Between now and next November, I’ve taken it upon myself to occasionally opine on the flurry of candidates (11 as of today) who will announce their intentions to run for governor in 2010.
Some are serious contenders. Others are not.
Some have an interesting story to tell, like former Flint Mayor Don Williamson, who resigned in February citing mysterious health reasons two weeks before a scheduled recall election against him.
Others bring with them a lesson to be learned. This week’s column falls under that category.
Let’s look at the following Democratic gubernatorial possibility’s rap sheet: — He made a career out of recruiting dozens of people to live in Michigan, after which he started a business that draws thousands of people every December to downtown Detroit.
— He’s a Detroit Western High School graduate, the son of a union laborer at the Ford Rogue plant and a loyal supporter of all things Michigan State University.
— He’s a statewide, publicly elected official with very good name ID.
— Unlike the ballooning field of candidates, he’s refusing to officially kick off his campaign until around the new year, saying simply, “There’s not much to do. If there was, I’d start today.”
— He adamantly refuses to attack the current officeholder or his potential opponents with negative campaign ads or hot rhetoric.
Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?
The folks living under Lansing political bubble don’t think this guy has a snowball’s chance in hell. One local Democrat told me this candidate’s interest in the governor’s office is a “joke and everyone in town knows it.”
Why? The candidate in question is George Perles.
Hey! Hey! Hey! Don’t stop reading. There’s a lesson to be learned here, remember?
Remember, Perles is the former MSU football coach who got run out of campus in 1994 after a mini-series drama starring Athletic Director Merrily Dean Baker and President M. Peter McPherson. The public never really understood the intricate plot, but needless to say things got real ugly and we reporters never were short of things to write about.
The climax came after Perles was canned and the NCAA came down with accusations of violations that caused the entire ’94 season to officially go down as a 0-11 forfeit. (Perles was eventually cleared.)
Since then, Perles has never left East Lansing. Despite having other opportunities to resurrect his career (shoot, even John L. Smith is still coaching college football), Perles stayed in the town he loved and created an annual bowl game that now features the Mid-American Conference champion and a team from the Big Ten.
In 2006, Perles was elected an MSU trustee as a Democrat, recording more votes than any other candidate in the race. Then, a few months ago, a fellow reporter asked him about running for governor.
Perles, 74, said he thought about it, and then thought it sounded like a good idea.
Why not? He’s recruited young men to come to Michigan. He’s run an administration as MSU athletic director in the ‘80s. His Motor City Bowl has been running for 13 years now. He raises money for Special Olympics through an annual golf outing. He even knows what it’s like to have 70,000 people boo him.
“I think we got all of our bases covered,” Perles told me on City Pulse On The Air on 88.9 FM recently.
(Hear the June 3 show at lansingcitypulse.com.)
“I’m a team guy, demanding, not scared to make a decision. If it works out, good. If it doesn’t, I can handle that, too.”
That’s good, because, at this point, his chances of winning are somewhere between zero and zero.
The political realities of running for an office like governor demand a little bit more than a locker room speech and a nice resume, unfortunately. As much as voters want to believe that we actually sit down and analyze all of the candidates’ resumes — their stances on issues, their background, etc. — we don’t. We don’t have time for that.
We hate to admit it, but the majority gets sucked into the vortex of nasty television ads, robo-calls, polls, endorsements and head-spinning media coverage centered on candidates who reporters believe are viable.
When it’s ballot-casting time, we end up backing Candidate X because “he/she is going to win anyway.”
That’s why folks like John Cherry, Mike Cox and Pete Hoekstra were raising money and rounding up endorsements the day after Barack Obama was elected. That’s why I’m writing this column a good 17 months before anyone is going to cast a ballot.
Like it or not, elections in America are a year-round reality until some major candidates find a way to win with a four-month campaign and a shoestring budget.
It appears Perles wants to give voters that opportunity. Will you take it? (Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly.
Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)