Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 17, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: Carl Levin fought for state

The last time I interviewed U.S. Senator Carl Levin, he met me at an International House of Pancakes in Detroit, about as modest a restaurant as you can imagine.

He drove himself, showed up without aides, ate a waffle without syrup, talked candidly for an hour, and then drove off to see some constituents in Dearborn. Sometimes on weekends I’ve seen him in my neighborhood grocery store, in dungarees and an old shirt.

Once I asked the 20-something cashier if she knew who he was. “I think he works for the government,” she said. My guess is that she may not have known who he was, but if she voted at all, she voted for him.

Last time he ran, Carl Levin became the first person in Michigan history to get more than three million votes in any race.Republicans had stopped seriously contesting his re-election bids. Two cycles ago, I sat down one night with a former state legislator who wanted to be that year’s sacrificial lamb. Why in the world would you want to do this? I asked.

Well, it seemed that he wanted to get his girlfriend to marry him, and he thought he might have a better shot if he could at least say he was a major party nominee for the U.S. Senate.

I don’t know how his courtship turned out, but I hope he did better than he did in the election. Nobody from Michigan has ever served as long in the U.S. Senate.

Had Levin wanted another term, the GOP would likely have put a term-limited legislator on the ballot, gone through the motions, and not given them any money.But Carl Levin was, as everyone knew, a class act. He served in the senate with Strom Thurmond, who had no idea who or where he was towards the end of his career. Levin will be 80 next year, and would have been 86 before a new term ended.

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