State Sen. Howard Walker’s surprise announcement Thursday that he won’t seek re-election after his current term expires at the end of 2014 set off a scramble within northern Michigan’s political class.
It’s widely expected that state Rep. Wayne Schmidt, also a Traverse City Republican, will seek Walker’s seat. For Schmidt, the timing is ideal; he’s term-limited in the House, and the next logical step in state government is the Senate.
Grand Traverse County commissioner Larry Inman wasted no time telling the Record-Eagle he was planning to run for Schmidt’s seat. While his announcement didn’t really have anything to do with Walker, it helped clarify the expected domino game — Walker leaves, Schmidt takes his seat, and Inman fills in for Schmidt. Very tidy.
There are indications a few other folks may try to crash the party, but both Schmidt and Inman would seem to have the inside track — the blessing of the local Republican power structure.
In the meantime, Walker has said he will spend the remainder of his term on familiar turf — education funding and natural resources. The former oil and gas industry surveyor said “Balancing out the rights of people to access their natural resources with protecting the environment is something I will be involved in in the future.”
Given his background, it’s fair to assume that when Walker talks about “the rights of people to access their natural resources” he doesn’t mean being able to stroll down to the beach. “Natural resources” means oil and gas, and accessing those resources means drilling.
It has to be said, however, that no one seems to be having any trouble accessing the oil and gas beneath their property nowadays, particularly since horizontal fracturing — more commonly known as “fracking” — has become more widespread in Michigan.
So perhaps Walker means he’s going to concentrate on the “protecting the environment” part of the mission statement. Perhaps. That would no doubt be welcome news to his constituents in Grand Traverse, Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Cheboygan, Presque Isle, Mackinac, and Chippewa counties.
Where Walker may be most effective in his final 18 months, however, would be to continue his fight — in which he has been an acknowledged leader — for equity in school funding. Walker chairs the K-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee and has helped raise awareness of the state’s notoriously lopsided school funding system.
The oil and gas industry doesn’t need another sitting lawmaker looking out for its interests. It has plenty of them. The tens of thousands of school children whose districts get shortchanged by the state every day can use all the help they can get. That’s a challenge worthy of a last hurrah.