat caucus members Aleandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib (from Detroit) as a “progressive squad,” which only degrades that label even more. In recent weeks, at least one Republican congressman referred to House Democrats as “fellow travelers” – an obvious loaded reference from the McCarthy anti-communist hearings back in the 1950's.

My concern is that two recently elected House members, both Democrats, from Oakland County, will now have to deflect criticism should these weaponized labels gain widespread use, which I assure you they will in the heat of battle in the 2020 elections.

I refer to Democrat Representatives Haley Stevens, whose district includes Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, a small piece of Rochester Hills, the west Oakland lakes area and portions of western Wayne County, and Elissa Slotkin, with a district encompassing Rochester, most of Rochester Hills, Troy, the large swath of the north Oakland area, along with portions of Livingston and Ingham counties (think Lansing and East Lansing).

Both are alumni of the Obama administration – Haley Stevens as part of the Obama Auto Task Force that helped bail out that industry and Slotkin who served in Intelligence as a CIA officer and did three tours of duty in Iraq, while also having served the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. They both bring to Washington D.C. experience and a familiarity with Congress that gives them some added cachet as part of the 62 new members of House elected in 2018.

Although both have only been in Congress for a few months, I – and many others – have been impressed with how quickly the pair have hit the ground running.

In Congress, both have been at the center of legislative action. Back home in the district, both have shown a strong presence at events, both large and small, and have not just focused on working the party power brokers which is often the case when lawmakers return home.

I consider both Stevens and Slotkin more centrist or moderate Democrats, although I have heard the latter describe herself as almost leaning toward the conservative wing of the party. They are both pragmatic in their approach to issues, and have exhibited a level of transparency that we don't often see from elected officials serving far away from their home base.

As just one example of their status among Democrats, both are now part of 8 task forces asked to develop short-term and long-term policy initiatives for the New Democrat Coalition, a centrist ideological group of 101 members of the 240-member Democratic caucus.

The task forces cover the topics of climate change, future of work, health care, housing, infrastructure, trade, national security and technology.

Stevens is on the future of work task force, while Slotkin is on the task force dealing with infrastructure.

I recognize that we are many months off from when Stevens and Slotkin run again for office in 2020, but the national GOP has already announced that both will be targets in an effort to return these House seats to the Republican column. We will certainly continue to monitor their performance, but we will also remain alert, as the re-election campaigns begin later this year, to any attempts to unfairly sully up the reputation of these congresswomen by painting them with a broad brush as radicals.

TRANSITION: Downtown newsmagazine is pleased to announce that Gigi Nichols has officially taken over our coverage of the non-profit social scene effective this past month.

We have refreshed our presentation of fundraising events as we make this transition, including renaming our events coverage as Society Notebook. Nichols column will appear online weekly and in print each month.

Nichols began her career in publishing as a merchandising coordinator for SEVENTEEN Magazine in New York. Later, her career in retail marketing took her to Dallas, San Francisco and Los Angeles. After her husband's company transferred him to Birmingham, she took time off to raise her two daughters, during which time she volunteered for many non-profit organizations. She became Director of Communications and Media Relations for The Community House in Birmingham, a position she held for 14 years.

If you would like your future event considered for coverage, you can email Nichols at or if you need to speak with her, phone 248.515.6105.

Watch for Nichols coverage in Society Notebook in the coming weeks/months, and remember, you can sign up to receive our weekly email newsletter of Society Notebook by visiting our website:

David Hohendorf


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