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Wednesday, September 15,2010

Politicians play games, leaders debate

by Kyle Melinn
WESTLAND — Where did Rick Snyder, the noncareer politician, go?

Somewhere between pounding a quartet of four politicians and telling a fifth to take a hike on debates, the Republican gubernatorial nominee is playing the tired "debate on debate" based on favorable poll numbers and selfish protectionism.


I’ll give "The Nerd" points for class and refreshing spontaneity for his impromptu debate at a Westland country club Monday after Democratic rival Virg Bernero crashed the Snyder town hall meeting.


But outside of the 200 or so there, nobody saw how the candidates differed on Proposal A, attracting young talent or corrections reform. They didn’t see their gracious interplay, the courteous exchanges.


Debates are for us, the voters, the clients, the customers, whatever label Snyder wants to use. This isn’t and should never be about the political racehorse. Let the paid hacks worry about Snyder freezing on stage a la Dick DeVos or if Bernero’s dismal poll numbers jump up from the media exposure.


The debates are for the guy who was throwing back a couple MGDs in the basement of the Hawthorne Valley Country Club who was playing nine holes during the Bernero-Snyder exchange.


"I think I like that Snyder guy," he told me. "I gotta say, though, I don’t know a lot about him."


Who does know anything about Snyder, really? His nifty TV ads say he’s a nerdy successful businessman who is not a career politician. What else? And who, outside of Lansing, knows anything about Bernero?


Too often (and I’ll plead guilty here) we play political pontificator and take our eyes off the real purpose of debates. They are to educate voters, to show a contrast. The candidate leading in the polls negotiates from positions of strength in setting perimeters beneficial to him or her, but they shouldn’t strong-arm an end to debates.


And, yet, every four years we get these silly games surrounding something that should really be automatic.


Let’s hit the refresh button on this developing story. On Friday, Snyder’s debate team after weeks of alleged negotiations told Democratic Bernero he can accept the terms of three debates or he can forget the whole thing.


Snyder’s three debates included: two debates in Timbuktu Northern Michigan and a third held in front of some business muckety-mucks in Detroit over lunch. The debates would be televised, but not held in locations convenient for any follow-up news coverage and not for a live television audience in the case of Debate No. 3.


Snyder’s first debate at Central Michigan would be on either a Sunday or Friday — time slots guaranteed to not to excite viewers — and moderated by two newspaper opinion columnists, not an experienced television journalist.


Snyder’s second debate would be on another Friday, Oct. 1, the day of a possible state government shutdown, in Traverse City on a CBS affiliate. The Detroit station slated to get the feed coverage, WWJ-TV, doesn’t have a news department, further diluting the coverage.


The last debate is the traditional Detroit Economic Club non-debate debate — a true snoozer of an event where a few hundred business types see a couple of prim-andproper candidates acting like they’re eating dinner at the in-laws.


Bernero’s "unreasonable" request was to get this Detroit Economic Club event held at 7 p.m. He also wanted to help pick the moderators for the second debate.


That apparently was the deal killer, that and Bernero went public with the "secret" debate letters as part of his own politicizing stunt. Obviously, we don’t know what led up to this ultimatum and there’s no question Bernero is playing political games here, too.


But Bernero is not the one who ended discussions on debates. Snyder did.


Snyder said he’ll have coffee with Bernero, but made no promises.


In
this cooling-off period, let’s hope Snyder is the bring-people-together
CEO he claims to be. Let’s hope he’s not a reincarnation of the
my-way-or-the-highway attitude that we’ve seen in this town for at least
the last four years.


Let’s
see if he can step outside of the cozy confines of his town halls,
where supporters gleefully clap for his "spreadsheets" and
"performance-based budgeting" as he stands with a home-team crowd in
front of him and a "Rick For Michigan" banner behind him.


My
guess is that he’ll pleasantly surprise skeptics. His supporters will
think he did a wonderful job. But even if he curls up into the fetal
position and starts crying mess on stage, so what?


This
isn’t Snyder’s election. This isn’t Bernero’s election. This is our
election. We pick the winner. We pick the CEO. We deserve an interview
process. Yes, Bernero is showboating and his circus-like antics can grow old quickly, but if Bernero wants to use the debates to be a clown, let him. But at least give him the time.


What
Michigan really needs is a nonpartisan debate commission to end this
ridiculous sideshow. In the meantime, Snyder can quit being the typical
politician he espouses not to be, be the grown-up we suspect he is and
show us he’s the leader this state needs.




County bar rates candidates


Recently,
the Ingham County Bar Association rated Circuit Court judicial
candidate Clinton Canady III "exceptionally well qualified" and opponent
Billie Jo O’Berry as "well qualified."


Canady,
an attorney in private practice, received the ranking that is reserved
for the candidate that stands "at the top of the legal profession in the
community involved and have outstanding legal ability, wide experience,
and the highest reputation for integrity and temperament.”


O’Berry,
an assistant Lansing city attorney received the "well qualified" label,
which is given to the candidate who is regarded as being
"well-qualified for the vacancy from the standpoint of competence,
integrity, temperament and experience."


In
the 55th District Court race, where Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointee
Donald Allen is facing his first general election test in front of
voters, the Ingham County Bar
rated Allen "well-qualified" and challenger Paul Joseph as "qualified,"
meaning the candidate would "be able to perform satisfactorily as a
judge with respect to competence, integrity, temperament and
experience."


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


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