2005-12-01 / Columns

Cox Reloads for Attorney General Election Shoot-out

Michigan Politics
By George Weeks

As he gears for reelection, beleaguered Attorney General Mike Cox, whose political fortunes and public relations suffer from a self-imposed wound, has hired two of Lansing's top politically savvy PR guns for what should be quite a shootout in coming months.

On Monday, ex-Republican State Chairman Rusty Hills, former communications and public affairs director for then-Governor John Engler, becomes Cox's $97,000-a-year communications director. He's the fifth person to have that government job in the three years Cox has been in office.

Devoted Catholic Hills most recently has taught at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan–a strange mix–while unsuccessfully trying to raise funds to start a religious-oriented mid-Michigan college, the Holy Spirit Institute.

Bill Nowling of the Lansing-based Rossman Group, a former communications chief for Senate Republicans, recently became an on-call gunslinger for Cox's political operation.

The News' Mark Hornbeck reported that Cox, using campaign funds, had hired the Lansing public relations and crisis management firm (founded by Kelly Rossman of the Blanchard administration) to help get through what Nowling called "the rough waters" of his announced extramarital affair and related battle with Oakland County attorney Geoffrey Fieger.

Cox claimed that Fieger, who seeks the 2006 Democratic nomination to oppose him, threatened through an intermediary to expose the affair unless Cox dropped a secretary-of-state-requested investigation into 2004 campaign contributions made by Fieger, who denies Cox's claim.

There's no disputing Nowling's advice that Cox should "just be the attorney general." Before the Cox-Fieger flap, Cox was on a roll on convictions, consumer protection actions, and other matters. Last week, Cox claimed a $20 million victory in a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling for customers of Consumers Energy.

But Nowling caused discomfort in the Cox camp when he said: "People were willing to forgive Bill Clinton, and they will be willing to forgive Mike Cox."

A sampling of editorials and letters to editors in newspapers indicate he might be right. The Jackson Citizen Patriot said, "we don't believe that Cox's private life before he got elected is a crucial matter in his re-election."

But it said Cox and Fieger are both "flawed."

The Lansing State Journal said the mess is "staining Cox and Fieger." Concluded the Bay City Times : "Will we voters be able to stomach such a matchup?"

Cox's new gunslingers have quite a challenge ahead of them.

Bipartisan Pitch

A welcome break in the partisan rancor in Lansing came last week when Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and Dan Mulhern, husband of Governor Jennifer Granholm, joined in an appeal for funds for the Michigan Harvest Gathering.

The project in its 15 years has collected more than six million pounds of food through the Food Bank Council of Michigan, which last year served more than 800,000 families.

Thanks to transportation dollars provided through Harvest Gathering, food bank warehouses in the Upper Peninsula serve more than 200 local emergency pro-viders.

Honorary chair of the gathering is Lions quarterback Joey Harrington. He's having a bad season. But Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Bill Schuette, who with his wife Cynthia founded the gathering when he was state agriculture director, called Harrington "Most Valuable Player" for needy Michiganians.

Harrington says donations can be made by calling (800) 552-4483 or visiting the council's Web site at feedmichigan.org.

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

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