2011-04-09 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Republican Wave in 2012 Michigan?
By George Weeks

In 2010, Republicans picked up two seats in Michigan’s U.S. House delegation, thanks in part to the GOP wave across the state and nation.

Will Senator Debbie Stabe- now’s bid for a third term be impacted by another “wave” election in 2012, when 23 Democratic seats are at risk against only 10 for Republicans in a chamber where Democrats now have a 53-47 advantage thanks to two independents who caucus with them?

Last month, Charlie Cook of the Cook Report, writing in the National Journal, said, “the numbers are pretty ominous” for Democrats. But Cook said that as “grisly” as the broad picture is for Senate Democrats, “it’s premature to extend that view to individual seats.”

However, polls and assorted commentators suggest Stabenow could be vulnerable.

The Inside Michigan Politics (IMP) newsletter, based on a March 14-19 poll of 600 registered voters it commissioned by Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group (MRG), said Stabenow is “potentially vulnerable if she faces any substantive GOP challenge.”

It was hardly a substantive challenger who was matched against her in the poll: the only announced

GOP candidate, ex-Probate Judge Randy Hekman of Grand Rapids, founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Michigan Family Forum and currently executive pastor of Crossroads Bible Church.

IMP said Stabenow “surprisingly” had only an 11-point lead over “this nonentity,” and noted her “re-elect” number in the poll “is well under the 50% mark.”

The GOP nominee against Stabenow will not be a nonentity. Among those in the possible mix are ex-Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who piled up big winning margins, and former nineterm 2nd District U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra of Holland, who as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee was a frequent figure on national TV but failed in his bid for the 2010 GOP gubernatorial nomination.

My view is that while Republicans will come up with a solid and well-financed challenger, Stabenow, who already has $2 million in her campaign kitty, will be a strong contender for a third term, regardless of any GOP tide that might mount across the land next year.

While Stabenow has not had the visibility of Senator Carl Levin, Michigan’s longest-serving senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in an era when the nation is engaged in major armed conflicts, she has much to tout on the bipartisan front.

Back in 2007, she was praised by President George W. Bush for her ideas on housing legislation and was among seven lawmakers pictured with him in a White House photo of a bill signing ceremony labeled “Helping Americans Keep Their Homes.”

Of late, Stabenow has been allied with 10-term 4th District Representative Dave Camp (RMidland), chairman of the power- ful Ways and Means Committee and an oft-touted but not inclined candidate for the Senate, on a bipartisan push for legislation to block entry of Asian carp into the Great Lakes.

In 2010, Democrats lost two congressional seats in Michigan:

• In the 1st District vacated by nine-term Representative Bart Stupak (D-Menominee), Republican Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls, who as a surgeon long practiced in Iron Mountain and as a political newcomer had Tea Party support, defeated veteran state lawmakers in the primary and general elections.

• In the downstate 7th District, ex-Representative Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) won back the seat that he narrowly lost to Democrat Mark Schauer of Battle Creek in 2008 when the environment was unfavorable to Republicans.

While there were factors at play in those two races beyond the national

GOP wave, Inside Michigan Politics notes that Michigan has had three straight “wave” elections, including those in 2006 and 2008 that favored Democrats.

IMP said: “The general rule in Michigan has been that Democrats do better in large-turnout presidential election years, while the GOP tends to prosper in smallturnout gubernatorial election years when most of the major statewide offices are up for grabs (plus) the state Senate as well as the House.”

Based on that, Stabenow’s hopes are for a large turnout next year.

Dennis Cawthorne

One of the most interesting veteran gubernatorial appointees I have known is Dennis O. Caw- thorne, once-again and longestserving (20 years) chairman of the seven-member Mackinac Island State Park Commission.

I say “once-again” because now that Republican Snyder replaced Democrat Granholm, former state House Republican leader Cawthorne, who once lived in Manistee but now resides on Mackinac Island, replaced legendary Democratic ex-Attorney General Frank Kelley (nation’s longest-serving state AG) as chairman of the commission.

Kelley Cawthorne is not a feud. It’s a unique partnership.

It’s a Lansing-based lobbying firm that, according to figures released last week by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, ranked second among the state’s multi-client lobbying firms with 2010 spending of $1,151,760.

The top spender was Governmental

Consultant Services, Inc., with spending of $1,279,804 and 102 clients, including, according to the February 14 issue of Inside Michigan Politics (IMP) newsletter, the cities of Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Lansing.

IMP did not include Kelley Cawthorne in its listing of largest multi-lobbying firms based on number of clients.

But the firm, in addition to the Detroit Medical Center and numerous other downstate clients, has such northern clients as K-12 schools, North Central Michigan College, and Lake Superior State University.

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, reported Lansing lobbying expenditures totaled $31,811,476 last year, down slightly from 2009. But how valid are the reports?

MCFN Director Rich Robinson said: “Michigan lobbying reports reveal less than those required by the federal government and several other states. The multi-clients report their client list, but they don’t report how much they spend representing each of them. And nobody is required to report travel spending less than $725 on behalf of a lobbyable official. Those are important gaps in disclosure that should be corrected by the legislature.”

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing Bureau Chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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