2009-08-08 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Stupak: From Beat Cop to Food Cop
By George Weeks

In the 1970s, Bart Stupak was an Escanaba police officer and then a State Police trooper. Now, he's emerging as Capitol Hill's top food cop.

Title of the nine-term congressman from Menominee is a mouthful: Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Stupak's investigations and 10 hearings over the past two years on what he calls the nation's "broken" food safety system led to 283-142 House passage last week, with good bipartisan support, of the landmark Food Safety Enhancement Act to fix the system. Senate action is pending.

Media coverage of the action was understandably eclipsed by focus on "Cash for Clunkers," President Barack Obama's distracting, over-hyped Beer Summit after he unwisely said a white cop "acted stupidly" in arresting a black homeowner. and, far more importantly, focus on the health care debate.

But Stupak deserves kudos for being first long ago blowing the whistle on laxity of the Food and Drug Administration, and then examining breakdowns in the system highlighted by E. coli in peanut butter, meat, and fresh greens as well as last summer's high-profile outbreak of salmonella linked first to tomatoes and later traced to jalapeno peppers.

Stupak said the bill he helped write "addresses gaping holes in the protection of our nation's food supply and strengthens the accountability of both the FDA and the food industry. By keeping contaminated food off Americans' dinner tables and acting quickly and decisively when outbreaks occur, we can help ensure the safety of families throughout Northern Michigan and across the nation."

He says the bill would establish a national food tracing system, making it easier for the FDA to respond to outbreaks of food borne illness. It also would increase inspections of foreign food facilities, a critically important provision given the increasing amount of food coming from overseas. The bill would give the FDA subpoena power, mandatory recall authority, and require country of origin labeling on food.

In these welcome days of "Buy American," and this summer's focus on buying Michigan farm products, the bill's focus on country of origin takes on added allure. When feasible, farm market beats foreign.

Stupak correctly calls for prompt Senate passage because "Without reform, it's not a matter of if, but when, the next outbreak will occur."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 76 million cases of food borne illness occur each year in the United States, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.

Food safety is more important to more of us than clunker cars.

Hoekstra's Hype

Nine-term U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-Holland), the former chairman and now ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, is deservedly prominent in the national media for his call-'emas he-sees-'em stance on national security issues, even when it might be awkward for his party.

Does that help in seeking the 2010 GOP nomination to replace term-limited Governor Jennifer Granholm? Not much, especially as voters focus on economic distress.

But Hoekstra also has a deft touch on local campaigning back home, as evident when, then a business executive, he biked about west Michigan district in a campaign that resulted in a stunning upset of 1966-92 Representative Guy VanderJagt (R-Luther) in the GOP primary.

He's not seeking reelection to his safe seat, but Peddling Pete is at it again in the gubernatorial primary (he was to bike about 25 miles over the weekend from Holland to Grand Haven) and has another populist gig, spending a couple of hours with people in 100 jobs periodically in the campaign.

The caper worked well for him last week in Detroit, where both daily newspapers covered him with pictures and three-column headlines as he donned a hardhat and safety vest for laying of sewer pipe. It was campaign gold for a relatively unknown west Michigan politician whose chief primary opponents are from the metro southeast.

Among future jobs: making Mackinac Island fudge, and maybe shaking or packing cherries.

Help Mate for Her

Running Mate

Has any Michigan governor done more to trumpet a running mate who is running to be successor than Jennifer Granholm has for John Cherry? I don't recall any.

Granholm frequently issues joint press releases with Cherry, as she did Friday in saying the two "thanked President Obama for his efforts in working with Congress to extend the Car Allowance Rebate System," popularly known as the Cash for Clunkers program "that offers rebates of up to $4,500 for the purchase of new fuel-efficient vehicles."

Meanwhile, Cherry, longtime ally of organized labor, is amassing endorsements from legions of local party leaders.

George Weeks retired in 2006 after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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