BREAKING DOWN THE GOVERNOR’S RACE

Posted In: Politics, State, Candidates,   From Issue 706   By: Mike Thompson

24th June, 2010     0

For better or worse, campaigns for Michigan governor don’t last for nearly as long as campaigns for U.S. president.

Here we are in late June, and many citizens would be challenged to even name all the candidates in the Aug. 3rd Republican and Democratic primaries. Once the August dust clears, we will encounter a three-month sprint toward the Nov. 2nd general election to replace the term-limited Democrat, Jennifer Granholm.

We all know the issues. Michigan is in the economic and employment pits, affecting everything from schools to social services, from home ownership to highways, the whole gamut. But do we know the candidates?

 Most of the early noise has come from among the five GOP hopefuls, who are far less united than Republicans who oppose President Barack Obama in Washington.

TV ads started in April, with Attorney General Mike Cox sniping at the frontrunner, veteran U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland, as a big spender. (Democrats will find this ironically amusing.) Hoekstra’s main alleged sin is that he is a member of a big-spending Congress, and specifically that he supported TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, also known as the Wall Street bailout. Hoekstra accuses Cox of distortions, and asserts that the lion’s share of higher spending is to fight the war on terrorism. He has a point: President Bush claimed the War in Iraq would cost taxpayers $70 billion, while in reality it has ballooned to $700 billion.

Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard still are considered in contention for the Republican nod. The only candidate among the quintet who seems hopelessly out of the running is state Sen. Tom George of Kalamazoo.

The Democrats’ two-candidate race, between House Speaker Andy Dillon of Redford and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, has barely started. Opinion surveys indicate that most Michigan voters are familiar with neither.

 As for measuring the surveys, however, modern technology has not led to modern accuracy. Check out this contrasting pair from mid-June:

Inside Michigan Politics/Practical Political Consulting – Republicans, Hoekstra 21 percent, Synder 15, Cox 10, Bouchard 10, George 1, and 44 percent undecided. Democrats, Dillon 14 percent, Bernero 10, and 76 percent undecided.

EPIC-MRA – Republicans, Cox 26 percent, Hoekstra 24, Snyder 20, Bouchard 16, George 2, and 12 percent undecided. Democrats, Dillon 34 percent, Bernero 24, and 42 percent undecided.

 How can the results of these two polls be so at odds? Who knows? But at the very least, this should illustrate that the real results come not through opinion surveys, but at the ballot box.

The two surveys are consistent on one point. In head-to-head match-ups, the polls show the various Republican candidates favored over either of the two Democrats, largely because the departing Granholm carries only a 40 percent approval rating.

Voters on Aug. 3 must vote either entirely for Republicans or entirely for Democrats. However, voters need not publicly declare a party preference to poll workers. The same ballot will contain candidates’ names from both political parties.

As part of Review Magazine’s ongoing campaign coverage, following are thumbnail sketches for each of the candidates.

 

REPUBLICAN PRIMARY

Mike Bouchard, 54, Oakland County Sheriff

Mike Bouchard served in the Michigan Senate for a term-limited eight years, from 1991 and 1999. He frequently touts his relationship with then-Gov. John Engler in cutting taxes and still balancing budgets during the prosperous 1990s. In 2006, he won the Republican nomination in the U.S. Senate race but lost to Debbie Stabenow, the incumbent Democrat, by a 57 percent to 41 percent landside.

 Bouchard’s tax cut/spending cut politics are in line with Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whom he endorsed for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. With his role in law enforcement, he has the endorsement of L. Brooks Patterson, the longtime Oakland County executive and former prosecutor.

He emphasizes that he opposes federal health care expansion, supports gun rights, and has received the Michigan Right to Life endorsement. He takes credit, when he was in the state Senate, for establishing the Michigan sex offender registry. He supports proposals for Michigan to change to a part-time legislature.

To address annual state budget problems, Bouchard says legislators should establish a three-year budget with annual updates, similar to a practice that has helped Oakland County gained a rare municipal AAA bond rating.

Top Bouchard endorsees are Michelle Engler, Elizabeth Dole, and former Lt. Gov. Connie Binsfeld. He also has received support from Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who so happens to be his running mate.

 

Mike Cox, 48, Michigan Attorney General

Mike Cox is a former Marine who served a combined 13 years in the Oakland County and Wayne County prosecutor’s offices before he won statewide office in 2002.

As attorney general, Cox has taken a lead role in challenging health care rates assessed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and his office’s prescription drug website (michigandrugprices.com) is intended to help residents comparison shop. At the same time, he is among 18 attorneys general, all but one Republican, who joined in March to challenge the constitutional basis of national health care reform (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).

Cox has pushed for tougher child support enforcement, and he established a cold cases unit that has resolved several long-standing murder cases.

On budget issues, Cox aims to cut small business taxes in half.  He also wants to repeal a 2007 income tax increase that set the rate at 4.35 percent, up from 3.9 percent. His general proposal to cut spending is to slash 10 percent of the $21 billion in state contracted-out services.

A key endorsement for Cox comes from Dick DeVos, GOP candidate for governor in 2006, and Betty DeVos, former state Republican chairwoman. He also has been endorsed by Mike Huckabee, GOP presidential contender, by Michigan Right to Life and by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

 

Tom George, 54, Michigan State Senator

Among the five Republican hopefuls, only Tom George declines to take a “no tax increase” pledge. In today’s political right shifting amid the GOP, this virtually makes him a liberal. He’s not proposing any increases, and in fact he aims to eliminate the Michigan Business Tax surcharge. Still, he asserts that even with major spending cuts, he feels it is irresponsible to promise that he never will raise a revenue source.

George’s website states: “Our tax dollars need to be spent more wisely and the state must live within its means. The public is tired of candidates who attempt to curry favor by promising to cut taxes and increase spending. During the first G.O.P. debate, while others vowed to cut taxes and increase spending, I pointed out that the math doesn’t work!"

As a practicing physician, George asserts that health care reform must incorporate “personal responsibility” by requiring everyone to pay a share of coverage. He wants to shift spending from social services to investments in education.

 Proposal 1 on the Nov. 2 ballot would call for a state constitution revision, for the first time since 1963. Business interests oppose the $45 million cost. George is the lone Republican candidate in favor of a “yes” vote, saying issues such as a part-time legislature and the role of local government demand in-depth action.

George has announced no major endorsements.

 

Pete Hoekstra, 56, U.S. Representative

 To fight against a fellow Republican is nothing new for Pete Hoekstra. In 1992, he ousted 26-year Congressman Guy Vander Jagt by riding his bike across the West Michigan district and claiming that Vander Jagt had served too long.

In this campaign, aggressive co-contender Mike Cox has taken the position that Hoekstra’s 18 years in Congress were too long. Cox’s challenges have been so persistent that Hoekstra found a need to post a laundry list of answers on his website.

Hoekstra basically has served as a Gerald Ford-type Republican, perhaps slightly more conservative. He speaks of Michigan families keeping “more of their hard-earned money.” He’s a flat tax supporter for personal income and for small businesses; he would eliminate both the Michigan Business Tax and personal property taxes. He also would decrease overall property and income taxes while he proposes “adjusting the sales tax,” avoiding the word “increase.”

Republicans generally support gun rights, but Hoekstra makes a point to list the Second Amendment among his top issues. He advertises his 100 percent approval rating from the National Rifle Association, and he opposes legislative proposals for mandatory gunlocks.

Endorsements for Hoekstra have come from Newt Gingrich, who was House Speaker during Hoekstra’s early years in Washington, and from U.S. Rep Candice Miller, the former secretary of state. His spokesman is John Truscott, who filled the same role during the Engler Administration.

 

Rick Snyder, 51, Ann Arbor Businessman

 One tough nerd? Rick Snyder is CEO and co-founder of Ardesta LLC, a high-tech venture capital firm. He earlier left his home state temporarily for South Dakota, where he built Gateway Computers to tremendous heights.

 “Nerds have active, curious minds,” Synder explains on his campaign website. “They seek input from many sources. Nerds pay attention to what’s going on around them. They develop plans, and follow though, no matter what. Nerds know how to work with others to get things done. Nerds don’t take ‘no’ for an answer – and they quickly tire of those who say ‘this is the way we’ve always done it.’”

So, is Snyder really different? Veteran Detroit Free Press analyst Dawson Bell writes, “Snyder says he’s ‘not a career politician’ so often, one wonders whether he wakes up in the middle of the night declaring it so.”

Many of Snyder’s positions are standard GOP: Eliminate the Michigan Business Tax; hold educators more accountable, etc. Some of his other views, however, don’t quite meet a conservative litmus test: He’s against abortion, but he supports stem cell research.

Snyder has outspent all of his foes combined on television advertising, dipping into his personal fortune for more than $2 million so far. With Cox attacking Hoekstra and then Hoekstra returning the fire, Synder chose a “less bickering, more results” theme.

A major endorsement so far for Snyder is Ford Motors’ executive chairman, Bill Ford Jr.

 

DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY

Andy Dillon, 48, Michigan House Speakerr

Protection and preservation of manufacturing jobs was Andy Dillon’s topic when he testified before the U.S. Congress during the middle 1990s. It’s also the topic of his first campaign ad, in which he asserts that companies receiving state tax incentives should be required to hire within Michigan. Incentives not only are for existing manufacturers and other companies, but also for new enterprises such as advanced battery designers.

 Dillon was presenting to Congress because he had quit his law practice to form DSC Ltd., a consulting firm aimed at saving struggling companies. He was elected to the state House in 2004, and two years later his fellow Democrats named him Speaker.

In the 2008 election, Dillon survived a recall ballot rooted in his support for a 0.45 percent increase in the state income tax, which rolled back a cutback during Engler’s final years. He said the move was necessary, mixed with spending cuts, to balance the state budget. Unlike Republicans, he does not propose more cutbacks in social programs or urban aid. He instead calls for such measures as pooling public employee health plans, and partnering with the private sector for state purchasing and information technology.

To reduce housing foreclosures, Dillon pushed to create a 90-day delay, so that homeowners could meet with lenders and strive to renegotiate payment terms.

 

Virg Bernero, 46, Lansing Mayor

At the age of only 22, Virg Bernero ran for the Oakland County Board of Commissioners. He lost, but his ambition landed him a job as a legislative analyst with then-House Speaker Lew Dodak. He won election to the Ingham County Board of Commissioners in 1991, at age 27. He was elected to the state House in 2000, to the state Senate in 2002, and as Lansing mayor in 2005.

Bernero is considered to stand to the political left of Dillon, which is reflected in union endorsements. The Michigan AFL-CIO (which includes the United Auto Workers) backs Bernero, along with AFSCME and the Michigan Education Association. Dillon has support from an array of trade unions representing groups such as carpenters and millwrights.

When Engler wanted to cut mental health funding, Bernero responded, “We cut the services, and we end up paying for them in the prison system. It’s inhumane.” Even in a conservative political climate, he continues to advocate for issues such as universal health care.

Bernero shows signs that he will attack front-runner Dillon, in a similar manner to Mike Cox going after front-runner Pete Hoekstra. When Dillon released an initial campaign ad focused on preserving jobs, Bernero issued a press release describing Dillon as actually a “job killer” and “corporate raider.”

To pay for education reforms, Bernero says he would consolidate administrative functions and purchasing among the state’s 500 local school districts.

 

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