Traverse City Record-Eagle

Op-Ed Columns

April 20, 2014

Jack Lessenberry: Was Will Rogers right?

Ninety years ago, Will Rogers made audiences laugh by saying, “America has the best politicians money can buy.”

Whether that’s still true is a matter of opinion. But what is true beyond doubt is that if you want a seat in Congress, you have to buy one — or most of the time, have one bought for you.

For amounts far dwarfing the salary you’ll ever make.

Want proof? Within the last few weeks, two longtime Michigan Republican congressmen stunned the state by announcing their unexpected retirements. U.S. Reps. Dave Camp and Mike Rogers both are powerful committee chairs. Neither would have had the slightest worry about winning renomination or election.

But both bowed out. Rogers says he is going to be the host of a new conservative talk radio show, which may say something about the relative social standing of congress these days.

Camp gave no reason for pulling out just three weeks short of the filing deadline, though he has battled cancer in the past. Both men, however, were due to give up their committee chairmanships, and may have felt returning to obscurity wasn’t worth it.

Dave Camp’s Midland-based district is so Republican that it is hard to conceive that any Democrat could do well here. But mathematically, a Democrat could possibly prevail in Rogers’ district, which includes Lansing, the state capital.

Democrats also felt they had a strong candidate: Barb Byrum, a former legislator who was elected Ingham County clerk in a landslide two years ago. Fourteen years ago, her mother Dianne Byrum, then a state senator, nearly beat Rogers the first time he ran for Congress. The race was so close he at one point conceded defeat.

But last week, Barb Byrum held a press conference to announce she wasn’t running. Reason?

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