Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 22, 2013

Lively GOP state Senate primary looms

By George Weeks
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — The parties have already pretty much settled on likely nominees for the 2014 race to replace retiring Democrat Carl Levin, Michigan’s longest-serving U.S. senator.

But there’s a lively GOP primary in prospect in the only state Senate district — the 37th — that spans both peninsulas. The two Republican contenders, both influential state representatives and savvy in getting media attention, are three-term Rep. Wayne Schmidt, 46, of Traverse City, and two-term Rep. Greg MacMaster, 51, of Kewadin

The 37th District, now represented by retiring Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, is dubbed by Inside Michigan Politics newsletter as going “likely GOP” next year in its three counties of the Eastern Upper Peninsula and five below the bridge. Highly likely GOP is more like it.

In IMP’s evaluation of the Democratic base of all legislative districts, based on down-the-ticket votes and other factors, the 37th’s base is 41.1 percent, in contrast to 53.2 percent in the 38th District, where Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, represents 12 counties in the central and western Upper Peninsula.

The newsletter’s Sept. 16 study on House members’ voting records gave a relatively moderate rating to Schmidt, putting him with a dozen Republicans (including Rep. Frank Foster of Petoskey) who voted “liberal” 11.5 percent of the time so far this year.

MacMaster, whose liberal voting rating was a mere 4.2 percent (Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, and four others tallied 0.0 percent), stressed his conservative voting record when he announced for the Senate.

MacMaster, a disabled military veteran and former meteorologist for numerous northern Michigan radio and TV stations, is a promoter of underwater tourism, and recently helping organize Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent dive on a shipwreck in Lake Huron.

Schmidt, a former retailer and five-term Grand Traverse County commissioner, is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, playing a key role in Snyder’s push for improving Michigan’s deteriorating roads. He touts himself as champion of “additional, stable funding for the extremely successful Pure Michigan campaign, which has vastly benefited business in northern Michigan.”

U.S. Senate

Long ago, Democratic power brokers concluded that three-term 9th District U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Oakland County’s Bloomfield Township, former state senator and state Lottery Director who has fund-raising strengths, would be the party’s strongest 2014 choice for the Senate.

It took longer for Republican leaders — state and national — to settle on former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who in her two runs in 2002 and 2006 led the state ticket, and has family wealth.

But by the weekend Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, Land had clear sailing for the nomination among the party power brokers (and a slight lead over Peters is one poll). On eve of the conference, two-term libertarian 3rd District U. S. Rep. Justin Amash of Kent County’s Cascade Charter Township withdrew from contention.

Earlier GOP dropouts were two congressional leaders who would have been highly competitive with strong national party backing and being strong on national and foreign issues—12-term 4th District Rep. Dave Camp of Midland, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; and seven- term 8th District Rep. Mike Rogers of Brighton, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Snyder Watch (bf)

While saying he’s “fired up” for another term, Governor Snyder wisely stopped short last week of officially announcing his intentions at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, held every two years, that always highlights state and national candidates. He’ll save the formality for a media splash later.

Snyder is deftly orchestrating buildup for his reelection campaign, including a video presentation at the conference. Party loyalists at the conference chanted “four more years” after he said: “We’re going to keep going and we’re going to reinvent our state.”

He said: “I’m neither complacent nor content. I’m fired up. I’m committed to say let’s keep this good thing going. To the extend we had a sweep in 2010, we just do it again in 2014.”

Sounds like an announcement of intention to me.

Democrats were quick to weigh in. B.J. Neidhardt, campaign manager for ex-Congressman Mark Schauer, the only announced Democratic challenger of Snyder, said: “When Rick Snyder took office, Michigan had the fifth worst unemployment rate in the nation, and now we have the fourth worst.”

On eve of the conference, Democratic State Chairman Lon Johnson told reporters Snyder “has clearly shown he doesn’t have what it takes to create jobs in Michigan.”

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(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 column is syndicated by Superior Features.)