Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 23, 2012

George Weeks: Hyped claim on campaign trail

Syndicated columnist

---- — Former nine-term U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland, the GOP challenger of two-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow, became one of the best members of Congress. He was strong on labor and security issues, and had a bipartisan bent as savvy chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

I use "best" to emphasize he is a credible Senate candidate and to underscore the contrast with his absolutely ridiculous, indeed pathetic, assertion that Stabenow, who served in the Michigan House and Senate and the U.S. House, is the "worst" U.S. senator and possibly the worst "in Michigan history."

Who's to say? Worst by what standard?

What about 1919-22 Sen. Truman Newberry, R-Grosse Pointe, who famously was challenged by Democrat Henry Ford, the car guy, and then faced criminal indictment while in office?

No-nonsense 1993-2010 Congressman Hoekstra in this case speaks nonsense.

As headlined in the Detroit Free Press on a Sept. 13 column by Brian Dickerson: "Pete Hoekstra's hyperbole is plain silly and embarrassing."

While fuss-budget columnists ridicule Hoekstra's hyperbole, he is undeterred and getting press notice.

In a Sept. 20 letter to the Free Press, he cited reasons to call her "worst," including "her 12-year record of reckless spending on the Senate Budget Committee," and assorted evils on Obamacare, taxes, and regulations. She's hardly alone among Democrats on these matters.

Periodically on, the Hoekstra campaign asks "everyone to vote for the top 5 reasons why Debbie Stabenow is the worst Senator!"

Quite a gimmick, silly as it is.

Who's best?

I would not presume to proclaim who ranks as Michigan's best U.S. Senator. But two of the very best--as recognized by the Senate itself--were Republican 1928-51 Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg and Democrat 1959-76 Sen. Philip A. Hart.

As I wrote in a 2004 issue of the Michigan History Magazine, the Senate in its 2000 decision to put Vandenberg's portrait in what essentially is its Hall of Fame noted his conversion from isolationism to internationalism and his bipartisan efforts in support of creating the United Nations.

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan's longest-serving senator, said Vandenberg "made a difference in terms of tone, in terms of guts and courage and integrity."

In 1987, the Senate named one of its three office buildings after Hart, whose traits of civility, integrity and fair-mindedness earned him the reputation as "The Conscience of the Senate."

The inscription on the building proclaims Hart as "a man of incorruptible integrity and personal courage strengthened by inner grace and outer gentleness."

These days, more than ever in my decades of covering politics, gentleness and civility are rare commodities on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, including Lansing.

Endorsement Derby

Hoekstra and Stabenow have received endorsements from long-time power players in Michigan politics.

Hoekstra won nods from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, second to none in delivering conservative clout from business for Republicans, as well as the National Federation of Independent Business.

Chamber President Rich Studley said Stabenow "has a cumulative voting record of only 33 percent with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on key bills that would have helped spark economic growth and job creation." But Stabenow got a boost from the Michigan Farm Bureau, which endorsed Republicans against her in 2000 and 2006.

Farm Bureau President Wayne Wood cited her efforts chairing the Senate Agriculture Committee; bipartisan efforts guiding the Farm Bill through the Senate (it languishes in the House); and pushing for disaster aid for Michigan farmers after the early thaw/freeze and then the summer drought.

Out of obscurity

Candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court all too often campaign in obscurity for a spot on the non-partisan judicial section of the ballot and are so far down the ballot that sometimes more than a quarter of them don't vote for justices.

But Bridget Mary McCormack, a University of Michigan Law School dean who is one of three Supreme Court candidates nominated by the Michigan Democratic Party as "non-partisan" contenders, has friends in high places and scored a huge PR coup last week.

The cast of the popular former "West Wing" TV show, which included her younger sister Mary McCormack playing the national security adviser to the president, produced a mock version of the show as a four-minute Web video praising Bridget McCormack that premiered on YouTube.

There also was a nonpartisan version that touted importance of voting in judicial elections but didn't mention Bridget McCormack, whose husband, Steve Croley, is on leave from the University of Michigan law school to be deputy legal counsel to President Barack Obama in the real West Wing.

A welcome ripple effect for McCormack came when she was interviewed about the issue on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC and The War Room with ex-Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Current TV. NBC's "Today" also gave it a shot.

Touting all of this was Liz Boyd, press secretary for Governor Granholm and now a Lansing-based public relations consultant whose clients include Bridget McCormack. It's no surprise that it was Boyd who pitched Granholm to interview McCormack.

The other Democratic high court candidates are Wayne County Circuit Judge Connie Kelley and Southfield District Judge Shelia Johnson. The GOP-backed slate includes Justices Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra, and Oakland County Circuit Judge Colleen O'Brien.

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