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Wednesday, November 20,2013

Political notes from around town

by Walt Sorg
Washington: voters “uneducated” Lansing City Councilwoman Jody Washington’s post-election Facebook reaction raised some eyebrows by characterizing “many voters” in this year’s city election as “uneducated.” While lamenting that only 17 percent of registered voters turned out (a typically low turnout for a city election), Washington added that “unfortunately, many of those that do vote are totally uneducated as to the issues and the candidates; but, at least they vote.”

The apparent diss of voters registered 24 “likes,” but it also generated some heated commentary, including counter-criticisms from 2011 Council candidate Thomas Stewart and environmental advocate Julie Powers.

Washington, a member of the “anti- Bernero” City Council faction (though she consistently denies being part of any faction), supported Canfora and At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries in the election. Both lost.

Transparency in campaign money … or not

Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson appears to have worked with legislative Republicans to favor more open government while avoiding the consequences.

Johnson held a telephone news conference on a proposed administrative rule to require political committees that fund issue ads to disclose donors. Such independent committees can spend unlimited sums secretly. In last year’s state Supreme Court race, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network reported that 75 percent of campaign-style candidate ads were “off the books.”

The move towards campaign transparency brought some praise to Johnson. But even as she was talking with reporters, a state Senate committee was amending a campaign finance bill to overturn her “decision.” Some Democrats suspect Johnson knew in advance the Senate would make her decision meaningless.

The Senate bill also doubles the amount of money that can be donated to state political campaigns, apparently because there simply isn’t enough big money in Michigan politics. Within hours of the committee’s approval, the measure passed the full Senate on a 20-18 vote, with six Republicans joining all 12 Democrats in opposition.

Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, has introduced a bill to require full disclosure in line with the Johnson initiative. Despite the Senate vote in the other direction, he expects the House Elections Committee to take up his bill after Thanksgiving, noting that “the House and Senate R’s are not always on the same page.”

Chamber against issue-ad disclosure Meanwhile, the head of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce is actively campaigning against requiring the funders of issues ads to be revealed. In a series of Twitter posts over the weekend, Rich Studley contended that disclosure amounts to an infringement on free speech, tweeting that “Mich Sec of State’s plan to force unions or biz groups that run issue ads to disclose members & donors opens door to political retaliation.” The Chamber spends millions on “issue ads” that are thinly veiled campaign ads on behalf of Chamber-endorsed candidates. It also funnels millions in anonymous political contributions to other committees, including $5.4 million transferred to the Republican Governors Association in 2010. The RGA then gave $5.3 million to the Michigan Republican Party.

Which Dem will take on Rogers?

Encouraged by recent polling, national Democrats are looking for a candidate to challenge U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, next year. Rogers was easily reelected last year, winning 59 percent of the vote over Lansing educator Lance Enderle. The 8th Congressional District has a Republican edge — Mitt Romney beat President Obama there 51 percent to 48 percent. Rogers spent $1.7 in the 2012 campaign, while Enderle’s budget was a miserly $57,000. And Rogers goes into 2014 with more than $1.8 million in the campaign bank account.

Even though Rogers has never had a close reelection race, a post-government-shutdown poll from Public Policy Polling showed him trailing a generic Democrat 47 percent to 44 percent.

Two groups, MoveOn.org and BoldProgressives.org, are surveying Democrats about possible candidates who could be recruited. The focus will likely be on a candidate who would run well in Oakland County, which is the largest piece of the sprawling 8th District. But, thanks to the gerrymandered district map, the most prominent Oakland Democrats live outside the district. They include county clerk and former state Rep. Lisa Brown and state House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel. They would have to move a few miles to challenge the seven-term incumbent. The name from Ingham County heard most is state Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, but Singh said he is “focused as House Democratic Finance Chair to rebuild(ing) a majority in the state House” in 2014. Enderle, who lost to Rogers in 2010 and 2012, said he has made no decisions about 2014. He added that he wants the strongest possible candidate to take on Rogers, even if that is not him. Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing flirted with a possible candidacy earlier this year, but he says now he will not run.

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