Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 26, 2013

George Weeks: Stabenow toils in trenches for farmers

Syndicated columnist

---- — In recent weeks, I have noted Michigan lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are on the frontlines dealing with assorted scandals of the day.

Six-term Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan’s longest-serving senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has dealt with the attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya, as well as the sexual assaults in the military.

His brother, 16-term Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, is ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by 12-term Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, which held a high-profile hearing on IRS targeting of conservative groups.

Seven-term Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, chairman of House Intelligence Committee, is a national TV regular on homeland and foreign security issues.

While the above mentioned lawmakers have had media attention dealing with current front-burner scandals, three-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow has made recent significant progress in dealing with a decades-long scandal—the nation’s antiquated farm policy that dates back to the 1940s.

The system, Stabenow Communications Director Cullen Schwarz said Friday, has been “bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers.”

Last week, after Stabenow’s bipartisan farm bill won a 15-5 committee approval, the Senate began consideration of provisions that, she says, strengthens programs for farmers producing specialty crops, including cherries, while yielding $24 billion in spending cuts, and “ends fraud and misuse in food assistance.”

Of special interest Up North, the bill strengthens support for farmer’s markets and expands authority to support innovative local food enterprises like food hubs. Stabenow said, “the bill also supports local food projects like urban greenhouses, community gardens, and community-based nutrition for low-income families that held address community food security and support local economies.”

There’s quite a push in Detroit these days for urban gardens, as there was back in the Detroit mayoral days of Hazen S. Pingree, who, before he became Michigan’s 1897-1900 governor, instituted an innovative depression-relief program that included giving people vacant city land and seeds for what became known nationwide as “Pingree’s potato patches.”

While Stabenow’s impact last week primarily was on the farm bill, she also been a major player in the gun debate through her legislation on mental health checks that have been joined by some of the most conservative senators backed by the National Rifle Association.

Also of note in this look at current Capitol Hill issues is that second-term 1st District Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, a surgeon is allied with Stabenow on the farm bill and Levin on the issue of sexual assault in the military. Good for Dr. Dan.

Dems unite behind Peters

In an extraordinarily early move, Levin and Stabenow have endorsed third-term Rep. Gary Peters, Bloomfield Township, for the 2014 Democratic nomination to replace Levin, who is retiring. The state Democratic Party headquarters essentially also has signed on. Republicans are still sorting things out.

Peters, who visited downstate urban areas after starting his campaign earlier this month, plans on Wednesday to visit Traverse City, Alpena and Cheboygan.

Last week, Inside Michigan Politics (IMP) newsletter said: “Michigan is the only state in the country in which the political party that dominates state government nevertheless has virtually no chance to win an open U.S. Senate seat.” (Republicans rule all three branches in Lansing, and only two of them have won Senate seats in 60-plus years—Robert Griffin and Spencer Abraham.)

IMP said that even with Democrats uniting “behind a little-known liberal congressman…the GOP appears as ill-prepared as ever for the upcoming race to replace” Levin.

The newsletter cited two Republicans “who would be top-tier nominees”—U.S. Rep. Candice Miller of Macomb County, former Michigan Secretary of State who has declined the race, and Congressman Rogers, “who appears more interested in becoming the next director of the FBI.” It also said ex-Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land “might emerge as a plausible candidate, ”but she’ll have to demonstrate she has what it takes better than she did in her abortive gubernatorial bid four years ago.”

IMP notes that the Rothenberg Political Report, a handicapping newsletter in Washington, rates the Levin seat as “Safe Democrat” in 2014. Says IMP: “Hard to disagree with that.”

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist of the Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.