What Michigan Tells Us about the Coming GOP Civil War

  Michigan State Capitol, 2012/Susan J. Demas

Michigan State Capitol, 2012/Susan J. Demas

By Susan J. Demas

This piece ran in Salon.

While Donald Trump was stumbling through another bad campaign spell late last month, punctuated by his refusal to commit to accepting the election’s results, Republican politics took a bizarre turn in Michigan.

Even in a year of frequent, bitter clashes between various factions in the Grand Old Party, this one stands out. And it’s undoubtedly a sign of what’s to come in other states after Nov. 8.

On one side stood Michigan Republican Party Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel –– who’s not only the niece of the ultimate #NeverTrumper, 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney –– but who also happens to be the granddaughter of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, godfather of the 1964 (pre-hashtag) Never Goldwater contingent. On the other side stood Grassroots Vice Chair Wendy Day, a telegenic, born-again military wife and mom who’s been active in pro-life and Tea Party causes for years.

So when McDaniel removed Day from her state party post less than three weeks before the election, an outcry swiftly followed.

But this round of Trumpers vs. the #Never crowd played out far differently than you’d expect. It’s actually McDaniel who’s carrying water for Trump. And Day, who ran Ted Cruz’s Michigan campaign, opposes the nominee from the right “as a matter of conscience.”

To understand what’s going on, here’s a little recent history. The state GOP has already weathered numerous intraparty fights long before anyone took Trump seriously. There’s been the ongoing embarrassment that several leaders, including the state vice chair for minority outreach, sport shady criminal pasts.

And of course, there was former Michigan National Committeeman Dave Agema, who made national news for his frequent Facebook tirades against gays (they’re all alcoholics) and Muslims (they’ve never contributed anything to society). The problem was that Agema enjoyed plenty of grassroots support, which made party leaders wary of expelling him. So they didn’t –– which foreshadowed how they would acquiesce to Trump, in spite of his barrage of outré comments and policies.

  Ronna Romney McDaniel

Ronna Romney McDaniel

McDaniel was elected to her new perch in the midst of all these controversies last year. She’s never known a time when Republicans weren’t bloodying each other in Michigan. Adding to the pressure of the job is two-term Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, whose mishandling of the Flint water crisis has further wounded the party’s image and poll numbers. He later refused to endorse Trump.

So 2016 was already shaping up to be a tough year for McDaniel. Not surprisingly, Trump supporters were deeply suspicious of McDaniel’s loyalties, as her uncle trashed The Donald on a national stage. But she sought to assuage their fears early on. Even as the GOP presidential primary raged on in April, McDaniel announced that she would serve as a Trump delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

McDaniel has since been one of Trump’s biggest boosters in Michigan –– a state the businessman bragged he would conquer handily thanks to disaffected blue-collar workers, but had fallen off the contested electoral map until the last week. Although state polls show Hillary Clinton still enjoying a steady lead, Trump has vowed to close the gap.

Meanwhile, McDaniel has launched a spirited defense of Trump’s “rigged election” claims (which also provided an excellent fundraising opportunity, but now she’s being scrutinized in a federal lawsuit over voter intimidation). She’s also written a chipper “Why Donald Trump Will Win Michigan” op-ed for one of the state’s largest papers.

  Wendy Day

Wendy Day

Then there’s Day. A former Democrat, she brings a convert’s zeal to her religious-right politics. Hailing from the reliably red Detroit exurbs, Day is usually the most conservative person in any room she walks into. She’s served as a legislative staffer and public school board member (even though she homeschooled her four children) and emerged as a leading voice of the Tea Party/liberty movement in 2009. In other words, Day was a perfect fit for the Michigan Cruz operation. After the Texas senator bowed out, Day didn’t let go, moving on to lead Michigan’s unsuccessful “Dump Trump” effort before the RNC.

So it shouldn’t have really surprised McDaniel –– or anyone paying attention –– that Day would continue to steadfastly refuse to endorse Trump, even while tirelessly working for the rest of the GOP ticket. Still, it roiled many party activists and hangers-on who were hungry for a scalp in the face of increasingly depressing polls and Trump’s on-air meltdowns during the debates and the release of his “Access Hollywood” tape.

Against this backdrop, it’s not shocking that McDaniel made the call to close ranks and oust Day. Not only is she in a tenuous position as a new party leader, but she has her own political future to worry about, as she’s keeping an eye on a U.S. senatorial or gubernatorial run some day.

But the optics for Michigan Republicans were devastating. No party needs the distraction of public turmoil just a few short weeks before Election Day –– especially as Trump threatens the GOP’s dominance further down the ballot. And Day, who’s written extensively about her husband’s two tours in Iraq, is an exceedingly sympathetic victim who’s not going anywhere in Republican politics, despite this setback.

While visits and ads by both presidential hopefuls in the final week have injected some hope into the Republican cause, powerful divisions remain. And they’ll persist long after Election Day, whether Trump wins or loses.

Michigan may be ahead of the curve on this internecine warfare. But make no doubt about it: It’s coming to states around the country after Nov. 8.

Republicans will have to grapple with what still looks like a Trump loss during a year in which most conservatives fervently believe a generic “R” could have won in a walk, especially against a weak opponent like Clinton. The Trump effect could be felt further down the ticket, costing the GOP the U.S. Senate, as well as seats in the U.S. House and state legislatures.

Plenty of local and state party office elections will hinge on what side of the Trump divide you were on. In 2018 and beyond, Trump will also factor into Republican party primaries for every office up and down the ballot. It’s not clear at the moment how the Trump litmus test will shake out. It seems plausible that both pro- and anti-Trump Republicans could be broomed in various posts, depending on the 2016 outcome and contours of local GOP politics.

But that’s just the beginning. Trump’s dramatic rise has shaken the Republican Party’s foundation to its core. As the nominee, he discarded the GOP’s playbook and only gave lip service to its core principles of tax cuts, smaller government and social conservatism. In a campaign forged in raw anger, conspiracies and nationalism, Trump broke right-wing taboos again and again.

He enraged free-market acolytes by championing trade protectionism and Social Security, while bashing immigration at every turn. National security hawks glowered as Trump played footsie with ex-KGB leader Vladimir Putin and chastised Israel. And social conservatives had to swallow Trump’s obvious disinterest in pro-life issues and attempts to roll back LGBT rights, while suffering the indignity of the thrice-married playboy’s vile comments about women playing on loop.

Prominent groups like the National Rifle Association and Right to Life fell in line behind Trump anyway. But if Trump loses, he will leave the Republican Party with quite the ideological identity crisis.

And this will inevitably trickle down to the state level, where various interests will jockey for dominance in a post-Trump party.

How this all ends is anybody’s guess.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

The governor who poisoned Flint: The GOP’s Rick Snyder thought he might be president. Not so fast…

  Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

By Susan J. Demas, 4/2/16

This article ran in Salon.

When Rick Snyder took the reins from Jennifer Granholm on Jan. 1, 2011, there was a certain smugness hanging in Michigan’s raw winter air.

The changing of the guard had been fairly pleasant –– the Republican and Democrat had even held a (mundane) joint press conference on economic development. That stood in sharp contrast to the bitterly partisan transition from Jim Blanchard to the man who defeated him in 1990, John Engler, and then from Engler to Granholm 12 years later.

As the state’s first female governor, Granholm had started her tenure in 2002 with some fanfare –– and had even been buzzed about as a presidential candidate (despite being born in Vancouver, Canada). But by the time her second term stumbled to a close, Granholm was badly bruised from leading the state for the better part of a decade-long recession and the near-collapse of the domestic auto industry. Michigan’s state government had shut down not once, but twice, on her watch. She wanted her legacy to be (finally) diversifying the state’s economy, as she cheered for green jobs, but everyone seemed to know it was too little, too late.

It was little secret that Granholm harbored national ambitions, but she’d bet on the wrong horse in the 2008 Democratic primary –– Hillary Clinton. After Barack Obama was elected, Granholm’s name was floated for Labor, Education and Energy secretary, as well as the Supreme Court. But the Michigan governor was doomed to always be the bridesmaid, something spiteful Republicans never let her forget.

So by the time Snyder’s inauguration rolled around, Granholm seemed somewhat chastened, knowing that her unpopularity had helped pad the Republican’s 19-point margin. The only small comfort was that the Democratic nominee wasn’t her hand-picked successor (Lt. Gov. John Cherry had gracefully bowed out in early 2010). The sacrificial lamb was Virg Bernero, who Fox News had anointed as “America’s Angriest Mayor” for his defense of the auto bailout, but his shouty schtick wore thin rather fast. In other words, he was nobody’s first choice.

Read more.

Ruling the House: Michigan Speakers Reveal What the Job Is Really Like

 Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

Dome Magazine, 1/16/11

The job, if we’re being honest, is a meat grinder.

Sure, you’re lavished with an exquisite chandeliered office, a fancy title and a really big gavel. But you also have the headache of managing hundreds of staff, a couple dozen legislative committees, thousands of bills and 109 other lawmakers clamoring for both your attention and the media spotlight.

“Being speaker of the House of Representatives is one of the most challenging jobs in Lansing, if not the most challenging,” said House Clerk Gary Randall, who’s just entered his fifth decade in the institution. “I’m sure the governor or the Senate majority leader would take issue with that. But the speaker has 110 people to keep focused.”

“The Number One thing a speaker needs to know how to do is count votes, no matter if it’s becoming speaker or passing bills,” says Rick Johnson, a lobbyist with Dodak, Johnson & Associates. “…You don’t create a lot of friends, but you do create a lot of enemies.”

Read more.

Barb-wired: Ari Adler deploys his rhetorical firepower for House Republicans

  Becky Johns Photography  for Dome Magazine

Becky Johns Photography for Dome Magazine

Dome Magazine, 2/11/11

On Ari Adler’s desk, you might just stumble upon a coffee mug that says, “If you can’t say something nice, at least say something funny.”

“I think that’s a description of my style,” said Adler, press secretary for new House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall). “I pride myself in being able to turn a phrase and get us quoted and get our message out there.”

The Waterford Township native hasn’t been typically a bomb-throwing type of spokesman, first in the service of former Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema and now with Bolger. Instead, Adler is known for sharp quotes that elicit a chuckle, like when a Democrat complained last week that Bolger shut down the chamber for the blizzard.

“Apparently, House Democrats were told to go home and throw political snowballs at the speaker,” Adler quipped.

But Adler, 43, says he’s been able to maintain good relationships with his counterparts on the other side, notably Liz Boyd, Gov. Granholm’s former press secretary, and former Senate Democratic spokesman Tom Lenard.

“It got to the point that Tom and I would joke about the barbs we’d send each other’s way,” Adler recalls. “…We would chat behind the scenes and it had a different tone than what we were doing publicly.”

When he was with the Senate majority leader, Adler recalls the media always came knocking about Granholm’s initiatives, as Sikkema was the highest-ranking Republican in the state. The situation is different with Bolger because he’s mostly on the same page with Gov. Rick Snyder. Messages have to be coordinated with the administration and the Senate. There’s also the challenge to create headlines for the speaker in his own right.

“Jase Bolger isn’t afraid to say we need to talk about difficult things,” Adler says of his boss. “I think he sets the right tone.”

Since joining Bolger’s transition team in December, Adler has jumped right into the job, sending out a flurry of press releases on everything from a new, stricter dress code on the House floor (sorry, no jeans or sweats) to issues like alleged Bridge Card fraud.

Adler’s new gig comes after a four-year hiatus from state government, last working as communications administrator for Okemos-based Delta Dental. He also was director of public affairs for the former John Bailey & Associates public relations firm.

“Some people might be surprised that I would come back,” he says. “I was very frustrated about what was going on [before] at the Capitol, with people not working together…But I was very excited about the potential for change. I was happy about the election — not just for the party, but in terms of leadership.”

Although he’d never even met Bolger before their interview in November, Adler did have a pretty big in with his chief of staff, Suzanne Miller Allen. Allen served in that capacity for Sikkema when Adler was his press secretary and deputy chief of staff. Luckily, he and the speaker-to-be hit it off, and he “had a job offer within a couple hours.”

Wiry with squarish glasses, Adler looks the tech-savvy type. And as his frequent Facebook posts and tweets will attest, he is. He fell in love with social media while working in public relations and still advises organizations about using it. Adler also says it has transformed politics.

“Social media is the new grassroots,” he says. “We used to deliver a message door-to-door. Now it’s computer screen to computer screen.”

That’s a big part of his job with Bolger, and Adler spends a lot of time perusing social networking sites and reader comments on news hubs.

“You can gauge where the public is on an issue,” he says, although he admits he “filters through some of the nuttier comments.”

In his free time, Adler writes for two blogs — neither of them political — Digital Pivot and Here Comes Later, his own creation (his last post was on his hectic schedule), as well as authoring a monthly column on social media in politics for Dome. He does try to squeeze in time with his wife of a year-and-a-half, former Senate staffer Jessi Wortley Adler, and his two daughters, Lainee, 14, and Kenzie, 13.

For the last 10 years, he’s been an adjunct instructor for Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, from which he earned his B.A. in 1989. Adler started out as a cops and courts reporter, working for papers including the Owosso Argus-Press and theHolland Sentinel.

Six years into daily reporting, Adler says, he was “pretty burned out” and applied on a whim for a job with the House Republican caucus central staff. Adler says he was always a Republican, although he was most conservative while in high school.

“If anything, I’ve moved more to the center,” he says. “I’m a pragmatic Republican. Although I lean right, I understand that you sometimes have to make compromises.”

He got the job with the House Republicans in 1995 and eventually moved over as a spokesman for the Department of Transportation (MDOT) under Gov. John Engler. Adler was on Senate GOP central staff when Sikkema tapped him as press secretary.

Now he’s back where he started with the House GOP. One of the biggest challenges is just acquainting himself with not only the 60 freshmen, but all the new staff. He’s worked on the first caucus priorities, $25 million for Pure Michigan funding — which passed this week — and getting rid of the state’s item pricing law.

Of course, Adler expects the budget and business tax debate to dominate, especially after Snyder’s budget presentation next week.

“It’s a round-the-clock job,” he says. “I don’t think a typical day exists.”

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Book Review: The Life and Times Of Michigan's 'Eternal General,' Frank Kelley

By Susan J. Demas, Inside Michigan Politics, 10/28/15

If there’s one thing people know about Frank J. Kelley, it’s that the man can spin a yarn. It’s what he was raised to do, as the scion of an Irish Catholic speakeasy proprietor ensconced in Detroit Democratic politics.

So Kelley’s autobiography, The People’s Lawyer (Wayne State University, 203 pp.), keeps a lively pace, hitting the highlights of his 90 years --- which, save for a brief stint in Arizona and recent winters relaxing in Florida, have all been spent in Michigan.

The longest-serving attorney general in U.S. history paints a lovely picture of his unusual Depression Era childhood (which included an honest-to-God Shetland pony) and of his idol, Frank E. Kelley. There are the requisite tales of meeting dignitaries like Golda Meir, Martin Luther King Jr. and, of course, John F. Kennedy, whom Kelley calls “my prince.” The book also provides valuable insights into how state government works behind the scenes.

All politicians want to be remembered --- and on their own terms --- so an autobiography is the perfect vehicle for that. But Kelley has a nobler motive for writing this book, as well: “Simply, to convey this message: a life of public service, a life lived in the service of your fellow man, is worth living.”

I suspect that’s why Jack Lessenberry, 63, was inspired to collaborate with him on this tome. Lessenberry’s résumé is impressive in its own right, as the head of Wayne State’s journalism faculty, a national Emmy winner for his Jack Kevorkian reporting, and a gravelly-voiced commentator on Michigan Radio. He’s probably best known as the Detroit Metro Times’ hard-boiled liberal columnist, acerbically unleashing his anguish that our political system is broken. But he’s never given up on advocating solutions.

Just as Kelley has mentored and inspired scores of lawyers, Lessenberry has done that for journalists, myself included. Obviously, the pair share a similar worldview and innate ability to take over a room --- they’re particularly popular with progressive women of a certain age. And their mutual admiration for the Kennedy clan isn’t a secret. Kelley was a contemporary of JFK --- in his book, the president is subject to the kind of glowing praise Kelley usually lavishes on his father --- while Lessenberry’s political awakening owes quite a bit to Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated when he was just 16.

Their similarities don’t end there. Although a generation separates Kelley and Lessenberry, they’re both high-striving, firstborn sons from big, Detroit-area families who saw education as their ticket to making a difference. Both skipped a grade in school, grappled with the social awkwardness that ensued, and eventually earned advanced degrees. And both even found love later in life with librarians, befitting of such well-read men.

Lessenberry, no doubt, would like the focus kept firmly on Kelley --- it is his book, after all. True writers, as a rule, never want to be the subject of another’s ruminations. But as a columnist, Lessenberry has put himself out there for years, in bits and pieces. And as a gifted scribe and fascinating intellectual, his contribution to the book is deeply felt, whether it’s a familiar turn of phrase (“Taxes, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, are the price we pay for a civilized society”) or his skill in keeping a story on track.

It’s impossible to read this book, the culmination of Kelley’s long life, without thinking of the tragedy that befell him shortly after its publication: His wife, Nancy, 23 years his junior, passed away rather suddenly. The last words Kelley’s father ever spoke to him were: “Worry is a waste of time because the things you worry about the most in life never happen. Enjoy your life, Frank.”

They hang over the autobiography with some irony.

Kelley doesn’t begin his story with his most arresting anecdote, which he saves for the lead of Chapter 18: “On the morning of the Tet Offensive, when the Viet Cong invaded the U.S. embassy compound in Saigon and all hell was breaking loose, I met with President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office.” It’s a wise choice, since, as it turns out, Kelley was at the White House for a rather mundane reason, as part of the National Association of Attorneys General annual conference.

Instead, he fittingly starts with his appointment as attorney general, the office he redefined in Michigan. Kelley recounts a fateful meeting with RFK at outset of his AG career, in which he’s told: “I want you to use your bully pulpit. Reach out against injustice whenever you see it and protect the public.” This mantra, along with his admission that he’s tried to “always be a man my father would have been proud of,” defines Kelley’s life.

At first blush, Kelley was an unlikely fit for the the job. After reading Bellamy Partridge’s Country Lawyer, he took its words to heart. He decided to move his young family from Detroit to Alpena, a pastoral Lake Huron hamlet (Kelley earned his skeptical father’s blessing only as he suffered a fatal heart attack.) Frank Jr. became just the tenth attorney in town --- and soon got a firsthand lesson in bipartisanship when Republicans recruited him to be the city’s attorney.

It wasn’t the most auspicious launching pad for a political career (Kelley confesses he yearned to “fulfill his [father’s] frustrated ambitions”), but he had unknowingly laid the groundwork in 1951. After passing the bar, he had a chance meeting with another attorney named John Swainson, who had both his legs blown off in World War II. Just ten years later, Swainson would change Kelley’s life --- the new governor tapped him as attorney general just as he turned 37. (Fittingly, after Swainson’s career had collapsed years later under a cloud of scandal, Kelley returned the favor by convincing Henry Ford II to hire him.)

Of course, Kelley didn’t end up Michigan’s top lawyer by pure accident. As the son of the ultimate Democratic insider, he proved a skilled lobbyist, wooing key labor figures and deploying his wife’s charm in a key interview.

Over the next 37 years, he served with five governors (Kelley stresses that he “never served under a single one”), whom he colorfully describes as “brawlers and gentlemen; a war hero, one who tried to become president; and one who was an authentically tragic figure.”

Swainson was a trusted friend responsible for introducing Kelley to JFK, who was “simply, the most charismatic person I’d ever met.” But the young governor soon lost his 1962 re-election to American Motors CEO George Romney. There’s a healthy amount of bipartisan nostalgia for the reformist Romney years, but Kelley offers some real talk about the Republican: “A completely different creature, a corporate executive who was used to behaving as a captain of industry” who had an “uncanny gift for sales promotion and self-promotion --- and not necessarily in that order.”

It’s hard not to see certain parallels with current Gov. Rick Snyder, a former Gateway CEO, especially when Kelley observes: “The newspapers loved Romney. Nearly all the owners and publishers were Republicans, and they were angry and frustrated that Democrats had held the governor’s office for so long.”

And Kelley does bring us into present day with an astute observation about Mitt Romney: “I have always wondered whether George Romney’s impetuous ego and tongue were the main reasons his son seemed so carefully packaged and scripted during his two runs for the White House.”

George Romney, a titan of industry, and Kelley, who saw his job as “fighting for the little guy,” clashed early on (“I am not going to take any crap from you or your lawyers,” Kelley recalls the governor thundering.) But they managed to achieve détente with the “Treaty of Lansing,” a framework for how their offices could work together.

Kelley served longest with Bill Milliken, “one of the most progressive and far-seeing Republicans I’ve ever known,” whom he affectionately calls a “patrician aristocrat.” They shared power during environmental disasters and civil rights unrest, never letting politics distract from the job at hand. Kelley recalls being “deeply moved” when Milliken told him recently that he was “one of the five or ten most important people in his life.”

Milliken, of course, was succeeded by Jim Blanchard, a Kelley protégé. A partisan to his core, Kelley revelled in a Democrat finally taking back the governor’s mansion for the first time in twenty years. Kelley served as a father-figure to Blanchard, steering him through the rough patch after his income tax hike, which eventually cost the Dems control of the state Senate in 1983 (a condition that persists to this day.)

Kelley’s introduction of the man who would become the final governor he served with, John Engler, is rather cutting, referring to him as “a farm boy who had been elected to the legislature while still a student at Michigan State University.” But he concedes Engler was a “master of the governmental process” and “knew how to get and use power better than any governor in my time.” The two men grew to have a healthy professional respect for one another.

The Democrat didn’t always envision himself becoming the “Eternal General” (Kelley is wise enough to know that any politician making such grandiose plans will typically be upended by voters.) He did run for higher office once in 1972 --- taking on Republican U.S. Sen. Robert Griffin.

Kelley blames President Richard Nixon himself for the “only election I ever lost,” whipping up media furor against him over cross-district busing. Not surprisingly, Kelley’s description of him isn’t kind (“He looked like some woeful stand-in, sent out to check the microphones until the real president arrived.”) The longtime AG convinces himself that everything worked out in the end, revealing that Adlai Stevenson confided that even he “found the Senate a bore.”

As for why he never ran for governor (as most AGs eagerly do nowadays), Kelley doesn’t say, but he does provide this telling observation: “Here’s a dirty little secret about politics and government that you won’t learn in political science textbooks: governors are important figures … [but] much of the time they don’t have all that much to do.”

In 1999, Kelley made the surprise decision not to seek the final AG term he was allotted under Michigan’s new term limits law. “My late father told me that a good public man or woman leaves before they have to go,” he announced at an emotional press conference.

He doesn’t devote much time to his post-government career, although he bluntly reveals he “wanted to make some honest money.” As most folks know, he founded the Kelley Cawthorne firm in Lansing with Republican former lawmaker Dennis Cawthorne (Kelley sounds a bit precious in writing, “To my mild discomfort, we had to register as lobbyists.”)

The former AG was elated when Engler appointed him to the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, joining his partner, who recently penned Rock Fever on the isle’s storied history (see Vol. XV, No. 9.) And Kelley was delighted by the success of another mentee, Jennifer Granholm, first succeeding him as AG and later winning two terms as governor (Kelley can’t help but include her exclaiming, “I owe it to you, Frank.”)

Kelley’s self-awareness is a welcome addition to the book (“Nobody ever said Frank J. Kelley didn’t have an ego --- just ask either of my wives or any of my three kids,” he writes near the end.) That explains his inclusion of an appendix cataloguing his 10 AG elections, noting the 16,212,786 votes he garnered in his lifetime, averaging 61.2%. And Kelley doesn’t leave out the one of his favorite aphorisms: “Vote like you’re a Democrat, live like you’re a Republican.”

While Kelley relishes reliving his professional accomplishments in great detail --- establishing the Consumer Protection Division, helping win the multi-billion-dollar tobacco settlement, and arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court --- he glosses over personal troubles like his divorce, declaring “the details are not important.” Kelley obliquely writes that his ‘72 U.S. Senate loss “produced self-doubt and a personal crisis that affected my marriage and eventually led to the end of it.” Interestingly, he does later mention the alleged affairs of two governors, Engler and Blanchard.

But it’s no coincidence that an aside about Ford II (one of Lessenberry’s favorites) finds its way into the book, even though it’s a bit of a non sequitur (“Ford himself had a hard time with media scrutiny of his private life and two divorces, something he eventually countered with the brilliant slogan, ‘Never complain; never explain.’”) The reader is supposed to accept this premise, tacitly agreeing that delving into public figures’ personal lives is tacky and destructive.

Now self-protection is a completely human impulse --- as is the desire to shield one’s family from pain. Unfortunately, such omissions in an otherwise richly complicated autobiography rob the reader of important insights. All of us are imperfect and could relate to Kelley’s personal trials and tribulations.

Perhaps the book’s greatest contribution is vibrantly illustrating how Michigan government has functioned and changed in recent history. Since Kelley stepped down before the full effect of term limits kicked in, that part of Michigan politics is missing --- but it’s been written about, at length, by Lessenberry and others.

Unlike other statesmen, Kelley isn’t overly sentimental about bipartisanship, but he does see it as a lost art today: “You have to make up your mind to work with people from different parties and very different philosophies. When you fail to do that, you get the kind of paralysis we’ve seen in Congress during President [Barack] Obama’s administration.”

It’s also refreshing that the book isn’t aimed solely at political junkies; Kelley peppers the text with helpful reminders like, “This was back when state officers served only two-year terms.”

In the end, Kelley hopes his story will inspire others to once again see government service as a worthy calling, quoting JFK: “One person can make a difference and everyone should try.” There’s no irony, not a drop of cynicism when Kelley declares: “I know that I tried.”

He then turns the focus from himself and back to the reader, gently entreating: “It’s your turn.”

Rick Snyder: The Nerd Shall Inherit the State?

Dome Magazine, 6/16/10

The truth is, Rick Snyder wasn’t really called a nerd in high school.

The man who captured national attention for declaring himself to be “One Tough Nerd” in a gubernatorial ad first airing on Super Bowl Sunday wasn’t a misfit at Lakeview High School (“I didn’t have a pocket protector or anything,” Snyder says, adding that he played sax in the band).

His G.P.A. and test scores weren’t sky high, although he can no longer remember what they were.

“I was not the highest high school student,” the silver-haired Battle Creeker admits with a smile. “It was a teenager thing. Basically, I was described as bored and occasionally sarcastic.”

But Snyder was a young man with a plan. When he was 14 he asked his mother about enrolling in an Introduction to Business class at Kellogg Community College. Helen Snyder, who went by “Pody,” told him to hold off because their middle-class family only had one car. So Rick came back when he was getting his driver’s license.

Read more.

 

Brian Calley and the Reinvention of the Role of Lieutenant Governor

Dome Magazine, 5/16/11

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley didn’t have to cast the deciding vote last week on the biggest tax overhaul in Michigan in a generation.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville had the 20th vote in his back pocket if he needed it, although several freshmen had told the Monroe Republican they weren’t wild about backing the pension tax and freezing the income tax at 4.35 percent for another year.

But the newly minted LG wanted to be on record for the centerpiece of Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan — and he got his wish, which earned him the lead of most news stories. But before voting in his capacity as Senate president, Calley took the highly unusual step of “asking for the chamber’s indulgence” to make a statement.

Now, the second-youngest lieutenant governor in Michigan history is not an imposing figure — no taller than five-six with a banker’s haircut, and porcelain skin and slightly rosy cheeks somewhat reminiscent of a marionette. But standing on the Senate dais that afternoon, Calley displayed a powerful and almost serene confidence.

Read more.

 

Re-drawing Michigan: How Redistricting Predetermines Many Election Results and Often Leaves Voters without Competitive Choices at the Polls

February, 2011: A 25-page research report for the Center for Michigan.

In the past decade, voters decided 664 races for seats in the Michigan Legislature. The majority of those races were never in question. Millions of votes didn’t really matter. Districts for many state representatives and senators are not competitive. Many seats are engineered for partisan advantage. 

A consequence is the practical disenfranchisement of many voters. As a result, average voters face an uncomfortable question: are our elections truly representative? If voters want true competition and choice at the ballot box, they can’t wait until Election Day. 

Their time for input is now, when the maps are being drawn. Every 10 years, new Census data is used to draw the district boundaries for state and federal elected officials. In Michigan, the state legislature drives this process. 

To inform the 2011 Michigan redistricting process that is just getting underway, the Center for Michigan used state elections data to analyze the results of 664 state legislative races since boundaries were last redrawn in 2001. 

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I Love a Campaign: A Peek Inside AG Bill Schuette's Blithe Re-Election Bid

By Susan J. Demas, Inside Michigan Politics, 5/27/14

With the advent of the 24/7 news cycle and social media, political campaigns have become joyless, choreographed bores.

Now every flub, every stumble, every freeze-frame photo of a politician scarfing down unfortunately shaped fair food can be endlessly relived on Twitter or MSNBC. And that can be enough to torpedo even seasoned candidates.

So most politicians have retreated to the cocoon of well-rehearsed lines, invitation-only town halls and private, big-dollar fundraisers.

But Attorney General Bill Schuette is from the old-school campaign style of kissing babies and shaking hands at small-town parades. When he announced his re-election bid in March, he crisscrossed the state, gobbling up every morsel of earned media.

And he appears to love every minute of it.

At local GOP Lincoln Day dinners, Schuette doesn't rush in at the last minute for his speech and promptly do a disappearing act afterward. He's there early, chatting up local precinct delegates, party officials and networking college students about what's important to them. After the procession of speeches, Schuette makes the rounds by pouring coffee for guests at every table, like a genteel host of a swell, Mad Men-era dinner party.

“Every cup of coffee counts,” Schuette smiles.

That was a lesson he learned during his first congressional campaign in 1984 when he was a mainstay on the rubber-chicken circuit, and went on to oust incumbent U.S. Rep. Donald Albosta (D-St. Charles) by just 1,400 votes. Schuette vowed to himself that he would never “be a bump on a log at the head table” if he were ever lucky enough to be invited to that hallowed domain.

And he isn't. Some politicians radiate charisma. Bill Clinton is one of them. Kwame Kilpatrick is another. Bill Schuette is a member of that select group --- he's the center of attention in most rooms he enters. Now he probably wouldn't like being in the company of two flawed Democrats. But as a Republican Party activist since his teens, Schuette can certainly recognize the power of possessing that kind of raw, political talent.

Schuette also actively courts the media and eschews browbeating reporters for so-called liberal bias, unlike many Republicans today, while impressively maintaining his Tea Party cred. He's staked out a place as a true conservative in Michigan (contrasting nicely with Gov. Rick Snyder, who's never enamored Tea Partiers). Deftly eading the anti-establishment mood, Schuette won, albeit narrowly, his 2010 GOP convention fight by pinning Gov. Jennifer Granholm-era tax hikes on his rival, then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester).

Still, Schuette underperformed the GOP ticket during a stellar year and has led the unpopular anti-gay marriage fight, convincing many Democrats he's beatable this year. His fundraising prowess and relentless politicking will make him a hard target, however.

The AG's media-friendliness and high profile are another asset, but that doesn't mean he's unscripted. Schuette, after all, learned politics at GOP National Committeewoman Ranny Rieckers's knee (Vol. XIV, No. 29). His well-oiled AG and campaign operations, populated with the incomparable Rusty Hills, a former John Engler acolyte, and amiable former AG Mike Cox veteran John Sellek, are known to email reporters additional background for questions they've asked two minutes earlier --- while Schuette is still holding court at the same press conference.

And like many politicians, Schuette comes armed with his standby soundbites (“I'm a voice for victims; “My job is to defend the Constitution;” “It's part of my record”). But Schuette's gift is weaving those platitudes into long, folksy anecdotes, never losing sight of the point he's trying to buttress. Although he's the scion of a Dow Chemical powerhouse (and stepson of another), William Duncan Schuette usually comes off as a pretty regular guy.

So naturally, there's been talk of a 2018 Schuette gubernatorial bid for decades (especially after he announced he was running for the job known as “aspiring governor”). IMP talked to Schuette last month about this election and the next (this was also before Democratic attorney Godfrey Dillard threw his hat in the AG ring). Schuette also talked about his difference with Snyder, his victory in the U.S. Supreme Court affirmative action case and a bit about college basketball.

The following are excerpts from IMP's exclusive interview. The remainder will run in a future issue.

IMP: Mark Totten has been the only Democrat running for AG, but Democrats have been known to push aside frontrunners at their conventions,often to ensure that women and minorities are represented on the ticket. How will you alter your campaign if it doesn't turn out to be Mark Totten that you're running against?

Schuette: You know, every election is a job interview. You get to state your case and I'm going to take my case directly to the citizens of Michigan as a voice for victims, as a voice for the Constitution and as a voice for Michigan. I'm going to talk about my responsibilities as a voice for victims, voice for the Constitution and voice for Michigan. And whoever the Democrats may put up against me, I don't worry about that. I can control three things: my record, which is strong; my organization, which is the best around, and I say that out of giving them credit, not being rude to others; and thirdly, fundraising. And those are the winning ingredients for a campaign.

And we're going to win and I'm going to get re-elected, but I take nothing for granted. I like campaigning; I like mixing it up, talking about issues and so I'm going to work hard on that. But you have to earn it every day. What struck me was watching the March Madness and all of that, and I think I have this right. And it was after Michigan State, unfortunately, lost to UConn. And one of the players was being interviewed about Shabazz Napier. And this Napier guy was actually the point guard, the quarterback on the basketball court … for UConn. And the player said about Shabazz Napier, 'That guy had the will to win.'

… And I have the will to win. And I don't take anything for granted; I work real hard. But I've got the will to win. And we've got a great team that has that same attitude, as well.

So I'm looking forward to the campaign, but you've got to earn it. And I'm respectful that voters are the employers and I work for the citizens of Michigan. So whatever candidate might emerge from the Democratic decision-making, I'm not worried about that. I'm just going to talk about my record for victims, the Constitution and Michigan.

IMP: Do you think your recent victory with the U.S. Supreme Court on affirmative action will help your campaign?

Schuette: Well, you know, it's all part of the record. That was a monumental decision. And as I said, it was a victory for the Constitution. The decision by the United States Supreme Court was also a victory for Michigan, the citizens of Michigan. Because we enshrined in our Constitution this basic concept that it's wrong to treat people differently based on the color of your skin, your gender, your ethnicity, your national origin. And that's embedded, emblazoned in our Constitution by the voters who overwhelmingly supported that [in 2006]. But it was also a victory for the rule of law. So those are three outcomes of [the] decision.

That decision is part of my record. I'm defending the Constitution --- you know, I took an oath. And I don't take oaths lightly. On January 1, 2011 --- and I say this at a lot of my speeches --- … I took an oath to preserve and protect and defend the Constitution over there on the [Capitol] steps. My wife and my children were there. … That's what I'm going to do.

And I don't half defend it --- I totally defend it and the laws, whether it's the admissions clause, the pension clause, sticking up for cops and firefighters and the Natural Resource Trust Fund provision that I wrote an opinion on saying, 'Hands off. It's not a private piggy bank for folks,' or the marriage clause. Defending the Constitution is not optional as attorney general --- it's mandatory. It's not a discretionary task. It's part of the job.

And so the outcome of the Supreme Court I think was a tremendous victory for the Constitution and it's part of the record. I was hopeful the Supreme Court would make that decision, but as a judge on the Court of Appeals, I never prejudge what justices do. I support my defense; I think it's a positive thing for me. But more importantly, I think it's a positive for the state, the Constitution. This isn't about me; it's about defending the Constitution and the provisions in it.

IMP: There's a natural tension between governors and attorneys general because you have different jobs. Governors often want support for their policies, while it's your job to uphold the law. There have at least appeared to be differences between you and Gov. Snyder over issues like the Detroit pensions, next steps on the same-sex marriage case. Are there are differences or is that a perception?

Schuette: You know, there is a really good relationship and I really like the guy. We have a really good governor. And about 95% of time, we're in agreement, which is about the same percentage as the best man at my wedding --- so I think that's pretty good. But we're not clones of each other, nor should we be. And I don't think people expect us to be. The governor and I have operated differently and that's OK. He's more [Bill] Milliken, less [John] Engler. And again, that's all right.

He's a smart guy and [my wife] Cynthia and I enjoy him and [First Lady] Sue [Snyder]. We just saw him last week; he was in Midland. Cynthia and I enjoy being with the governor. And this is the first time --- people might forget … --- in 63 years that there's been a Republican governor and Republican attorney general. So this is a highway, a path not traveled before.

And I think when there was split political parties in each of those responsibilities, the differences were ignored because that's [Frank] Kelley, that's [Jennifer] Granholm, that's [Mike] Cox, that's Engler, what have you. But I think when you're in the same party, sometimes those small number of issues where you have a different point of view get overblown.

But we kind of have a no-fire clause. It's called the Constitution. And so we work very well together. Sometimes there are differences of opinion. I respect his; he respects mine. The pension issue, again, that's part of my job to defend the pension clause in the Michigan Constitution. That's my job as attorney general. So I've done the other clauses, as well --- marriage, admissions, the Natural Resources Trust Fund. So he understands my responsibilities, just like [Detroit Emergency Financial Manager] Kevyn Orr does. Kevyn's a sharp guy, bright attorney; he understands my constitutional responsibilities. So we work all those things through.

IMP: It's widely presumed that you're going to run for governor in 2018. And I know that most public officials don't want to talk about their future plans. But you've been a former congressman, judge, state senator –-- you've obviously thought about this, right?

Schuette: Well, I've thought a lot about my responsibilities as attorney general, that's for sure. And I'm going to work really hard to make sure I'm elected to a second term and I'm confident that will occur. I don't take that for granted. I'm not bombastic and as I've said that before --- I tell my team we've got to win every day. We won yesterday; we're going to win today; we've got to win tomorrow. The future will take care of itself. There's no grand design; there's no secret plan. I'm going to do my job --- hopefully, do it well and the future will take care of itself?

IMP: Does running Michigan interest you?

Schuette: You know, my calling has always been service. And that's what it's always going to be.

Double Down: Andy Dillon gambles on big government reforms –– is he willing to bet the house and run for governor?

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They had to be the oddest of couples — Andy Dillon, the contemplative, straight-as-an-arrow scion of a Wayne County judge, and Jerry Rubin, the shaggy, larger-than-life member of the Chicago Seven.

But there they were, “running tables” together in New York City nightclubs in 1985. The 23-year-old Notre Dame grad was working as a financial analyst for W.R. Grace when he happened to be invited to Rubin’s house for a party. He hit it off with the founder of the Yippie movement, almost a quarter-century his senior, and the two began a “brief business venture,” as Dillon now describes it. After a few months, he quit, since he had already committed to work as an aide in Washington for then-U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, the Ivy League Democrat from New Jersey.

“But I made more money than I did at W.R. Grace,” the now-Democratic speaker of the Michigan House reveals with a chuckle. “I didn’t know the whole story until it had taken off.”

The whole story, of course, is how Rubin, along with other ’60s radicals like Abbie Hoffman and Michigan’s Tom Hayden, were arrested after the bloody Democratic National Convention riots in 1968. After a theatrical trial (during which Rubin gave the judge a Nazi salute and shouted, “Heil, Hitler!”) he was acquitted of all charges. Rubin had since become a successful entrepreneur, but he maintained that outlaw persona.

“That’s not on my résumé,” Dillon adds, shooting a grin at Dan Farough, his media coordinator, during an interview this month. “There. That’s something no one knows about me.”

Farough’s face blanched slightly. “And now everyone will know in the pages of [Dome],” he murmurs with halting joviality, while moving to quickly wrap things up.

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