Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

March 6, 2014

Phil Power: Dingell's professionalism will be missed

Maybe the best way to understand how John Dingell survived and prospered over what will be a record-breaking 59 years in the U.S. House of Representatives is to go back to the summer of 2002.

That was when Michigan Republicans figured they had a shot at turning Big John out of Congress by redistricting him into another constituency that included Ann Arbor, already represented by an incumbent liberal Democratic representative, Lynn Rivers.

Dingell’s old district included much of blue-collar Western Wayne County and semi-rural Monroe -- places unlikely to fit in happily with the academic liberal “People’s Republic of Ann Arbor”, as the town was widely known in Michigan political circles.

I’d known Dingell ever since 1965, when I was a wet-behind-the- ears administrative assistant to a newly elected congressman, Paul H. Todd, Jr., from Kalamazoo. Mr. Dingell, as he was known to everybody, took a shine to Todd, who ended up lasting only a single term, and every so often his six-foot three-inch bulk would stride over to say “Hello” and swat me on the back.

I moved to Ann Arbor, and in 2002, facing redistricting, Dingell called to ask about the lay of the land. He allowed he was anxious about his primary. He didn’t know much about Ann Arbor, and he worried the new part of his district was inhabited by all kinds of strange folk from Marx-spouting academics to long-haired liberals.

After we talked a bit, he asked if it made sense to put together a coalition of traditional Democrats and moderate Republicans. I thought it did. And in short order. a group of bipartisan Ann Arbor people put together a “Friend-Raiser” for Dingell.

They included prominent Democrats such as Paul Dimond, a local lawyer who had served in the Clinton White House, and some leading moderate Republicans.

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