2007-08-30 / Columns

Michigan Politics

Primary Hopscotch Game Exposes Political Rifts
By George Weeks

Two northern Michigan lawmakers who once were ballot opponents are on opposite sides of a spat on the 2008 U.S. presidential race: Will Michigan January 15 be among the first states to hold a primary?

In one corner: U.S. Representative Bart Stupak (DMenominee), who last week wrote Governor Jennifer Granholm and Democratic State Chairman Mark Brewer in favor of the party's current caucus process, contending a state-financed primary system would be "fiscally irresponsible."

In the other corner: state Senator Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau) (who in 1998 got 40% of the vote as Stupak's GOP challenger). Her bill to set the earliest presidential primary date in state history last week passed the GOPruled Senate 21-17 along party lines - although a bipartisan deal on the early date remained a possibility.

Granholm, Brewer and, most notably, U.S. Senator Carl Levin have been pushing to give Michigan an earlier voice in the nominating process long dominated by New Hampshire and Iowa.

But a current rub is that organized labor, large segments of which support ex-Senator John Edwards of North Carolina for the nomination (as does Stupak), prefers the more tightly controlled caucus process where labor traditionally has clout second to none.

Democrats must get their act together if Michigan is to have a relevant primary.

In a Friday letter to Granholm, Brewer and Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis, Levin, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democratic leaders of the state House and Senate, four downstate members of Congress, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and assorted other Dem pooh bahs called for a primary election to provide "the most inclusive process and highest voter participation."

But Stupak, who says caucus planning is in place for the 31 counties he represents, asked Granholm and Brewer: "Why scrap those plans for an expensive primary format?"

Says Stupak: "A statewide primary would cost Michigan taxpayers $10-12 million and would place a significant burden on county and township clerks."

Stupak said he would support a statewide primary format "only if the presidential candidates or state party organizations agree to pay for the cost of the primary, not the taxpayers." Won't happen.

Republican McManus has a commendable bill that awaits House action. Levin, Stabenow, et al, are right that "embracing an early, inclusive contest would ensure that (manufacturing) issues are raised and our Michigan viewpoints are heard. An early, inclusive primary election is the best way to ensure the issues of trade, health care, and manufacturing are in the national limelight."

The Hillary Clinton camp may grouse that Stupak worries about her popularity in polls and favors a more Edwards-friendly caucus system. But he has a popular pitch in declaring: "It is inappropriate for the State Legislature to vote to fund an unnecessary political presidential primary and then ask taxpayers to increase their taxes because the state is broke."

At a Saturday meeting in Lansing, the Republican State Committee unanimously approved a January 15 state-run primary and rules to implement it. GOP State Chairman Saul Anuzis said:

"We are united. Moving up the primary will make Michigan the first major industrial state to hold a presidential primary and will give our voters a chance to educate the next president of the United States about Michigan and its specific issues. Republicans and Democrats agree that Michigan must move up its primary in order to be relevant in the presidential selection process."

Touting Tourism

Last week the Travel Industry Association of America named Travel Michigan's spiffy "Pure Michigan" tourism TV ad campaign the nation's best. But are we Poor Michigan when it comes to spending to promote tourism?

A new tub-thumping coalition may be stretching it in declaring that legislation introduced last week by state Senator Jason Allen (RTraverse City) would increase tourism jobs and revenues in Michigan "almost immediately" by funding the Pure Michigan campaign at levels competitive with other tourism states.

But Tourism Improving Michigan's Economy (TIME) is right in deploring the poor funding in relation to other states, despite the $15 million boost for the twoyear period ending at the end of 2007. Consider $48 million in Illinois; Pennsylvania's $64 million.

TIME co-chair Dan Musser, president of Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel, says Allen's plan for a $30 million annual tourism budget "is a smart investment that will pay for itself two or three times over in new revenues to the state and new jobs as well."

Other TIME members include those from the Michigan Hotel, Motel & Resort Association, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Restaurant Association, the Michigan Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, and other groups.

Over the decades, assorted groups and governors have touted tourism - but Michigan's funding has been erratic.

Hoekstra for Governor?

Over the years, eight-term U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra (RHolland) has flirted with running for governor or the U.S. Senate. Asked Friday on Michigan Public Television's "Off the Record" show about running for governor in 2010, he replied: "I believe that is a possibility I would seriously consider in the future."

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.

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