2009-09-17 / Columns

Michigan Politics

Underdog With Gumption
By George Weeks

Senator Tom George of Kalamazoo has yet to generate the bucks and buzz of more prominent contenders for the 2010 Republican nomination for governor. But he has credentials and gumption.

Gumption was evident last week when he managed to reverse the arrogant decision of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, initially accepted by the state party, to bounce him from the September 26 gubernatorial debate at the Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island.

It’s bizarre that the party would give to an outside organization the power to determine who could participate in a party function. In excluding him, the anti-tax alliance cited time limitations and, essentially, George’s failure to click with the media.

After his eviction, George got on the horn to Republican State Chairman Ron Weiser and two GOP contenders, Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Holland and Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder.

George said the three helped in the reversal. In fact, Snyder Campaign Manager M. Dane Walters wrote Weiser: "This upcoming debate and the Republican Party should not be perceived as exclusionary or preferential. Without assurance that Senator George has been invited, we will seriously reconsider whether Rick Snyder should participate as well."

George was particularly grateful to Weiser in assuring that "fairness prevailed" at this early stage of the Republican primary fight, where George is a long shot to outpoll well-known and media-savvy contenders Hoekstra, Attorney General Mike Cox, and Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard. He lacks the resources and impressive staffing of the wealthy Snyder.

George, 52, is a former state representative who was elected to the Senate in 2002, and is well qualified to contribute to the current debate on health care. He’s a medical doctor; past president of the Michigan Society of Anesthesiologists, and past director of Hospice of Greater Kalamazoo.

In fact, when I connected with him by phone Friday, he was in his scrubs waiting to deal with a couple of patients at one of the Kalamazoo hospitals where he practices when the Legislature is not in session.

"I’m a doctor," he said. "I know health care."

He also knows history, being past president of the Historical Society of Michigan and producer of a 1993 award-winning television documentary, "Lincoln in Kalamazoo."

So I was interested in his comments on Governor Jennifer Granholm’s ill-advised move to scatter the states historical functions to the winds as part of her executive order to dismantle the Department of History, Arts and Libraries (HAL) at a claimed savings of $2 million.

George says that the way Granholm configures the functions, the states push for "cultural tourism" would suffer.

While she has modified some aspects of her original action, George correctly says the current well-coordinated and effectively functioning operation of the Michigan Historical Center, which includes the Michigan Historical Museum and the State Archives, would "lose synergy."

Michigan has a huge budget problem. But not so huge as to make history of history.

Her order transfers some, but not all, of the Historical Centers functions to the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR is well set to administer museums. But the state archives?

Richard Fidler, a board member of the Traverse Area Historical Society, contends that the Historical Center "would be sacrificed" in order to have more funding available for the proposed Michigan Center for Innovation and Reinvention at Michigan State University that emphasizes technology and science, as favored by Granholm.

He said: "Closing and moving historical resources from the present Michigan Library will not save the state money. On the contrary, it will cost the state more, not less, to support a new institution."

Cox’s Army of Ideas

Much of the attention at this early stage of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign has been on such issues of the day as the deadlocked budget talks in Lansing, and whether Michigan should take Gitmo detainees from the U.S. prison to be closed in Cuba.

A welcome addition for discussion is Cox’s release last week of "Putting Michigan Back To Work: The First Steps," a 60-page document replete with economic and other ideas that will appeal to the Republican base but are worthy of a look beyond.

There will be time to compare these ideas with those other candidates from both parties. But I do not recall any more comprehensive swoop of ideas this early in a Michigan gubernatorial campaign.

Milliken State Park In Detroit?

At the outset of his 1969-82 reign as Michigan’s longest-serving governor, Bill Milliken of Traverse City was criticized in some outstate newspapers for his support of directing much of the voterapproved Recreation Bond Issue funding to urban areas.

On Thursday, his emphasis on urban issues and numerous environmental initiatives, including public access to water resources in Detroit and elsewhere, were among factors cited by the Natural Resources Commission -- chaired by Keith Charters of Traverse City -- in voting unanimously to rename the 31-acre Tri-Centennial State Park and Harbor the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor.

Assuming concurrence of the Natural Resources Trust Fund, of which Charters is a member, there will be a dedication ceremony at Michigan’s 98th state park along the Detroit River late in October.

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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