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Home News  McNamara on MSU trustees' ballot, Nugent bounced
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Wednesday, September 1,2010

McNamara on MSU trustees' ballot, Nugent bounced

by Kyle Melinn

Believe it or not, the nominations that yielded the most combined consternation for both Republicans and Democrats at this week’s conventions weren’t the attorney general or the secretary of state picks. The Dems essentially made their nominations last spring.


It wasn’t the Supreme Court, either. After the governor picked Appellate Judge Alton Davis to succeed Elizabeth Weaver, everything fell into place at both conventions.


It was the trustee positions on the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, where both incumbents — Democrat Colleen McNamara and Republican Don Nugent — faced significant opposition.


McNamara survived. Nugent did not.


For McNamara, a 16-year incumbent, the rub came from the state’s two major teachers’ union, whose officials believed McNamara didn’t jump high enough when they wanted the trustee’s help in organizing non-tenured track faculty a few years ago.


The American Federation of Teachers wanted McNamara to sign their petition to put pressure on MSU President Lou Anna Simon to give in on the negotiations. McNamara opted to have a conversation with Simon instead, a source tells me.


There’s also concern that McNamara and Trustee Joel Ferguson are cozying up a little too much with the two Republicans on the board and that Faylene Owen would be better as the board chairman as opposed to Ferguson.


At the end of the day, officials at the UAW endorsed McNamara for, in part, solid political reasons. In an election year when the Republicans may sweep all of the education posts, McNamara, as a female incumbent with a strong name in Wayne County, represents the Democrats’ best chance to win anything that far down the ballot.


With the UAW’s endorsement, the skids were greased for McNamara and consensus pick Dennis Denno, a legislative aide and East Lansing pollster. The only other candidate actively seeking the post — former East Lansing Mayor Sam Singh — graciously dropped out before the vote. Look for a state representative or another MSU Board run in 2012 for the upwardly mobile Singh.


Over on the Republican side, Nugent found himself in the battle with former MSU football player Mitch Lyons, who had hired a political consulting firm that Nugent had called out several months ago.


Nugent, a Frankfort fruit farmer, told the Capitol news service MIRS in March that Chuck Yob, the influential former Michigan National Committeeman and consultant for his son’s political consulting firm, offered to work for his re-election campaign if paid $5,000 a month. In exchange, Yob supposedly said he’s make sure Nugent ran unopposed. Otherwise, Yob said the consulting firm, Strategic National, would find another client and run against him, according to what Nugent said.


"I don’t like that way of doing business," Nugent said he told him.


Now, Yob denies that this conversation ever took place. Either way, Strategic National picked up Lyons and ran a hard campaign against Nugent, who was framed as a political moderate, a political death sentence in the eyes of hundreds of conservative tea party delegates who showed up.


Lyons will join consensus pick Brian Breslin, a senior vice president of the Meijer Corp., on the Republican ballot.


On his campaign website, Nugent wrote to supporters, "Although we were unsuccessful, I am reminded of the quote, ’It’s not the final score that counts, it’s the way you played the game.’"


Closed process in 33rd District?


In the wake of a dysfunctional party convention this weekend in East Lansing, where delegates hung outside the Breslin Center for hours waiting for credentials, the Michigan Republican Party is on the verge of making another colossal mistake.


A special meeting to replace now-lieutenant gubernatorial nominee Brian Calley as the Republican nominee in the 33rd Senate District has been tentatively called. And the meeting is closed to the public and the press, MIRS has learned.


Exactly 126 Republican officials from Clinton, Ionia, Isabella and Montcalm counties will gather to determine whether Michael Trebesh or former Rep. Scott Hummel, both of DeWitt, will replace Calley on the ballot or if former Rep. Judy Emmons from Montcalm gets the nod.


Letting the process play out in secret is a poor idea. The initial election involving Calley and Trebesh couldn’t have been more public. Both candidates campaigned vigorously and nearly 30,000 voters picked one or the other.


If the process to pick Calley’s replacement is held behind closed doors, it sends an elitist message that the party powerbrokers think they don’t need the public around when potentially the people’s servant is being picked.


Public cynicism about politics is already high. Picking a stealth nominee in a district that voted 51.7 percent for Barack Obama
two years ago may cause voters to consider pro-life Democrat James
Hoisington in what should be a slamdunk for Republicans.


Obviously,
the GOP is concerned about another Breslin Center debacle. But it’s
better, politically, to mess up in public than run a tight ship behind
closed door.


(Kyle Melinn, news editor of the Capitol news service MIRS, can be emailed at melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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