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Wednesday, July 7,2010

Who’s on first with Virg?

by Kyle Melinn

The quickest way to be turned off from eating sausage is watching how it’s made.


Maybe the same can be said of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, where both campaigns are basically assembling the airplane midflight.


To the world, everything is fine at Team Virg Bernero. They have the endorsements of the organized teachers, nurses, women and labor groups within the AFL-CIO. They have established Democrats in Genesee and Macomb counties behind him.


Bernero’s latest internal poll showed him up on primary opponent Andy Dillon 37 percent to 34 percent after a 110-word positive profile was read on both candidates.


"Bernero has a clear path to victory," reads a confidential memo authored by Michael Kulisheck, vice president of Harstad Strategic Research, the polling company that conducted the survey. "Bernero will win on Aug. 3 by communicating with primary voters about his experience creating jobs in Lansing and his long record of standing up for workers and the people of Michigan."


But the big question is how much money Bernero has and how much money organized labor should kick in to fund what very well could be a losing effort this fall. None of the polls are showing any Democratic winning against a Republican. After Bernero met with newly installed United Auto Workers President Bob King, a volley of private communications was knocked around elements of the Democratic Party.


How much is the governor’s office worth? Is going after Republican-nominated state Supreme Court Justice Bob Young a better use of the UAW and AFL-CIO’s scarce resources? Next year’s legislative and congressional redistricting plans could end up in the Supreme Court at the end of the day. Having a working majority of Democratic justices could be vital.


What about protecting the state House or winning the secretary or state or attorney general’s race?


Then there’s the reality that Bernero is still not on statewide television and that a majority of Democratic candidates knows nothing about him, forcing the Lansing mayor to count on the slow-moving organized labor machine to churn out the pamphlets and phone calls on his behalf.


Lt. Gov. John Cherry’s sudden exit from the gubernatorial sweepstakes in January made the creation of the Bernero campaign a rush job. The race had been dubbed in Washington as unwinnable for a Democrat from the state, making finding experienced, competent staffers willing to work on the cheap more difficult than usual.


Then you have the special X-Factor of Virg’s personality. It just takes a special person to work with the quick-tempered mayor and you have a campaign that is being held together by duct tape and bailing wire. But just like sausage, if it works at the end of the day, who cares what it took to create?


Clean campaigning in 71st District


Democratic House candidate Fred Fry said he was only trying to "raise the level of discourse" when he threw down a "clean campaign pledge" two weeks ago during his Eaton County 71st House District. As it turned out, it worked.


Every one of the nine Republican and Democratic candidates took the plunge.


Republican Deb Shaughnessy, who initially balked at the idea of signing the pledge on the basis that she wasn’t signing pledges, became the ninth signee on the grounds that outside of jobs, the people she’s talking to at the doors want Republicans and Democrats to "stop the partisanship."


"They want an end to the bickering, at all levels," she said. "They want Republicans and Democrats to work together and come out with public policy that benefits the people."


Outside of seeing some lawn signs in the public right-of-ways, Shaughnessy said she thinks all of the candidates have adhered to the "clean campaign pledge," which includes a ban on candidates personally attacking one another.


She said the only concern she has going into the Aug. 3 primary is that the phrase "clean campaign" will mean different things to different people. So far, so good.


You can succeed in minority


The cameras had stopped rolling on the “Off The Record” set and Associated Press reporter Kathy Barks Hoffman turned to the panel’s guest, Rep. Rick Jones.


"Wow," she said. "That went fast. We didn’t get to half of the subjects we could have talked to you about."


It’s true. Somehow, Jones gets himself in the middle of everything. Tasers, speed traps, marijuana clubs. Name a sexy issue and Jones runs to it like a firefighter to a fire. Life in the minority isn’t a two-year sentence of boredom — handling constituent calls, holding big "Grand Opening" scissors and voting "no" on contentious issues.


The budget has a $1.6 billion hole? Why did we build that State Police headquarters building? Why does the First Gentleman have his own office? Why are people using food stamps to buy cigarettes and beer? Let’s end lifetime benefits for lawmakers. Hold an early out for state employees.


Jones wants to legalize Tasers, ban speed traps, shut down "marijuana clubs" and turn off gas chambers for stray dogs and cats or popping early retirement plans for state employees. He has figured out the formula for being effective in the minority — latch onto a populist issue, get a member of the majority party on board (optional) and call a couple media friends about it. Repeat.


My personal favorite Jones headline came in December 2007 when Jones read national press accounts about schools putting the kibosh to Christmas plays, Christmas music and Christmas trees out of fears the celebrations would spur a lawsuit. Jones promptly introduced a measure banning such "religious discrimination."


While questionable in its constitutionality, the accompanying press release was fantastic in its outrageousness: "Jones Introduces HB 5590, A Bill To Save Christmas."


As a member of the media (especially two weeks before Dec. 25) how do you not bite at that?


(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. His column appears weekly. He’s at melinn@citypulse.com.)

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