2005-07-30 / Editorials

Republican Chairman Vows Changes

Michigan Politics
By George Weeks



Republicans, after the 19912002 reign of Governor John Engler, currently control the Legislature and the Michigan Supreme Court. Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and Attorney General Mike Cox are well positioned for reelection.

But no Republican presidential nominee since 1988 has carried Michigan, and the state's political Big Three are Democrats – Governor Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. We're deep blue on the national political map.

Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman, at conclusion of his two-day Michigan cheerleading/fundraising blitz visit last week, vowed "seeds of success" have been planted to oust "the vulnerable" Granholm and Stabenow in 2006 and deliver Michigan for the 2008 presidential nominee.

That, of course, is the kind of spin that any visiting national party boss offers in any state to local scribes. I've heard it for two decades from the likes of Republican Haley Barbour and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, two of the better ones.

Mehlman, whose Washtenaw County fundraiser Thursday netted about $250,000 for the Michigan GOP, told this scribe:

"The seeds for success have been planted over the last four years (including) the growth we saw in '04. They continue to be planted by the Michigan party's focus on grassroots, the focus on reaching out and growing the party, and commitment to candidates who are reformers, and who believe in ideas on how to improve people's lives in the state."

On Stabenow, he said polling indicates "voters clearly want change." Granholm's "biggest vulnerability is that Michigan is last in job creation."

Reacting to Mehlman Friday, pollster Ed Sarpolus of EPIC/ MRA said Stabenow does "significantly better" than Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham, whom she defeated in 2002, did in polls at this stage of that election cycle. He said working in Granholm's favor is that her likely challenger, businessman Dick DeVos, is viewed as "quite polarizing--way to the right."

The polls and spin-meistering of 2005 are interesting fodder in the buildup, but not predictors of what will happen in 2006. Cars and Cherries

The more jobs Granholm attracts, better the chance of saving her own. The stated goal of her current nine-day mission to Japan is "to attract new business development and jobs to Michigan," with emphasis on forging stronger alliances with Japan's auto and new technology industries.

Wisely, she's also working in a pitch for Michigan's $37 billion dollar-a-year agriculture industry, with particular emphasis on products dispatched from the Lansing-based Cherry Marketing Institute for a Monday reception at the U.S. Pavilion at the World Expo in Aichi, Japan.

Among them were dried cherries from Cherry Central Cooperative in Traverse City and Graceland Fruit in Frankfort. Granholm's office said that "while tart cherries are not a traditional staple of the Japanese diet, the Japanese are very health conscious, and the health benefits of tart cherries are appealing."

Granholm's reception also was to feature wine from Leelanau County's Black Star Farms, which she has visited and from which the Governor's Residence in Lansing purchases wine-by-mail.

Black Star Farms is at the forefront of a mounting effort to block an anti-consumer protectionist bill pushed by wine wholesalers which would ban all direct sale wine shipments in the state and ban the sale of wine in the free-sample tasting rooms.

Granholm doesn't support the ban bill as drafted and vows to work for compromise that would allow some direct sales for personal consumption by an increasingly important Michigan industry.

Last week, the Michigan Commission of Agriculture passed a resolution opposing the ban and noting, "the economic impact of Michigan's wine industry is estimated to exceed $75 million annually, with over $37 million of that coming from the sale of Michigan wines."

Two interesting allies pitted against the protectionist bill are state Sen. Michelle McManus, R-Lake Leelanau, and state Agriculture Director-designate Mitch Irwin, former Democratic senator from Sault Ste. Marie, who then had on his staff Republican McManus.

Irwin, who has been Granholm's director of the Department of Management and Budget, said that as “ag” director he will urge Granholm to hold firm for limited direct sales of wine to retail consumers for personal consumption "to maintain and grow Michigan's wine industry."

McManus, joined by Sen. Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, is leading an effort for a package of bills to allow direct wine shipments.

Co-sponsors of similar House bills include Reps. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire, and David Palsrok, R-Manistee.

George Weeks is the political columnist for The Detroit News and is syndicated by Superior Features.

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