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Wednesday, July 30,2014

8th Congressional voters put in unexpected spot

by Kyle Melinn
Itīs hard to believe Mike Rogers wonīt be Lansingīs congressman next year. He surprised everyone by trading his House Intelligence Committee gavel for a national radio microphone, particularly those now in the best position to replace him.

Six months ago, Mike Bishop was happily transitioned back into life as a private sector attorney, enjoying not being jarred awake in the middle of the night by his buzzing cell phone. Another fire to put out, another problem to address as the Michigan Senateīs majority leader.

State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, was shoring up his credentials as the most conservative option in a crowded Oakland County state Senate race.

Among Democrats, Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing wasnīt thinking Congress either, at least not this year. Not against an incumbent in a traditionally GOP-leaning gubernatorial year in an 8th Congressional district drawn to favor a Republican. Attorney Jeffrey Hank was plotting out his next battle with East Lansing City Hall and assisting in the stateīs marijuana decriminalization efforts.

Two other Democrats, former state demographer Ken Darga and Central Michigan University Professor Susan Grettenberger threw their hats in the ring long ago. But neither was expected to beat Rogers, who squashed his last well-funded Democratic opponent by 12 points in an otherwise good Democratic year — that ī06 election where Gov. Jennifer Granholm crushed the worldīs 67th richest person.

So in the 26 days between Rogersī March 28 announcement and the April 22 filing deadline, a lot of people had to make a lot of life-altering decisions. The upshot is Ingham County voters will actually have choices on their primary ballot on Tuesday.

Everything else on the ballot is a basically done deal. Republican Terri Lynn Land and Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters will be squaring off in November to succeed U.S. Carl Levin. Gov. Rick Snyder and former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer are squaring off. Every Ingham County state representative is likely to return.

Ingham County Register of Deed Curtis Hertel, Jr. essentially won the right to succeed term-limited state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, on Mar. 19 of last year when former Rep. Joan Bauer said she wasnīt running (and some would argue he won it even before that).

Former Lansing City Councilman Harold Leeman, who is looking to make it six straight losing elections, is running against Hertel in the Dem primary, as is stay-athome dad Larry Hutchinson, 41, of Lansing.

General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and the rest of the stateīs manufacturers are spending $8.3 million to sell the business tax switch-a-roo known as Proposal 1. Outside of the National Organization of Women — who are anxious about falling state revenue numbers years down the road — and the black helicopter types generally skeptical about government, nobody is opposed to this complex local government funding scheme because itīs impact will be mostly invisible to the vast majority.

Both CATA and the Capital Area District Library have millage renewal ups, the approvals of which should be as basic as brushing teeth. Meridian Townshipīs new 12-year .6667 parks millage is a ballot result worth watching. But outside of that, the 8th Congressional District race isnīt just the main event, itīs the only event.

Which brings us back to Rogersī sudden announcement. An aspiring politician can spend well over a year and a half running for an open congressional run. Thatīs more than 18 months ginning up money, endorsements, volunteers, policy positions and general buzz.

This crew of candidates will have 18 weeks, leaving voters with a shallower understanding of who is who.

The Democratic pool is making it easy for local voters. All four live in East Lansing or Lansing and are knocking doors, holding forums or otherwise wandering local streets gathering signatures. The quadrant even held a press conference a couple of weeks ago in which they said theyīd conveniently hold events together.

The Republican duo is a different story. McMillin and Bishop live two blocks apart in the far east end of the district , a two-hour drive away in Rochester Hills. The two have held as many as five community forums in Oakland or Livingston County.

But with comparatively few GOP voters in Ingham, Bishop (up 45-33 percent in the most recent EPIC-MRA poll) hasnīt held a local public appearance since he and Rogers entertained media in April at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Attempts by City Pulse and at least one prominent local TV journalist to schedule one debate have been met with passive indifference by Bishopīs campaign team.

From afar, though, the Bishop-McMillin race has crystalized into clash over a few misconstrued events. McMillin is battering Bishop for signing on to the now-repealed Michigan Business Tax six years ago. But at the time, the business community viewed the MBT as superior to the Single Business Tax, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to repeal at businessī request.

During the split government years, the MBT was the best Bishop could get. Had Gov. Rick Snyderīs flat, 6-percent Corporate Income Tax, which McMillin voted for as the MBTīs successor, been an option, heīd have eagerly signed on.

Also, to claim Bishop and Granholm were anything other than cold to each other both privately and publicly is warping history. Their distaste for each other in the government shutdowns years (2007-2010) is well chronicled.

On the flip side, Bishop likes to crow about how McMillin sang his praises as an attorney general candidate at the 2010 Republican state convention. While true, the Tea Party crowd saw Bishop as "less establishment" than the alternative, Bill Schuette.

The two are not ideological equals, which is why McMillin can genuinely praise Bishop ... to a point. Bishop is closer in his views to Rogers; McMillin to U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, Washingtonīs new Ron Paul.

MIRS, the state Capitol newsletter, once ranked Bishop the state Senateīs most conservative member based on the types of votes before the chamber that year. But as the Senateīs top dog, Bishop once was the chamberīs most liberal Republican, obliged to lead on the compromises he helped forge with Democrats.

In truth, Bishop is a traditional, businessfriendly Republican, a predictable conservative vote who will begrudgingly compromise when absolutely necessary.

McMillin can easily be lumped into the partyīs "liberty" movement. A genuine fighter against government secrecy, regardless of whose in power, McMillin is politically shrewd enough to realize his past hard right views on abortion, gay rights and other social issues arenīt in vogue right now.

McMillin is so far right on some issues, he crosses the circular political spectrum and shares space with some lefty Democrats. The ACLU and McMillin have found themselves on the same page more than once.

On stopping domestic spying, former example, McMillin isnīt that far apart from, letīs say, Hank or other Democrats.

The political reality, however, is that the Democratsī odds of winning the seat are long. Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consultants in East Lansing put them at 45 to 1, which is "better than an asteroid striking the United States" before Election Day.

Itīs a reason Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, state Rep. Sam Singh and others passed on the first open 8th Congressional seat in 14 years.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee doesnīt believe all is lost. Itīs blocked off $290,000 in Lansing media broadcast time from Oct. 21 to Nov. 4 and another $850,000 in Detroit. Pam Byrnes may get the benefits of that time in the 7th District, where she is trying to replace conservative GOP incumbent Tim Walberg.

Whether the DCCC plays or passes on the 8th will be based on two factors: polling numbers and the money needed to improve polling numbers. The only head-to-head survey (conducted by MIRS and Practical Political Consultants) showed Bishop up 54.5 to 45.5 percent on Schertzing and Mc- Millin up 52.5 to 47.5 on the 13-year county treasurer.

Thatīs not bad, if youīre a Dem.

Schertzing, a 52-year-old East Lansing social liberal and economic conservative, has raised $150,000. Heīs likely the only candidate the DCCC would bother helping. Grettenberger has $20,000 in the bank and the other two havenīt raised anything.

If he had any money, the 32-year Hankīs progressive views on hemp and the environment could earn him a cult following. Darga claims to be the moderate whom Democrats need to win this district, but the introverted economist has wilted into the backdrop. His cry to bring heavy industry back to Michigan is falling on deaf ears.

Grettenbergerīs compassionate story as a social worker, substance abuse counselor and mother of four children clicks in East Lansing or Lansing. Livingston County and northern Oakland is a different issue. If properly funded, this worldly educator could have a realistic shot at a local post or an open state legislative seat.

Six months ago, as the partyīs standard bearer, Grettenberger was the perfect contrast to a War Hawk like Mike Rogers.

Now, six months from now, Rogers is hoping to counterbalance super conservative red meat eaters like Laura Ingraham and Glenn Beck on Cumulus.

Who would have believed it?

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