At the taping of “City Pulse Newsmakers,” Democratic 67th House District candidate Tom Cochran was a no show.
The showe aired Sunday (and is available at www.lansingcitypulse.com) with the former Lansing fire chief’s two Democratic opponents: retired radio show host Walt Sorg and Delhi Township Trustee Jerry Ketchum.
Asked to read into Cochran’s nonappearance, Sorg launched into a critique of a Cochran lit piece that makes the unrealistic campaign promise of lower taxes and higher spending for education and other government services.
Cochran was offered pretty much carte blanche on when to tape the show, which his handler, Todd Cook, declined with a vague reference to a busy schedule. (Because of technical problems, the show had to be taped again; this time Cochran said he had other commitments.)
His nonappearance raised the question: “Is Cochran — backed by the UAW, the Michigan Nurses Association, the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union and the Michigan Association of Police Organizations — serious about the race?”
“I’m very serious,” Cochran told me by phone. “I wouldn’t take up people’s time if I wasn’t. I have a lot of respect for the process, and I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t serious.”
So why wasn’t he there?
Among the Lansing types, Cochran is viewed as the frontrunner. The 67th House District is one of only two or three competitive open seats in the state this year, meaning Democrats must retain the district held by term-limited Rep. Barb Byrum to keep alive any slim hopes they have of regaining a majority.
The Republicans are running former Vevay Township Supervisor Jeff Oesterle, who lost by 6 percent to Byrum two years ago. In redistricting last year, Republicans monkeyed around with the south Lansing/Holt/Mason/rural Ingham County district to presumably give Oesterle an edge.
In 2011, Cochran was asked by Dems to run for the 67th. He said no and told Sorg as much when the two talked.
Last October, Cochran’s father passed away and around that same time his mother had a stroke. His mother needed 24-hour care, and he was working with his sister in providing that. Then things changed. In January, his mother suffered a second stroke and the family moved her into a facility better suited to helping her with rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, Cochran still received calls about running. The line was Sorg was too liberal. His campaign finance account was practically empty despite being in the race for about a year. And his bad knees were limiting his ability to knock doors.
Democrats were concerned they were going to lose the seat.
On the second ask, Cochran said yes.
“I did feel bad because I had talked to (Sorg) and told him I wasn’t running. So he was the first person I called when I made the decision to get in,” Cochran said. “My personal circumstances changed and I was upfront and honest about that.”
Why didn’t the D’s rally around Ketchum, who filed in February?
He’s a three-time Delhi Township trustee and retired 25-year MDOT employee, who has the SEIU’s support.
It’s because some view him as a Republican in Democratic clothing.
Due to his Baptist beliefs, Ketchum is pro-life and anti-gay marriage. He’s pro gun and worked against the doomed $5.5 million sludge drier proposal in Holt.
Both Cochran and Sorg are pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.
Sorg drives around in a Chevy Volt. If elected, he would make legislation expanding the accessibility of electric sockets for plug-in cars a top priority.
He said the knocks on him are unfounded. He brushed off the “liberal” claim as people looking for an excuse not to support him. As for his knees, both were replaced in January. He claims to have knocked on about 2,000 doors since.
Sorg is very likeable. He has the support of most of the six countywide elected officials, three former House speakers and three MSU trustees.
The issue does come down to dollars and cents. Sorg ended 2011 with $217.51 in his account, a paltry sum considering he’d been in the race for most of the year.
Oesterle and the Republicans are going to spend money in this district after Labor Day. TV commercials, radio commercials, mailings all cost money. Democrats would rather have a candidate who can raise a little of his own as opposed to relying on the Democratic Party’s limited resources to bail him out.
What is Cochran doing instead of doing TV appearances with Sorg and Ketchum? He’s going door to door. He’s making phone calls to potential contributors. He had a fundraiser last Thursday. He said he’s doing the things he feels he needs to do to put himself in a position to beat Oesterle in the fall.
After the primary, he said he would publicly debate Oesterle on “City Pulse Newsmakers” or some other program.
So to answer the original question — is Tom Cochran serious about this race?
Yes, he’s just more serious about winning in November.