As noted here previously, both national parties and some elements of the national press have dubbed Michigan’s 1st District race one of the nation’s most competitive congressional races.
That will be underscored Oct. 3 with a scheduled — but yet to be officially announced as of this writing — visit to Traverse City by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan on behalf of Republican nominee Jack Bergman of Watersmeet. Bergman also last week was touted there by state Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Bergman, a former Marine lieutenant general and Northwest Airlines pilot, is pitted against Lon Johnson of Kalkaska County, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.
The primary victory of the politically savvy Johnson over ex-Kalkaska County Sheriff Jerry Cannon was not a surprise. It was a surprise when Bergman in the GOP primary, touting his three-star Marine leadership, defeated two well-regarded current and past state senators — Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba and ex-Sen. Jason Allen, a Traverse City businessman who was point man on veterans affairs for Gov. Rick Snyder.
Bergman said he was honored that Ryan “chose to come to Northern Michigan to show support for this straight talking Marine Corps general and my campaign to secure our border, strengthen our national security, and provide an environment for job creation. I will bring an outsider’s perspective to Washington but will work closely with our country’s leaders to get things done for the people of the 1st district.”
When I asked the self-described “conservative outsider” in a telephone interview what his primary issues would be if elected, he cited:
Fiscal issues: The federal government is “not controlling spending... is flat broke on a number of fronts.”
Education: “The first thing, shut down” the Department of Education. “The states need to be in control.”
The Great Lakes — “a gift from God.” He is rightly critical of the long delay of the federal government in responding to bipartisan calls for building — or even completing a study on the need for — another lock at the Soo to handle large freighters. He said the need is urgent for the nation’s economy and “from a national security standpoint.” (National security is high on his priorities. On Saturday, he was named by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump as one of his 12 members on his campaign’s Michigan Veteran’s Coalition.)
Unlike Johnson, Bergman does not call for shutting down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline across the Straits of Mackinac, short of X-rays showing the decades of safe operation is threatened for reversal.
“Why shut it down if it is certified safe?” he said in our chat.
Underscoring the priorities that the national parties put on the race are the TV ads sponsored by the congressional committees. The GOP has one that says an ad touting Johnson’s early northern family ties has a visual that is not his own family.
Last week, Johnson’s campaign, reacting to Bergman’s Facebook page showing him “fishing on Lake Superior,” said the fish “was a redfish which do not live in the Great Lakes and never have. …we know redfish live in the Louisiana bayou, where Jack is truly from.”
Presidential race roles of ex-governors
Michigan has four living former governors and all are figures in this year’s presidential campaign.
The most active is Democrat Jennifer Granholm, who is a vocal surrogate for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and a frequent television commentator.
Last week, at a dinner of the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council, Democrat James Blanchard was a vocal supporter of Clinton. Republican John Engler was not as gung-ho about Trump.
As quoted by the Detroit Free Press, Engler said Trump “wasn’t not my first choice,” but “he’s the choice of change—Hillary Clinton is not.”
Republican William G. Miilliken, Michigan’s longest serving governor at 14 years, has endorsed Clinton, prompting the Grand Traverse County Party to declare him no longer a Republican.
Before becoming governor in 1969 Milliken was lieutenant governor and before that a state senator from Traverse City, as was his father and grandfather.
A fourth generation Milliken, the ex-governor’s son Bill who is a real estate executive in Ann Arbor and a regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors, is a candidate for Washtenaw Community College trustee.
Another Trump Michigan tease?
In May, Trump cited two Michigan judges among 11 that he would consider nominating to the U.S. Supreme Court if he becomes president--Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Raymond Kethledge. Last week, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young was among those added to the list.
George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was political columnist for 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.