2010-05-15 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Centrist Runs in Conservative District
By George Weeks

Some of Michigan's most competitive congressional primary races are in districts of two nine-term incumbents who are not seeking reelection.

Much of the media focus of late, in this space and elsewhere, has been on scrambles in both parties for nominees to represent the 31-county 1st District of Representative Bart Stupak (DMenominee), whose surprise decision to call it quits was a national story in the wake of his decisive role in passage of health care reform.

Republicans now have a good shot at picking up a seat that Stupak has easily held -- with winning percentages of 65, 69, 68, and 68 the last four races.

There has been less media attention on campaigning in the solidly Republican 11-county 2nd District of Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-Holland), who is running for governor, which stretches up the Lake Michigan shoreline from part of Allegan County to all of Benzie County.

Hoekstra, whose winning percentages generally have been in the mid-60s and mid-70s, has the second most conservative voting record in Michigan's 15- member delegation in the House.

In composite ratings on economic, social, and foreign issues compiled by the widely respected National Journal that is part of the company that publishes the Almanac of American Politics, Hoekstra voted "conservative" 74% of the time, compared to 77% for Representative Mike Rogers (R-Brighton).

It pays, in seeking the Republican nomination in the 2nd District, to trumpet conservative credentials. The most prominent contenders among the initial seven primary contenders have been doing that. (One obscure candidate among the seven recently dropped out.)

An interesting dynamic has developed. An eighth contender who entered the primary race April 21 is one of the endangered species of Michigan politics: a moderate Republican.

Field Reichardt of Spring Lake, a small businessman with a varied background of state government and party roles, said:

"I consider myself to be a centrist in my political views -- perhaps a bit conservative on fiscal and business issues, perhaps a realist on social issues -- but primarily I am a person who looks at problems with the goal of solving them, not from an ideological right or left perspective, but from a practical center."

Reichardt, who touts himself as a "traditional Jerry Ford Republican," was party chairman of the lakeshore congressional district in the 1980s when its configuration differed from what it is today.

In 1968 he was executive director in Maine for the presidential campaign of Nelson Rockefeller, and in 1972, deputy director in New Hampshire of the presidential campaign of U.S. Representative Paul McCloskey (R-California), cosponsor of the 1973 Endangered Species Act and of start-up of the annual celebration of Earth Day.

McCloskey has endorsed Reichardt, as has ex-U.S. Representative Joe Schwarz (RBattle Creek), for whom Reichardt worked for two years as staff director when Schwarz was a state senator before his failed 2002 bid to be the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Reichardt, reached by cell phone as he drove to his Friday night meeting with Benzie County Republicans, revealed that ex-New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, former director of the Environmental Protection Agency, will appear with him at events June 2 in Muskegon and Grand Rapids, and June 3 at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville.

Her appearance will help underscore what Reichardt describes as his second highest campaign priority -- "the restoration and preservation of the Great Lakes." His highest priority: "to boost jobs and the economy."

Consistent with his top priorities, he said that if elected he would seek memberships on the Small Business Committee and on the Natural Resources Committee.

That would delight the Ann Arbor-headquartered Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

Deputy Director Kerry Duggan said Saturday, "From my interactions with Field, I can tell that he understands deeply the importance of a healthy and vibrant environment and its direct impact on Michigan's economy.

"It's wonderful that there is a Republican running in that crowded primary that has a natural resources protection plan and is actively courting the environmental voter.

"Field understands that a healthy environment, energy independence, and a clean energy jobs plan are essential pieces to Michigan's prosperity."

Speaking of Energy Independence...

Alternative energy is dandy but oil under land is handy. And it doesn't pose the threat of offshore drilling underscored by the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

As Michigan makes a commendable bid to become a center of energy production, there was a timely reminder last week of the potential of being more reliant on fossil fuels than trendy wind and solar options.

Governor Jennifer Granholm deserves credit for touting Michigan as a potential Mecca for the new wave of power generation: battery production for electric cars, wind generation farms, solar power arrays, and production plants for innards of these.

But Tuesday's auction of oil and gas leases suggests that traditional sources of energy remain big time in Michigan.

Exploration companies, spurred by a successful test well in Missaukee County and new drilling technology, spent $178 million at a single auction to buy mineral leases under stateowned land -- more than seven times the 1981 record of $23.6 million and nearly matching the $190 million collected over the previous 81 years. That's a huge gamble on what is down there.

Frank Mortl, president of the Michigan Oil and Gas Association, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle of the potential: "It's a big deal."

The auctions are conducted by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, with a percentage of the value of the product extracted going into the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund for acquisition of public recreational land.

Far better to drill on land, where spills can be contained, than offshore -- or slant drilling from the shore as far too many Michigan politicians supported years ago for the Great Lakes.

And far better to have wind turbines out in the Great Lakes than oil rigs.

Leelanau County author Stephanie Mills, in comment published last week by the Post Carbon Institute, reflected on potential threats to Lake Michigan and said:

"Offshore oil extraction has always been a leaky proposition, a formidable technical challenge, an amazing accomplishment of industrial ingenuity, but not an activity whose hazards to biodiversity can be eliminated by any amount of engineering prowess, technological intervention, or regulation. Just last August there was a well leak in the Timor Sea spewing hundreds of barrels a day for 10 weeks before it could be brought under control."

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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