Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Death Star of the Right

12 years ago, when I went to the Michigan House, the GOP primary game was pretty much a set formula. If you could line up the “True Believers,” you were golden. If they were against you (unless you have boat loads of cash) you might as well throw in the towel.  

A very smart lady once advised me against fighting this tide: “Is that the hill you want to die on?”

Good advice when it come to dealing with the realities of the world. 

Who and what are the “True Believers” you ask?

They are like the Justice League for business associations (or the Legion of Doom, if you hate jobs.)

The Michigan Chamber sits at the head of the table, like Superman. Around the table you have your other heroic job creator folk in insurance, realty, banking, home building and more.

Vintage photo of True Believers cir. '02
Their superpower? They detect any sign of weakness in a potential legislator and unite with great resources behind the elite selected.

Their kryptonite? When they squabble among themselves and fail to unite, thus allowing a job hater to sneak through.

Get them, and throw in Right to Life, and go ahead and take that summer vacation. No need to wear out any shoes: It is over.

It was back then, anyway.

While this sounds like a closed game, it was fairly accountable. Generally, if all candidates passed the litmus test, the Justice League let voters sort it out. They also understood candidates would not to be with them 100% of the time. They were accountable to their Boards and membership. They vetted candidates and didn't back people who would be obvious disasters in general elections.

After the election, they were part of an ongoing dialogue that many times ended in a reasoned compromise. It worked.

There is a new player in town, and it is no Justice League. It’s the Death Star of the Right-amazing fire power under singular control and nearly impossible to fight. Come up against them and you burn up like a little insignificant speck on their radar.

Targeted Mailing
It is Americans for Prosperity: A non-profit organization that sends me educational mailings that happen to time well with a certain GOP primary for an open seat in the Michigan Legislature. How charitable. Glad to see that ½ price non-profit postage rate being used for such humanitarian purposes....

AFP does things a little different. They don't leave things to chance. It seems they pick a candidate in every seat, even when everyone pretty much agrees. They don't seem to have much of a vetting process based upon some of the candidates they fund, either. 

There have been some real interesting choices this cycle. As near as I can tell, if you agree with AFP 100% and make the ballot you need just one thing: A torso. You need the torso because the mailings feature the upper half of the candidate body. That's about it. Allow a picture of torso up to be found (no coordinating now...that is illegal) and they will do the rest. 

AFP wants me to thank my friend Jim Tedder for a lot of things - fighting road taxes, common core, bailouts, scary clowns, big government and all sorts of other things I have forgotten.

Thanks Jim! Good work. I called that number and you didn’t call back…super rude.

Good luck with this.
This non-profit also has pops up with messages about Jim Tedder on my computer. One person I know bought a ticket to Vegas and out shot a message about Jim.  

All of this is icing on the cake for Jim T. He had tons of name ID and conservative cred before he spent a dime. On top of the 8 mailers from our charitable friends at AFP about Jim Tedder on my stove, I have two from him. Eight mailers from a House candidate in an open seat is impressive.  Two more came today....make it 12 total JT mail pieces. 

There are lots of good people running in this House seat. Any one of them can win, and I have several friends in the race. I do like Jim Tedder personally.

As a former member, I fear that if he wins, he and the others AFP are backing will be awfully tied down by this great debt they will owe. That isn't a criticism. It is a genuine concern.

The True Believers aren’t really playing hard here, so it is not the best test case. Next door in Rochester Hills is a good one.

In one corner we have Mike Webber, a former GOP staffer and Rochester Hills city councilman. He is universally loved by any and all elected officials and association heads who could bequeath an endorsement on least as far as I can tell. I can't resist the guy..he is darn lovable. He wears the colors of the True Believers.

In the other corner you have Mark Avery, never elected but known for his involvement in the Rochester Hills baseball scene. Word is he is a door to door fiend. He wears the AFP jersey.

In old politics the race would be overwhelming in favor of Webber. Now, Mark Avery has Americans for Prosperity putting their sizable thumb on the scale.

Lana Mangiapani is also running, and she has a sizable base of support in the GOP and tea party. No offense meant to Lana, who is a gem. She may be cleaning up for all I know.

I don’t know how this is going to shake out.  Anecdotal evidence of 10 mailers for Avery from GOP primary voters I've talked to sure has me impressed. I asked these folks if anything came yet from the Chamber or the other groups for Mike Webber and they didn't think so. They said they thought they have only gotten things directly from the Webber campaign.  One thing is solid: A practically unknown guy a few months ago is well known now, and the race is definitely competitive.

Is this a grudge commentary on AFP's choices this year?

Not really. There are a few races that I am awfully glad for their spending. I don't even disagree with much of their agenda. Anybody who paid any attention to my ranting also knows I was quite angry about the bailout (protection of regional toilet taxes absent), against the road tax increase, and you can count me a skeptic on Common Core too (come on GOP can't we get back to local control?). I don't think Medicaid expansion had anything to do with Obamacare, but that is an argument for another day.

Frankly it wouldn't hurt for this GOP Legislature to say "no" a little bit more to the Governor. This is no moderate diatribe on my part.

I could be wrong, but I predict Tuesday will be a remarkably good day for AFP, and a sobering day for Lansing. The fallout from that is going to be serious. The governing process will certainly feel it. 

That Citizens United ruling was a lot of fun when it was about taking it to the Democrats wasn't it?

Here is the rub.. it also allows someone to come in and take it to you within your party. If you don't have your own billionaire, you're screwed. 

It is a little hard this primary eve not to feel a little bit like part ownership of the Michigan GOP is slipping out of the hands of an albeit imperfect, but accountable system, into the hands of  a singular organization.

How does a candidate go up against a machine that can just keep pumping in these resources? 

I'm watching some try admirably. Maybe sweat equity and local ties will win the day. We shall soon find out.

In the future, will you have to find your own billionaire?

Should we have our candidates wear their logos like NASCAR drivers just to make it simpler? (Yeah, I stole the joke, so what?)

It works great when the billionaires are on your side.  What happens when you don’t agree?

Probably not the hill you want to die on. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Yes Wes! You Could Cost Snyder The Election!

If only there was an example of a Governor's race in Michigan where the incumbent was ahead but below 50% and  had a high profile squabble over the Lt. Governor choice in his own party.....

Wait a minute! Let us turn back the wheels of time to 1990.  

Jim Blanchard was sitting behind the Governor's desk at this point in 1990 with a seemingly insurmountable lead over Sen. Majority Leader John Engler. It was at this point he decided to force out his Lt. Governor, Martha Griffiths. Martha Griffiths was a heroine to the women's movement, a civil rights pioneer, seniors and a friend to many Wayne County Democrats. Let us just say that she did not go quietly into her goodnight. It was public, divisive and ugly. No doubt, John Engler definitely savored every moment of it. 

Before Jim Threw Martha From The Train

Democrats headed into their convention bitter and angry. Governor Blanchard's replacement of Griffiths with Libby Maynard didn't settle matters. With Blanchard sitting on a 20 point lead, there was no rush to sing kumbayah.

A little snippet from TIME magazine that fall:

 "Is he an ingrate who exploited a woman's wide popularity to get himself elected Governor and then dumped her when she was no longer useful to him? Or is he a courageous leader who faced up to the difficult task of telling an aging colleague that she was no longer capable of handling a high state office? Those clashing views of Democratic Governor James Blanchard have bedeviled Michigan voters ever since he dropped Lieutenant Governor Martha Griffiths, 78, as his re-election running mate.Michigan voters ever since he dropped Lieutenant Governor Martha Griffiths, 78, as his re-election running mate."

It cannot be said that Blanchard dropping Griffiths caused his defeat. His anemic, apathetic campaign coupled with an uninspired Coleman Young didn't help. John Engler's campaign was creative, scrappy and exhausting. He won that election in his own right. Jim Blanchard just created an opportunity where won might not have existed before. 

When an incumbent looses a shocker by 17,500 votes everything matters. The Martha Griffiths issue was a distraction, divided his party and angered the constituency groups that Democrats rely upon to turnout the vote. 

The issue with Wes Nakagiri has the potential to be ten times worse. The polls are much closer. The state is also dramatically more Democratic leaning than it used to be. 

No matter what poll you use, Governor Snyder has rarely come close to that magic 50% mark that is so necessary for an incumbent. Most voters know him. Changing an undecided voter to vote for him is much harder than it is for a relative unknown like Mark Schauer to win them. That is why undecideds break so heavily for challengers. This is a closer race than people want to acknowledge.

These Aren't Polls To Be Overconfident About

In 2010, Governor Snyder won with a lot of independents and cross overs from Democrats. He also won big because the turnout from Democrats was record low. That combination...not to mention Virg's campaign...gave him a massive landslide. 

Governor Snyder has signed some legislation and made decisions that have hardened the Democrats opposition to his re-election. You don't come back to a Bill Milliken image from Right to Work. Conservatives have short memories for some of the choices he made. Liberals don't. Tough decisions on taxes and budgets have taken their toll. He will not be able to build the numbers of Democrats he did in 2010 for 2014. He will need all the Republicans and independents he can get. 

Obama's dismal performance, approval ratings and history's precedent of the second midterm should make this a GOP sweep. There are, however, some counterbalances in Michigan. 

First of all, the overriding reality of a shrinking voter pool continues to weigh down upon Republicans like a thousand pound weight while we tread water. No real lessons or ground was gained from 2012. A lot of talk and no action. Just two more years of the march of demographic death. Democrats have an enormous built-in advantage because huge numbers of voters just would never consider voting Republican.

Every indication is that the voters are getting more Democratic every election. Not coincidentally, Michigan is getting much more diverse every year. The exceptions (you will no doubt point to 2010) are when turnout dips dramatically. In 2010 it was not only low, it was particularly one sided. 

What Republican activists need to get their minds around is, that in order to win, Rick Snyder and Terri Lynn Land need people that outside of our base to vote for them to win. There are not enough Republicans in Michigan to elect them. There are not enough conservatives in Michigan to elect them. They will need some moderate and independent minded voters to vote for them to win. It is simple math. What's your plan there Wes? 

Second, I sense the Democrats are more motivated than normal for an off year to turnout in Michigan. They have been out of power and are hungry to get back in. They have survival level issues for their base constituencies like Right to Work and various other buttons to push on abortion or the environment. The bankruptcy situation has made Detroit an exploitable vote machine ready to be kicked into gear. The Governor has been handed a mess and the people of Detroit deeply resent outsiders telling them what to do. For Democrats, it is a matter of firing up the right people and getting out the vote. If they can motivate decent turnout in some areas we are going to have some serious challenges. 

Mark Schauer and Lisa Brown are sitting back and enjoying Wes Nakagiri. They have a unified party, Rick Snyder does not. They know they can count on the structure of their party and delegates to deliver the help they need. Team Snyder does not. Right now the Snyder campaign is eating up tremendous resources on something that has always been just a formality. 

Imagine how much fun Mark Schauer will have if Wes wins? I imagine the first thing team Schauer will do is use every statement Wes has used against Snyder policies and publicize the hell out of them. You can go on Wes' website and screenshot some gems right now. 

I imagine there will be a constant attempt on Lisa Brown's part to engage Wes Nakagiri in a public debate or dialogue. He will not be part of the "team" nor will he want to be managed. I am guessing he will dive right in and accept and enter unprepared. (Hey he's been on Off the Record) She is a master at getting men to say things that come off poorly and get massive media attention. 

Regardless of whether my guesses coming true, we can count on the news story of this fall:

 a) the rejection of Rick Snyder by his party and
 b) the animosity between Snyder and Nakagiri. 

I don't see how that is avoided.  

It doesn't take a genius to see this ad coming:

Rick Snyder's Pension Tax Hurts Michigan Seniors-Just Listen to His Own Running Mate..(cut to any number of quotes and clips of Wes criticizing the Gov. on the issue.) 

If not the pension tax, take your pick. The name of the game is divide and conquer. Wes Nakagiri has left a paper trail a mile long for Democrats to exploit of disagreement between him and the Governor. 

A Governor who is a strong executive running on his accomplishments starts to look hapless and in a mess. 

Yes, Wes Nakagiri could very easily cost Rick Snyder the election. Oh and in the process his own as well. 

I suppose it is not the Snyder campaign's job to point out their own vulnerability. Frankly someone needs to remind folks of this insanity. A vote for Wes might well be a vote for Mark Schauer.   

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hey Wes - Romney's LG Selection Was Not Rejected

I received a pretty impressive piece of direct mail the other day. "Please R.S.V.P." on the envelope was a clever touch and worked well. I opened it right up hoping I finally was invited to a fancy party. Alas there was no event at all. It was clever but a little tricky. My clip on bow tie went back in storage.
Might be a little uncomfortable on the dias together.

Altogether this literature was extremely well done. If team Calley isn't concerned, they should be. The letter was a tribute to Richard Vigurie, the direct mail godfather of conservatism. This multiple page story telling and mix of fire-em-up issues has been a winner for folks like Reagan, Jesse Helms and so many others. This one was no exception. Seriously kudos. I was having doubts after reading it. 

It was the first time I was exposed to the claim of Mr. Nakagiri that there was a precedent for what he was doing. As a history nut, I was hooked. I did read a book on Bill Milliken eons ago but nothing struck a bell to what Wes is trying to do. 

Really if you can show me where this has worked well I might actually be more open minded to it. I just can't get passed how someone is supposed to campaign as a ticket when they have different agendas and for the most part don't support each other. Call me crazy. There was a Ford-Reagan dance in '76 and then a Reagan-Ford dance in '80. Both discussions ended in hours. 

Like all lazy people, I went to the internet first. There it was-a source for Mr. Nakagiri, an article by George Weeks, the keeper of political historical knowledge:

"Gov. Romney, as he prepared to shape a tandem ticket for his 1964 reelection, made it clear — although not as a hard-line issue — that he favored as his running mate State Treasurer Allison Green, a former state House speaker. They had good personal relations and the moderate Romney was said to like the idea of having a more conservative Republican on the ticket for balance, especially since they had a good working relationship.

But moderate Senate Majority Leader William G. Milliken, R-Traverse City, (later 1969-82 governor) won the nomination by an 834-636 Republican State Convention vote. That was thanks in large part to Milliken’s team of seasoned political operatives, including Republican State Chairwoman Elly Peterson, state Sen. John Stahlin, R-Belding, a key fund-raiser who later operated out of Leelanau County, and state Rep. Don Gordon, R-Leland, who later became Milliken’s top aide."

I have always enjoyed George Weeks. I think he probably wrote this from memory, on facts that are now 50 years old. 

Here is some reason to doubt things off the bat-Elly Peterson was not the Republican State Chairwoman. She was, in fact, the nominee for U.S. Senate that year and from what I can tell stayed clear of the race. From everything I have read she was about as close to a Romney loyalist as you could be. If she supported Milliken, I have a hard time believing George Romney wasn't ok with it.  According to her biography, Romney himself recruited her to run for the Senate to boost his chances at re-election. 

Again, love George Weeks. Allison Green was still the Speaker of the House. He (yes it was a he) was indeed more conservative than the Governor. The Governor had suffered a miserable session of defeats of his legislative program. Allison Green was appointed State Treasurer after the election and ironically served Governor Bill Milliken until 1978.  

There was a third candidate that wasn't even mentioned. Former Lt. Governor Clarence Reid. This one George Romney didn't like. He was his running 2 years prior and they didn't campaign well together. 

Here is the Associated Press:

By AL SANDNER Associated Press Writer DETROIT (AP) - The race for the lieutenant governor nomination at the GOP State Convention ran down to the wire today with the two top candidates claiming the lead. Sen. William Milliken of Traverse City and Rep. Allison Green of Kingston were battling to run as companions to Gov. George Romney in the Nov. 3 general election. Romney has said often that he likes both men and would like to have both on the ticket. He has pledged to let the matter go to a floor vote-unless party leaders and delegates want it settled beforehand. Romney has heatedly denied a published report that he has settled on Milliken as a running mate. "I have made it completely clear that I will not take any personal step to influence delegates in their responsibility of choosing between Sen. Milliken and Speaker Green," he said. "This contest will be settled by the delegates and the convention."


"Both Milliken and Green are personable, well-liked and respected in their respective chambers. Both reportedly have broad support across the state. And both have tried to identify themselves with Romney’s program in the legislature. Romney has praised both as “good men,” but says he has no preference. He has said several times that he is willing to let the matter go to a floor vote...."

Hillsdale Daily News September 18, 1964

Whether you base your assumptions on 50 year old memories or rumors leaked to the Associated Press doesn't matter much. 

Time changes perspectives. One thing we do know is that when Milliken took office, he and George Romney did not have a good relationship. George Weeks was Milliken's press secretary and loyal staffer during this period. This may have influenced some of the memories of this convention fight. I have also read where Romney may have privately told his lieutenants he wanted Green. That is a world of difference from what we are talking about now and frankly seems like it would be covered in the above article. 

If you put your stock in the AP, Governor Romney's leaked pick of Bill Milliken was affirmed by convention. 

The truth is he didn't make a choice. This was the first time a Lt. Governor was elected with a Governor by party and Romney must have felt it best to stay above the fray. He may not want to risk losing. He was also pretty famous for not risking his neck for anyone else. However, many of the articles state, had Romney chosen, the convention traditionally would have backed him. 

If you hold these facts against what Mr. Nakagiri claims on his website:

In 1964 Convention Delegates rejected Governor George Romney’s suggested nominee and voted in their preferred choice for Lt. Governor.  It is time for Republican delegates to once again assert their voting rights.

It is clear that the facts don't measure up. That statement is misleading and I am going to give his campaign the benefit of the doubt they were relying on George Weeks or other secondary information. It would be best to correct them.

What is clear is that George Romney did not in fact submit a candidate as Mr. Nakagiri outlines a Governor does on this very same web page. He chose to leave it to the delegates. Rick Snyder most definitely is submitting Brian Calley. Both Allison Green and Bill Milliken publicly were strong supporters of George Romney's agenda. Wes Nakagiri is not a strong supporter of Rick Snyder's agenda. 

Ironically enough, this precedent, if Wes Nakagiri persists in making it...would make him Michigan's next William G. Milliken. No need to thank me for shedding him of that title. 

There are some excellent alternative arguments for Wes Nakagiri. Breaking tie votes in the Senate is a legitimate issue. Policy arguments are fair game. I suppose party leadership and the future could be. 

Really I am most interested in how the campaign could be conducted in the fall if Mr. Nakagiri is successful. How does he plan to explain a quick change from asking for opposition to Snyder policies to asking voters to vote for Snyder? (he does know people have to vote for Rick Snyder for him to win, right?) If there are good answers, let's have a good race. Like a lot Republicans right now I am not exactly fired up with the policy agenda in Lansing at the moment and wouldn't mind a slight correction to the right. 

I won't lie. I think the world of Brian Calley so he would have to murder multiple people for me not to vote for him. I'm a little biased that way. He is just a decent human being to his core and about as loyal a soldier as their is. For that, he gets this treatment. I seriously wonder if this job is worth it.

Up until 1964, Michigan did elect Lt. Governors separately. Milliken was preceded by a Democrat. Perhaps this is actually the precedent Wes Nakagiri is looking for. Governor George Romney (R) did have a different program from Lt. Governor John Lesinski (D). Voters didn't like that system and tossed it when they adopted a new constitution. 

History lesson over. Class dismissed. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

We Must Flush The Detroit Bailout Toilet Tax

It’s going to get awfully expensive to “use your plumbing” pretty soon if your other plumbing is connected to the Detroit Water and Sewer System.

The newspapers haven’t explained this issue well at all. When the judge or EM is pushing a “lease” the money generated is for creditors. Simple enough. The lease holder, whether they end up being a government or a private entity, will not be paying for that lease out of the goodness of their heart. They will need that money back. In the case of a private entity, they will want some profit. It’s a great deal – they are guaranteed customers everyday.

As it stands right now-not in theory but in writing-the cost of DWSD pensions are planned to be shifted off the City of Detroit’s books and onto only the ratepayers in communities outside the City. In Oakland County alone this will cost $40-$50 million a year, not to the county government, but in water and sewer rates. Those rates will be going up as soon as next year. This is the plan of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. A man who has tremendous power to reform and reduce the cost of those pensions.

We have moved Michigan to the front of the pack in business competitiveness. What a waste to be adding the cost back on for the 42%+ of the job providers of the state who are connected to this system. Cut personal property taxes…jam up the water bills.

In the midst of the “grand bargain” debate for state money to Detroit the only thing that seems left to do is ask our legislators to amend the bills to ensure the debts aren’t transferred onto the ratepayers. I was told by a legislator that the Judge won’t accept this. That is the point-no state money if you sell or lease the DWSD. It’s an incentive.

I’d like to pause for a moment and express a little outrage as a former legislator. A judge contacting a lawmaker to tell them what laws they can and can’t pass is an outrageous problem with separation of powers. We elected you folks in Lansing to legislate and appropriate. Let the Attorney General worry about the judges.

Hey State Reps-call a judge and tell them how to rule…let me know how that goes.

I am a big fan of Governor Rick Snyder and what his team has accomplished. I want him re-elected with a GOP legislature. I think the Governor wants this nightmare he didn’t ask for over as fast as possible and knows Detroit’s economic woes are a huge drag on the rebound he has kick started in the state. I am guessing we all sound like angry suburban Detroit haters who want to roll up the freeways behind us and gate ourselves off.

In fairness, a lot of us have been big on complaints and short on solutions. I don’t know a lot about the whole situation. It is pretty basic. But this is my take:

What’s needed now is a “grand-grand” bargain. This problem has been around longer than a lot of people have been alive.  The great thing is this Governor doesn’t seem to blink with these types of issues.  Business taxes, budget deficits, right to work, etc…  He has more than enough talent, there is no doubt about the courage, so all we need is the commitment.

What would a “grand-grand” bargain need for a DWSD solution?

Here’s a secret…the Detroit Water and Sewer System isn’t an asset. It has huge problems. Outdated infrastructure, uncollected bills and untold costs that still haven’t been given a real estimate. These are real worries that come with title for the new owners of DWSD. If everyone sang kumbayah right now in the region and the keys were turned over, the system could well be insolvent and unable to get credit.

Issue #1 is the financial assistance and backing of the State of Michigan to bridge that gap.  

The DWSD, according to its own study in 2012, was overstaffed and needed cut 81% of their employees. Their website says they went from the 1988 in 2012 to 1700 today. Their 2012 plan called for 374 employees and 361 outsourced (non-union) employees. The 2012 plan from DWSD Board had a projected savings over 10 years of $900 million dollars. The Emergency Manager did let 600 employees go by paying them to retire early in January. The outdated pension, legacy costs, union rules and management problems remain. Balances books and audits are elusive. The power is granted to Emergency Manager and the EM alone to quickly set things into an efficient manner. This is a huge legacy of Rick Snyder – the Emergency Manager law that actually fixes things.  Turning the DWSD over in good shape so a new Board can start fixing the massive infrastructure problems would be a truly wonderful service.

Issue #2 is a clean bill of a health and reforms under the powers of the Emergency Manager

Finally, every reasonable person wants a regional authority. A calm disinterested arbiter from Lansing could go a long way in closing the structural arrangements of such a deal. The issue is simple. For their money, the representatives of the ratepayers want a Board that is truly managing the system. A say in managing the system sounds like what we have now. We can’t backslide back to the state of affairs that we are now. Accountability with create checks and balances.

Issue #3 is a hand in settling the structure of a regional authority board.

So the Detroit “band-aid” is fully pulled off in Lansing right now. Why not fix it all? Why not at least try?

If I represented those 40% of the people who will end up with those bills next year, I’d say it is time well spent.

When the bills hit for those DWSD pensions next year, my recommendation for the folks in the county offices is to put the calls on auto-forward to Lansing.

No sane person wants to stick their head in sand and pretend Detroit’s problems are their own. It will take a regional solution for this and a lot of other problems to get solved. Sneaking in a backdoor tax is a recipe for the worst feelings and resentment possible.  If we truly want to heal this region and move forward this exactly the wrong way to do it. 

After all that, the leaders of the governments in southeast Michigan are going to have to sell "buying" into a regional authority to their citizens. Tough votes will be taken. It isn't going to be free. Fixing the broken, outdated DWSD isn't going to be free. Pain will be felt on all sides. 

Hey, just in time for that Regional Transit Authority discussion. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Losing Mike Rogers

A friend has reminded me, now that the state of shock has worn off, about what really matters in the 8th Congressional District right now.

I've certainly gotten carried away with the race to replace. There is plenty of time for that however, even with the crunch time closing in on filing.  

We've suffered a loss.The loss to the district and especially to the "bench" of the Republican Party is real. In terms of raw ability and knowledge as well as work ethic and a knack for articulating a message to average people, Mike Rogers is just a step above your every day candidate/elected official. Sorry reindeer farmers.

Everyone has issued the obligatory comments about Congressman Mike Rogers. Because it is common to do this every time a politician retires, no one believes the words in these statements anymore. It cheapens their meaning and robs the real individual of some much deserved genuine feeling and sentiment from people who really do care about his service. Because Mike caught everyone so much by surprise it made these comments seem even less meaningful than they should have. 

Of course we all wish him well. He has earned whatever rest and reward ahead. The life he has lived has been one of sacrifice after another, day in and day out. I had the unique honor of watching the beginnings of his political career up through that nail biter race win in 2000 and beyond, pretty darn close up. None of it was handed to him. He worked hard in every race. It is amazing that the race in 2000 did not kill him and everyone close to him due to exhaustion.(there is a news story somewhere about a female staffer getting a bald spot from pulling her hair out one strand at a time) Then there is being in Congress. Frankly, that must just be a horrible existence. Shuttled back in forth on planes. Raising money day in and day out. A thousand issues. No one ever satisfied. Not a moment's rest. No doubt a change must be inviting. 

If it is because the House leadership was not cooperative however, may that person die a thousand deaths under the hottest suns....

I have served as Chair of the Livingston County GOP and in the State House from Mike's area. People would say things all the time and they meant it-you could see it in there eyes-Mike Rogers was going to President of the United States some day. Not a wish. A bold statement of fact. They knew he would be Governor or Senator, that was just going to happen. Not worth much thought. The Presidency was going to be the end of it all. 

Now if you consider that for moment there is something rather remarkable about it. You see, people were seeing Mike up close. It is all well and good to have an image and idea of a hero far off. But here was Mike Rogers, in the flesh, an average guy from Brighton, not born into wealth, but smart, articulate and talented at your local Dunkin Donuts. Mike exudes patriotism, civic duty and honor. To top it off, he can tell a good joke or a tear inducing anecdote. 

Beside having my own children, the best thing I have ever had happen in my life was being taken under the wing of Mike's father, John. An extra bonus was watching his mother "the Queen of Brighton" Joyce in action. I know the secret formula to the Mike Rogers magic. He was raised by amazing people. That civic-mindedness, patriotism, honor, the jokes, the toughness, that incredible work ethic, the brains, the talent and so much more....Equal parts John and Joyce Rogers. Their gift to Mike and therefore to us. 

When I was leaving my seat, I went to see Mike's brother Bill and basically pleaded with him to run. Bill Rogers is just like all the Rogers...would do anything for anyone, anytime. Always it is about their duty to the community, the oath they take and to do the right thing. He has been a great State Representative and although I know he has been frustrated with term limits, he always stepped up to the plate on every tough issue that came his way. 

When I was first elected a Twp. Trustee at the ripe (and generally stupid) age of 18, I had pretty bad habit of voting with the crowd, no matter how short-sighted and wrong those choices were. Midway through my Board service, I had some sense knocked into me by a fellow Trustee, John C. Rogers. A former high school coach, principal and administrator, John Rogers does not go with the flow. He is one tough guy and he does what he thinks is right. He stands his ground-no matter how mad that crowd gets. It cost him an election once, but that is the price of duty in the world of John C. Rogers. For whatever reason he saw potential in me and began the mentoring. He has taught me more about life, leadership, people and tough decisions than any school ever could. When I came to the Michigan House in 2003, I was rated most effective legislator in the House in a MIRS poll as a freshman (not most effective freshmen-most effective House member..not bragging...making a point here)...about 99% of that is stuff I absorbed from John Rogers. But there is also that stubborn tenacity to do the right thing and to take the lumps. It is part of the Rogers creed and you can see it now with our Congressman on national security issues.  So it would come to pass that even they would all disagree so much with a decision I would make when I saw it as my duty and the right thing to about irony....

But I digress. 

General Douglas MacArthur addressed the cadets at West Point with these words:

"Duty, Honor, Country" — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

Congressman Mike Rogers has lived that creed. He has shown a strength of character and determination, especially in these recent years, on issues of national defense and intelligence to provide an independent clear headed path. He found bi-partisanship were it was lacking and principle before expediency. 

But before I get down in the dumps about the end of the Mike Rogers political story I was just remembering something from my foggy memory banks....

I know! 

There was this show called the GE Radio Hour that became the GE Television Hour...guess who hosted it ?



Sign me up! Brighton-break out the banners...this thing ain't over.....

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Price of Making or Not Making Tough Choices

There is something I never really got around to explaining in full. At first because of the whole 11th Commandment thing as well as just being dead tired. But mostly because I just wanted to put the whole thing behind me. This really has been a disservice, sorry for that. 

You may or may not know this but i am guilty as charged for voting for a income tax increase, in collusion with one Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm in the midst of a government shutdown one October night in 2007. After this vote, I stepped down from my leadership post as Republican Floor Leader. On it's surface, an open and shut case of chronic, incurable RINO. May God have mercy on my soul.

Cell Block D

Well, if you are interested, the truth is I did it for one very conservative reason. I am at heart an extremely stubborn person. It is something I have inherited from my mother. This stubborness was directed at a single minded goal: get out of the budget debacle without a business tax increase in a economically ravaged Michigan. 

Michigan Chamber guru Rich Studley, Detroit Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Sarah Hubbard and others had worked closely with me all through this process and can attest to this single minded pursuit. Of course we wanted reforms to state government, teacher pension and much more. 

Throughout the lead up to the 2007 budget vote everyone knew two things: it was going to be hard and it was going to get solved one way or another. These crisis inevitably do. It's just that most people don't want to be the ones in the room doing it and putting up the nasty votes making it happen. That's why some people get the big offices and committee chairs, because they have to be the adults. This has been this way since legislative bodies have been in existence.

In 2007, my GOP House colleagues were in the minority. Let the people with the committee chairs and the nice offices solve this. Trust me, I was in no rush to get in the crossfire.

As spring turned to summer and summer towards fall the problem was increasingly clear, the House Democratic majority either wouldn't or couldn't get anything done on their own. The fiscal year was running out.

Here is the hitch-Republicans were in the Senate majority and Mike Bishop was the Senate Majority Leader. Everyone was looking to him and to that office for some sort of indication of what the Republican approach to this crisis was going to be. You see, implicit in that job is taking the arrows for your colleagues and being part of the solutions to the crisis any that comes along. It has always been that way. If you don't like that kind of responsibility, you aren't supposed to take that job.

Now you may also say, here I was just another Republican just ready to sell you out and roll over to raise taxes. Let me tell me you, if memory serves i voted for every budget cut that was put in front of me. I was just as anti-tax as every other Republican, in some ways more. You see, we all knew taxes were going to be raised. I was trying to be responsible and make sure they were the smallest with the least impact. To me that's better than blogging and sitting on your hands. 

As a history junkie, it is hard to ignore the basic facts of what has happened in the past-how we imagine our heroes acting and what actually happened. After all What Would Ronald Reagan Do? Again, there is a rather simple answer: What Did Ronald Reagan Do? Faced with a spiraling out of control deficit and massive entitlement outlays into the future with a Democratic House and Republican Senate: He signed entitlement reforms, deficit reduction caps and the largest tax increase in the country's history up until that point. Ronald Reagan was no RINO. Look back further in his career, he did the same as Governor of California. Ronald Reagan was a true conservative in every sense and he certainly winced doing it. Above all Reagan was a patriot and being a patriot means not letting your country or state come off the rails on your watch. The World War II generation of elected officials of all stripes seemed to have that at their core.

So back to that night.

In the negotiations I had with the Governor and her staff I made it clear that I saw a business tax as a job killer and deal breaker. I was completely clear that I meant this in the sense of a comprehensive agreement. When a service tax was thrown in at the 11th hour I voted no in the conference committee and was voting no on the House floor. 

Governor Granholm can running up and got in my face. Now-Senator Shuitmaker can attest that I handled that just fine. The service tax violated our agreement.

With 56 votes up, the income tax had passed and was locked in. It is worth making a special of this very critical fact...the tax increase HAD ALREADY PASSED. Everything was done and the one thing I hated was going to happen....a tax on services....a job killing mess of a tax right in the middle of a long recession....terrible policy. That is when I motioned to Speaker Dillon and asked:

"If I can get the Senate to send back the service tax in exchange for a slightly higher income tax in exchange for my vote will you do it?"

He said yes. I voted yes.

I went over to the Senate. I literally begged Mike Bishop to do it. 

I was told that politically it was better to have a couple Republican Senators vote for a smaller income tax and a couple of other Republicans vote for the service tax. 

First of all, that is crazy. Whether someone votes for a 4.1 or 4.3 income tax, it really does not mean a hill of beans. Second, the service tax was a poorly thought out mess that was a betrayal to the business community and slap in the face to the economy. 

Let us take pause here for angry conservatives...

You say SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT. Fine if you are of that mindset, guess who could have done that?

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop

No, Mike chose a unique path. To keep the job but not to do it. To passively let things happen.

He could have let the people who were going to vote for the solution meet and come to a common negotiation ground for a stronger bargain with the Governor. Nope. He blocked those attempts. 

Outside the Chamber were Mr. Studley and Ms. Hubbard who, if asked, would remember these events.I am sure Andy Dillon would as well.

About a month and half later, the disaster that was the service tax was replaced with the Michigan Business Tax surcharge. (Oh I love thee...guess who voted for this very tax? not Bishop himself)

The surcharge gave birth to the pension tax. Those are all taxes with Republican fingerprints all over them.

Oh that income tax THAT HAD ALREADY PASSED I voted was supposed to be rolled back a long time ago, later on Republicans in Lansing took that out provision out and the rate remains the same.

A couple of GOP Senators could have voted for a few more tenths of an income tax increase that would have been rolled back by now. Alternatively, we could have engaged in a serious budget negotiation sometime before the fiscal year had actually ended that included the tough choices. including the taxes we ended up with. That would have necessitated our Senate Leader, like his predecessor Ken Sikkema and others before, having to suck it up and take those tough positions. 

That's my story. Letters to my parole board would appreciated. 

As it turns out, I did not wake up one morning loving taxes and government. I took a calculated risk for something I care a lot about and have never regretted it. That's why I went to Lansing. My last minute attempt to kill that service tax might have failed but it was worthy of a serious attempt. The consequences speak for themselves. 

There are still dreams of being de-horned and having my trunk returned...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Being on the Wrong Side of History

Fellow Republicans, it is time to say congratulations to the many, many same sex couples all over Michigan who have won at least a short moment of equal access to the liberties and justice afforded to all the other adults citizens of our state.

Let us be gracious now, at least in this late stage in the game, drop the pretense and stop delaying the inevitable. There is no doubt we have written off an entire block of people from voting GOP for the foreseeable future. We deserve that. The world has changed, everyone knows it. Making people wait for their fundamental rights to live a life as they choose is just mean spirited. 

Ironically enough, it is just about the ten year anniversary of the one vote I took in the Michigan legislature that haunts me the most. The one I cannot come to terms with. Every excuse I make in my head is washed away by my conscience. Others took a principled stand and I thought they were nuts. I took the easy road. They went the other way and paid dearly.  

It was just about this time ten years ago we voted in the Michigan House on the question of whether to put the question of whether marriage should be between one man and one woman in Michigan's Constitution.

Let's take a moment to pause for some context. If you were to do a thorough research job of this issue you would find at this time in 2004- ONE jurisdiction (a county in New Mexico) in the entire country had issued a same-sex marriage license. This issue was barely a blip on the radar screen on the overall political debate. It was not an imminent threat to the economically savaged people of Michigan.  Try to remember the 1990' you remember even talking about this issue? But....

There was a big problem for Republicans-what people DID want to talk about was not good..Iraq and a stalled economy. 

George W. Bush had to be re-elected, Republicans had to win. We needed an issue. This apparently was the issue. 2004 may turn out to be the most expensive election for Republicans over the long haul we have ever had. It sure did not pay out dividends. It feels like we bought a mobile home on a 30 year payment plan with 50% interest. 

Campaign strategists loved the demographics of the issue. Working class Catholics would turn out and they will vote for Bush....religious fundamentalist would be fired up...and on and on...

At the House of Representatives, some people thought this was THE issue to take out some vulnerable Democrats. A Constitutional Amendment would require a 2/3 vote, the pressure would be strong on members of the Democratic minority to not give those those precious decisive votes. 

Looking back now, one of the things that bothers me the most about the whole episode was how dehumanizing it was. It was just politics. But it wasn't politics..these were people. 

We singled out a whole group of people, most of whom just wanted to be left alone, to forcefully discriminate against them for short term political benefit. 

All around us were our friends, COLLEAGUES, family members, highly valued staff members and people we care about who this clearly was going to hurt. Nobody seemed to think a thing of it. Like most people, including my constituents, I wasn't comfortable with same-sex marriage at that point but I didn't even bother to throw out a "hey we shouldn't be doing this" or "look what we are doing to the people we care about". 

The vote failed. The supporters had to go spend some money to gather the signatures. Of course, those signatures were used as a database for later campaigns. A few of my Republican colleagues, Lorence Wenke and Leon Drolet paid enormously for their courage in voting no. While they finished their 6 year runs, it was with much more effort than the rest of us. One Democrat, Jennifer Elkins, lost and theoretically this may have been the deciding factor...but there were also a lot of other factors.

Oh....and the exit polls in Michigan showed those Catholics showed up and voted against Gay Marriage and then they voted.....for John Kerry. 

My own particular purgatory is to be forever doomed to be on the wrong side of history. Ever since I can remember I have voraciously read history. Churchill in the wilderness years with his scrappy friends trying to rouse support to fight Hitler before the war. Lincoln, Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, Charles Sumner and so many more who fought slavery, even before it was popular. The founders meeting in secret and drawing up the plans for our country, while facing seemingly insurmountable odds. Reagan and Barry Goldwater always looking for the principled stand for the long term over the expedient. 

You always picture yourself cast in a role with them. Not on the other side. In my small window of making an impact, I failed to put the things I learned from reading those books to use on an important issue.  

There are a lot of us in the GOP who think we get a free pass because we aren't one of THOSE people... you know.....the kind that mouthed off about it like Rick Santorum.... I just voted to put it on the ballot. This is common discussion when you get Republicans in private. It takes two seconds to realize the error in this logic, however much comfort it gives.

When we are quiet, everyone assumes that we are in 100% agreement. That creates the juggernaut that gives the "mouthy" ones the power to do the harm. Whether we are mouthy or not, the harm is still done. There are no free passes. 

Would I put anything on the ballot? Of course not. I wouldn't have voted to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot. I wouldn't have voted to ban hunting on the ballot. On and on. 

There can be no doubt at this point, same sex couples will have their rights recognized. It is only a matter of time. 

Let's do the grown-up thing and help heal the wounds we created. At the very least, let's get the heck out of the way.