2009-01-22 / Columns

Michigan Politics

Northern 3 To Have Sway Over Obama Agenda
By George Weeks

Northern Michigan's three congressmen will have key roles on the fate of the Obama administration's agenda on Capitol Hill.

One, Representative Bart Stupak (D-Menominee), revealed Saturday that he recently discussed with ex-Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, a longtime ally on Great Lakes issues and incoming White House chief of staff, about ways to shape the new administration's agenda for the lakes.

One proposal being drafted by Stupak is creation of a Great Lakes Trust Fund.

As newly-selected ranking Republican on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, 10-term 4th District Representative Dave Camp of Midland will be an influential voice on domestic affairs.

He is among four GOP congressmen working to develop what he calls "constructive ideas to help revitalize the nation's economy" in response to an earlier request by President-elect Barack Obama for Republican ideas.

As ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee - and its chairman when his party ruled the House - nine-term 2nd District Representative Peter Hoekstra of Holland retains his prominent voice on security and foreign affairs.

Hoekstra, who's not going to seek reelection in 2010 and is exploring running then for governor, has been a go-to guy for the national media, and not timid about occasional criticism of the Bush administration.

But among the Northern Three, the most critical in congressional relations for Obama will be nineterm 1st District Congressman Stupak, who last week was unanimously picked by all other 35 Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to retain chairmanship of its Oversight and Investigations Committee.

Stupak, who held 36 hearings over the past two years, said: "I expect an equally aggressive agenda in the new Congress" on "food and drug safety, FDA (drug agency) reform, security of government laboratories, energy costs, and abuses in our nation's health care system."

Last week, Stupak was among Democrats quoted by The Hill daily newspaper in a story that began: "Senior House Democrats have a message for their Speaker: We're mad as hell, and we're only taking it this one last time."

The publication said that as "congressional Democrats take the lead in responding to the sinking economy, subcommittee and even some full-committee chairmen" who normally wield significant influence in writing legislation "have been forced to wait on the sidelines as monumental bills are written" by Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.

Stupak said of the snub: "This is really set to come to a head soon. The question is: Are we actually going to get a chance to legislate? There's an opportunity to turn this corner, but we have not done that yet."

But Stupak, who Saturday returned my phone call as he was aboard a plane for a return trip to Washington, disputed the "mad as hell" characterization. He said Pelosi is sensitive to the issue and is now reaching out to the panel chairs. The Energy and Commerce Committee scheduled hearings this week on the economic stimulus package.

When I asked Stupak about what he expects on the Great Lakes from the new administration, especially from the new chiefs of the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, he predicted there will be "a greater response," likely led by EPA, than there has been from the Bush administration, which leaves undelivered pledges.

Secretary of State McManus?

Term-limited state Senator Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau), who was the GOP nominee against Stupak in 1998, looked last week as a serious 2010 candidate to replace term-limited Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who then may seek the Republican nomination for governor.

In a very long Friday Q & A with rightmichigan.com, the former state representative and Governor Engler's northern rep said: "I am proud of my years of service to the state Legislature and stand ready to put my experience and vision to work as our next Secretary of State."

One welcome comment was that she wants to put "rows of sharp teeth into our campaign finance and election laws." Finance reporting laws especially need sharpening.

Also on Friday, McManus was on hand at Detroit's Cobo Hall to witness Governor Jennifer Granholm's signing of two McManus bills that were in a package designed to facilitate badly needed expansion of that facility.

"When people think of the North American International Auto Show, they think of Detroit, and when they think of Detroit, they think of Cobo Hall," said McManus, who now wants voters to think of her when they think about Land's replacement. "I'm glad I could help this icon regain its former glory and remain a vital part of our state's heritage."

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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