A Look at Michigan

Posted March 8, 2004 at 5:53pm

This is the first of a two-part series on the future of Michigan politics, focusing this week on Republicans.

Michigan’s term limits for state legislators assure the parties a steady stream of newcomers to feed their farm teams. But it also makes future planning difficult. [IMGCAP(1)]

The limits, which began terminating lawmakers’ careers in 1998, give party leaders more, and younger, candidates with which to fill Congressional and statewide ballots, says Greg McNeilly, executive director of the Michigan Republican Party.

“We are getting more people into the pipeline with name recognition at a younger age,” which is good, McNeilly said. But there’s also a downside.

Term limits make the future very fluid, he said. If there isn’t a new opportunity, such as an open House seat or statewide office, awaiting a rising star upon his departure from the Legislature, that candidate may miss his window, McNeilly said.

For example, he cannot look as far

ahead as 2008, when Sen. Carl Levin (D) will be up for re-election, with any certainty because so much depends on whose tenure in the state House or Senate is up and what sitting Members will do.

Nonetheless, McNeilly says his party is well positioned when Democratic Members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation — many of whom are getting on in years — decide to retire.

In the meantime, Republican leaders are eagerly awaiting 2006, when freshman Sen. Debbie Stabenow and first-term Gov. Jennifer Granholm, both Democrats, are up for re-election.

Stabenow barely eked out an upset of current Energy Secretary Spence Abraham, who was then Senator, in 2000. She won 49 percent to 48 percent.

Granholm won by a wider margin — 51 percent to former Lt. Gov Dick Posthumus’ 47 percent — but the GOP thinks she can be beat in ’06.

The party is very high on former Michigan Secretary of State and first-term Rep. Candice Miller.

“She is absolutely Senate material,” McNeilly said of Miller, who won statewide election twice, the first time upsetting a 24-year incumbent.

The “dream GOP ticket” in 2006 would be Miller running for Senate and newly elected Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land running for governor, he said.

Land got more votes in her election than Granholm received for governor in 2002 — a fact that bodes well for the GOP, McNeilly added.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R), who is in only his second term representing the 8th district, is also Senate timber, McNeilly said.

Other names being floated for either governor or Senator include state Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and Michigan State University Trustee Scott Romney — son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney (R) and brother of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R).

Republican state Attorney General Mike Cox is another up and comer who could run for “any statewide office he wants,” McNeilly said.

Cox has already committed to seeking re-election in 2006.

The GOP already enjoys a 9-6 advantage — thanks to Republican-controlled redistricting after the 2000 Census — in the House and McNeilly believes that his younger delegation can hold onto their seats while the party picks up Democratic ones down the road.

He concedes the ratio is not likely to change this year but holds out hope for the not-so-distant future.

With 24 terms under his belt, Rep. John Dingell (D) is not only the dean of the delegation but also its oldest.

At 77, speculation runs rampant that he will retire fairly soon. When that day comes, “the stars would have to align just right” for a Republican, such as state Sen. Bev Hammerstrom, to claim the Wayne and Monroe counties-based seat, McNeilly said.

McNeilly likes the GOP’s chances in the 14th district better.

Rep. John Conyers (D) is only three years younger than Dingell. Though his district encompasses predominately black and Democratic Detroit, McNeilly says the GOP has an up and comer there who could turn things around for his party.

Andy McLemore, a business and civic leader, has been working diligently to recruit more blacks into the Republican Party. He is the head of the African-American Republican Leaders and could give a Democrat a run for his or her money.

McNeilly acknowledges it would be an uphill battle for McLemore, seeing how the district voted 81 percent for then-Vice President Al Gore in 2000.

McNeilly likes the GOP’s odds even better in the 12th district, which 72-year-old Rep. Sander Levin (D) has represented for 22 years. Levin is Carl Levin’s older brother and a frequent subject of retirement rumors. The northern Detroit suburban district would be “very competitive as an open seat,” he said.

The most mentioned Republican candidate is Marc Schulman, currently the chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee.

Again, however, it seems Republicans are aiming high as the district is considered safely Democratic and voted 61 percent for Gore in 2000.

The seat Republicans are most excited about is in the 5th district.

There, the GOP is not even waiting for 72-year-old Rep. Dale Kildee (D) to retire before trotting out one of their brightest rising stars — Myrah Kirkwood.

The former Detroit police officer is a black woman running in this Flint-based district — all assets in moving the traditionally Democratic area into the Republican column, McNeilly said.

He concedes it’s a tough seat but is encouraged that the GOP went from having no Kildee challenger just two years ago to having a top-notch one this cycle.

Kirkwood, a McDonald’s Corp. security manager, is a GOP activist who believes she can give Kildee a run for his money. The Democratic Party is having problems in the area, she said, noting the recent efforts to recall a Democratic state Senator.

Furthermore, the Democrats are taking 5th district voters for granted and that will catch up with them, she added.

The odds of her winning are long, Republicans concede, but Kirkwood has a political future and the seat will likely be in play whenever Kildee retires.

The youngest of Michigan’s six Democratic House Members is Rep. Bart Stupak, 54, who represents the mammoth 1st district. McNeilly concedes the district is probably Stupak’s for as long as he wants it but says the GOP has several good replacements waiting in the wings if he were to vacate it. The district leans Republican — it went 52 percent for President Bush in 2000.

Among them are state Sens. Jason Allen and Tony Spamas and state Rep. Tom Casperson, who beat Stupak’s wife, Laurie Stupak, for his state House seat.