The sleepy 67th state House District is in slumber no more.
Democrat House candidate Tom Cochran wound up and swung at Republican Jeff Oesterle where it hurt during the “City Pulse Newsmakers” program this week, by tying his opponent to the intriguing investigation into the Republican House speaker and the shady filing day switch-a-roo in Grand Rapids.
Cochran noted that Oesterle is carrying the banner for a party that not only cut education and jacked up senior citizens’ income taxes, but tried to rob Democrats in a Grand Rapids House seat of a legitimate candidate through some underhanded scheme.
“It’s just a travesty what they did,” Cochran said on the show. “The Republican prosecutor in Kent County even admitted what they did was unethical. They need to stop playing political games.”
Rep. Roy Schmidt, R-Grand Rapids, opted to switch from Democrat to Republican on the filing deadline after much consultation with Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall. And to assure himself an easy re-election victory, he promised his nephew’s 22-year-old roommate $450 to run a phantom campaign against him as a Democrat.
Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth blew the whistle on the whole affair before the primary election, declaring that the whole thing smelled to high heaven, but that no laws were broken.
Democrats, however, noted that the phony candidate, Matt Mojzak, didn’t live in the 76th House District for 30 days before filing.
Mojzak planned on moving into the district this summer, but he didn’t live in the district when he filed. Text messages released after Forsyth’s investigation indicate Schmidt and Bolger not only knew of this problem, but helped the GNC store manager file anyway.
Then the Senate minority leader, Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, and Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer hopped in, asking the Ingham County Circuit Court to conduct a one-person grand jury investigation into potential perjury.
The judges responded with surprising speed, tapping Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to look into the matter as the one-woman grand jury. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has potential campaign finance violations in front of her since Schmidt cut a $450 check for Mojzak, but never gave it to him.
For Democrats, the GOP couldn’t have gift-wrapped a better campaign present. Scandal, intrigue, a criminal investigation. After giving one away in Oakland County two years ago with the fake Tea Party debacle, the Republicans fumbled one right back with this Bolger/Schmidt situation and the photocopied petitions turned in by disgraced former U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter.
Cochran is more than willing to take advantage of the situation.
The former Lansing fire chief said he thinks Bolger should be prosecuted and sees it as a shame that partisanship in Lansing has devolved to where the House speaker feels Republicans need to “pull a stunt like that.”
The spectacle has now put Oesterle, who had absolutely nothing to do with the situation, on the defensive.
If he wins the election and Bolger wins re-election in the 63rd House District, will he vote to re-elect him as speaker?
Oesterle wouldn’t say. He noted that he doesn’t know how much more information will be floating around when the next speaker vote takes place. That said, however, he said, “I wouldn’t be afraid to vote against him. I don’t want to vote against him by hearsay.”
Listening to these comments in the Lansing public television studios, Cochran used the words “unethical” and “illegal” to describe these shenanigans. Oesterle quickly noted those two words are different.
That’s true, but in the political realm, neither is very good. In Grand Rapids, a poll conducted by Practical Political Consultants and MIRS had Schmidt getting skewered by unknown, first-time candidate Winnie Brinks, 69 to 31 percent.
Bolger, too, saw his numbers in his own district drop to tough re-elect numbers against a relatively unknown candidate after a Mainstreet Strategies poll asked listeners some leading questions.
No charges have been filed. Nobody has been convicted. But the press has covered this story with front-page attention throughout the state.
Republicans have a 64-46 majority in the House, meaning nine seats will need to flop for the Democrats to manage a 55-55 split. Ten seats would switch power. Given that there are only two or three open seats in play (the 67th being one of them), the odds of success are long.
Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who co-chairs the House D’s campaign efforts, said last week on “Off The Record” that the Bolger/Schmidt situation is “good for Democrats around the state. It will spill out beyond West Michigan.”
One of the first places of spillover appears to be Ingham County, where Oesterle could find his feet stuck in this toxic mess.
(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)