With seven months to go before Michigan’s November elections, the competition for governor and other open seats for statewide offices such as attorney general, have already degenerated into pissing contests.
I would normally not use that kind of crude characterization, but it seems that there is a particularly adolescent emphasis on genitals by the candidates engaged in 2018 campaign combat.
We live in a state that faces monumental challenges – declining schools and collapsing student test scores, drinking water quality failures in Flint and elsewhere, crumbling roads and bridges, stagnant wages, a horrible reputation related to government openness and integrity, environmental threats to the Great Lakes, college graduates fleeing the state, lagging property values, a lack of skilled workers, a major university in crisis, a state tax code that dramatically favors businesses over workers and retirees, a staggering number of middle-aged men who have dropped out of the workforce — on and on it goes.
Yet, the campaign rhetoric barely brushes the surface of these overwhelming issues.
Beyond the economic boost provided by the revived domestic auto industry, Michigan’s status as a (formerly) quality state is in crisis. But candidates for our top elective offices engage in childish campaign tactics, even at this early, normally benign stage.
We have seen a flurry of ugly, negative electioneering in recent days between the two leading GOP candidates for governor, AG Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.
But this trend started months ago when the national #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault by prominent male political and media figures was peaking.
Democratic Attorney General candidate Dana Nessel said last fall in a campaign video: “We need more women in positions of power, not less. So when you’re choosing Michigan’s next attorney general, ask yourself this:
Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn’t have a penis? I’d say so.”
Nessel has not expressed any regret for that provocative remark in the months since.
Not to be outdone, a Republican AG candidate, state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker of west Michigan, said last month that her chief rival for the GOP nomination for AG, state House Speaker Tom Leonard, had dramatically demonstrated his personal squeamishness as a candidate.
The Schuitmaker campaign had filed for details, under the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), about Leonard’s wife’s reign as director of the state Film (Motion Picture) Office. The FOIA request was rather routine, as Jenell Leonard had served as a relatively high-ranking government official. In addition, we have a very real prospect that Jenell Leonard might never have landed that job without her husband’s status or possible assistance. Yet, Tom Leonard howled that that the FOIA request was “an attack on my family” and he accused Schuitmaker of “going to the gutter.”
Schuitmaker responded bluntly by saying that Leonard should “grow a pair.”
The crudeness of the President Trump political era has obviously taken hold in this Michigan campaign season.
If it needs to be said, the AG position consists of a rock-ribbed, no nonsense top lawman (or woman) for the state, with mostly nonpolitical duties, including a special emphasis on consumer protections and clamping down on scams.
In the governor’s race, Calley recently denounced “desperation” tactics by a superPAC supporting Schuette, which had engaged in a weak effort to link Calley with former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm on tax issues. But Lt. Gov. Calley quickly hit back hard with an equally questionable campaign ad campaign.
The Calley camp launched a video that labeled the AG as “Shady Schuette,” with Photoshopped images of a dubious-looking Schuette wearing sunglasses. A follow-up ad labeled Schuette as a “trust fund baby” who had spent his entire adult life climbing the political ladder.
Meanwhile, Schuitmaker and Leonard continue to take steps toward the fringe right-wing of the Republican Party just as Miles and Nessel battle to win the embrace of the left-wing Bernie Sanders crowd within the Democratic Party.
Nessel, best known for winning the case that allowed same-sex marriage in Michigan, is clearly the leftists’ choice. Miles has engaged in numerous flip-flopping moves as he tries to lean left on issues such as LGBT rights, legalizing marijuana and ending the federal death penalty.
Rather than acknowledging that he is the centrist Democrat in this race, Miles, a former federal prosecutor from west Michigan, claims that he has “been progressive for my entire life.” He also insists that he is a pro-labor Democrat and he received the United Auto Workers’ endorsement in recent days.
The Nessel camp points out that the corporate law firm in Grand Rapids to which Miles currently belongs advertises on its website that it offers legal help for employers seeking to block unions from organizing at their workplaces.
In response to this post, Miles issued this statement:
I have worked at large law firms, and the reality is that almost all of them nationally — and locally — offer these kinds of services to companies, and many Democratic candidates past and present have worked for them without doing anti-union work. It is unethical and completely lacks integrity to suggest that all of us who’ve worked for those firms are anti-union. I don’t support anti-union work and would never do it.
On April 15, Democratic precinct delegates will endorse their favored nominees for AG and other statewide offices, such as secretary of state and Michigan Supreme Court, at a party convention in Detroit. That early gathering will almost certainly end the warfare between Nessel and Miles, while Schuitmaker and Leonard may continue bludgeoning each other all the way to the GOP state convention in late August.
Regardless, it should be abundantly clear to average voters that integrity, professionalism and personal pride will be hard to find among the candidates in these upcoming statewide elections.
Perhaps the most brazen example of craven political activities among statewide candidates was reportedly demonstrated by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thandedar. According to a particularly damaging story published by The Intercept, four political consultants said that Thanedar, a millionaire first-time candidate, demonstrated no political principles whatsoever — other than wildly shifting positions on key issues — as he was shopping around in 2017 for political operatives to help launch his campaign.
One consultant said Thanedar didn’t particularly care whether he ran as a Republican or a Democrat — whichever party gave him the best chance of winning. He chose to run a campaign as “the most progressive Democrat in the race,“ akin to Sen. Bernie Sanders, after telling consultants he would adopt whatever policy positions were most advantageous in a run for governor.
This post was revised on April 8 and April 9, 2018.