2007-06-16 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

It's 'Bash Bart' Time in Lansing and D.C.
By George Weeks

Four Michigan Democrats have high profile roles in Capitol Hill's oversight of the beleaguered Bush Administration. Republicans on two fronts last week attacked the most junior of them, Representative Bart Stupak of Menominee.

Most prominent of the investigative Big Four is Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan's longest-serving senator (first elected in 1978). Although a leading critic of the Iraq war, he has consistently opposed cutting off money for the troops.

Dearborn Representative John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and dean of the House (first elected in 1955), has been Michigan's cloutmeister, and Mr. Oversight when Democrats rule the House.

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Detroit Representative John Conyers (first elected in 1964) has led investigation of the administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Among them is Margaret Chiara, responsible for the western half of the Lower Peninsula and all of the Upper Peninsula.

Stupak, a Dingell protégé since his election in 1992, chairs the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of Dingell's powerful committee. He's been the House point man on probes of gas prices, food safety, and other matters.

Last month, the House overwhelmingly passed Stupak's bill authorizing the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and punish firms for charging "unconscionably excessive" gas prices.

Last week, Stupak was attacked by GOP leaders in Lansing and Washington, and the Bash Bart project has far more to do with 2008 politics than with his heightened oversight role.

Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis, understandably miffed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to meet with automaker CEOs as part of their highly touted day on the Hill, called it "a direct slap in the face of struggling Michigan manufacturers."

Fair enough, especially at a time when the Democratic presidential candidates are tonguetied about helping the manufacturing sector. But then the Anuzis press release said, "Congressman Stupak needs to denounce" Pelosi.

Asked "why single out Stupak?" in the Michigan delegation, when other Democrats, including oldtimers Dingell and Conyers, are more involved in the auto scene, an Anuzis aide noted there has been recent "talk" about Stupak running for governor in 2010.

More at play is the GOP emphasis on targeting Stupak's seat in 2008. Anuzis and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), as I wrote previously, are touting term-limited state Representative Tom Casperson (REscanaba) for the run.

(Casperson already is on the prowl in Stupak's district below the bridge, having been to Iosco County and scheduled for Antrim and Gladwin.)

The NRCC, in a release noting that Stupak was among only 26 voting against the resolution overwhelmingly passed by the House for an investigation into alleged illegal conduct by Representative William Jefferson of Louisiana, said Stupak back-peddled on earlier pledges "to make ethics a priority."

After NRCC Press Secretary Ken Spain called my attention to the release, I asked what all this had to do with the push for Casperson, and where targeting Stupak fits into the NRCC priorities.

He said: "Every day that Bart Stupak casts a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, he continues to make himself increasingly vulnerable. That combined with a candidate like Tom Casperson, and you have the makings of a potential top target."

Michigan GOP Communications Director Sarah L. Anderson said of the NRCC missive: "If a 16-count indictment [against Jefferson] doesn't merit an ethics investigation in Bart Stupak's mind, he's been in Washington too long."

Stupak spokesman Alex Haurek said his boss "voted for the broader and tougher of the two ethics resolutions considered on Tuesday. The resolution (he) voted for would apply to any Member of Congress who is indicted, including Mr. Jefferson.

"Congressman Stupak did not think it made sense to pass a privileged resolution requiring an ethics investigation of Mr. Jefferson, when no such resolution was passed when [Republicans] Bob Ney, Tom DeLay, and Duke Cunningham were indicted.

"After the House offered the first resolution, it would not make sense for Congressman Stupak to then vote for a weaker, diluted resolution that was already made moot by the first resolution."

To his credit, Casperson declined to criticize Stupak's Jefferson vote without knowing whether it was consistent with how Stupak had voted on proposed investigations of GOP congressmen.

The NRCC's Spain then emailed: "Stupak has not been consistent." He cited Stupak's vote against killing a Democratic resolution to have an investigation of members with ties to the Abramoff lobbyist scandal.

While much of this is "inside baseball" for political players, it underscores that Republicans are trying to make more of a race against Stupak than they have in the past. But, as Casperson notes, it's an uphill pull.

Guvs Nail It

When the nation's governors gather July 20 to 23 at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa near Traverse City, they will have a hammer and nails Sunday morning outing for Habitat for Humanity, Grand Traverse Region.

After First Gentleman Dan Mulhern, husband of Governor Jennifer Granholm, presented the organization with Habitat for Humanity Michigan's Affiliate of the Year award, the affiliate said it planned "a special build in July" to add to the 74 where families already have been placed in three counties.

It turns out that project, organized in large part by Mulhern, who chairs the association of gubernatorial spouses, is to have governors and their families work on a structure of a house on the resort property that then will be moved to a nearby site for a family already selected, but yet to be revealed.

George Weeks retired last year after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2007-06-16 digital edition