Politics & Prejudices
The lost election
Deafening silence surrounds the GOP fight against Stabenow
Published: October 10, 2012
You may not have realized this, but there is actually an election for the U.S. Senate in Michigan this year.
Well, sort of an election. But really not much of one. The GOP candidate either seems to be sleepwalking, or to have decided that he really doesn't want to be a senator after all.
This is the race between U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat trying to win a third six-year term, and Republican Pete Hoekstra, a former congressman from the west side of the state who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee.
If you've forgotten this was going on, that's understandable. Hoekstra was last seen campaigning in Israel.
Why? Well, when he came back, he told one reporter he felt that getting the latest information on what was happening in the Middle East was more important than campaigning in Michigan. You never know. He could be on to something.
It just might be that hundreds of thousands of unemployed Michiganders are most intensely interested in the next Knesset elections, or how the mess in Syria turns out.
But I kind of doubt it. Meanwhile, Stabenow, who is now chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, locked up the endorsement of the usually Republican Michigan Farm Bureau.
One recent poll showed her up by 53 percent to 37 percent, about the same margin by which she beat the hapless Oakland County Sheriff "Six Gun" Mike Bouchard last time.
When he came back from Israel, Hoekstra sat down with The Detroit News, his best bet for an endorsement. "I think I'm behind," he told them. "It's an uphill battle."
Can't say that guy isn't perceptive. Well, actually you can. This was supposed to be a competitive race. Hoekstra had won high marks as chair of the House Select Committee on Intelligence in the years after Sept. 11.
He finished a distant second in the GOP primary for governor to Rick Snyder last year, but did beat out Attorney General Mike Cox and the by-then shopworn Bouchard.
Yet, from the moment the Senate race began, Hoekstra seemed determined to put his foot in it. First, there was his racist-seeming Super Bowl ad, featuring a pretty Asian girl with an accent straight out of a 1930s Charlie Chan movie.
"Sank you, Debbie Spend-It-Now. You borrow so much money from us your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs," she said, grinning evilly.
Ironically, it turned out that Hoekstra spent about nine times as much to air the ad as it brought in, in terms of contributions, making him non-Senator Pete Spend-it-Now.
Quietly, Michigan soon disappeared from the national Republican Party's lists of seats they hoped to pick up. This summer, Hoekstra further made a fool of himself by running ads claiming Stabenow was the "worst senator ever."
Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson said, "mostly, I'm embarrassed for the guy." Hoekstra's agony will be over, mercifully, in less than a month. Unless there is a sudden surge of write-in votes from Israel, he is clearly toast.
The agony of the Michigan GOP, however, continues. His defeat will mean Republicans have lost 11 of the last 12 U.S. Senate elections in Michigan. The only exception in the last 40 years was in 1994, when Republicans won every open Senate race in the nation. Hoekstra won't starve; he could perhaps go back to his old job as a furniture executive at Herman Miller.
More likely, he becomes a lobbyist. For nearly four decades, Republicans have sneered at Debbie Stabenow, back to when she first ran for a seat on the Ingham County Commission in 1974. They pick on her non-flashy style and her weight.
Then she beats them, every time.
Bottom feeders: In past years, we've had some decent Republican secretaries of state. Candice Miller and Terri Lynn Land were competent and non-ideological enough that I found myself voting for both when they ran for re-election.
However, Ruth Johnson, — the third blond, middle-aged GOP SOS in a row — is something else. She's obsessed with the need to prevent non-citizens from voting, though there is little or no evidence that more than a handful ever have.
Earlier this year, the governor vetoed a law that would have required voters to check a box affirming that they are U.S. citizens when they vote. That didn't matter to Ruthie.
She decided to impose the requirement anyway in the August primary. This caused howls of protest and some principled voters, like the Michigan Campaign Finance Network's Rich Robinson, to be denied a ballot.
Things were confused further when she then issued new instructions, now saying voters didn't have to do that, in the middle of Election Day. Unlike my dog, however, Johnson seems incapable of learned behavior, and announced she was bringing the check box back for the November election.
Not so fast. Last week, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman told her to forget it. After first compelling Johnson to show up in court, Borman told her what she was doing wasn't legal.
"The bill was not enacted because the governor vetoed it," he said, explaining that her move created a lack of equal protection under the law. As for her order, "it's clear that a lot of clerks aren't following it because it wasn't legally enacted."
> Email Jack Lessenberry