Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 1, 2013

George Weeks: Not always smooth for Lt. Govs


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Tea party activist Wes Nakagiri’s bid to replace Lt. Gov Brian Calley as Gov. Rick Snyder’s running mate is churning up some choppy waters in what has been mostly smooth sailing for a half-century in shaping the top of state tickets. Some history:

Before party nominees for governor and lieutenant governor started running in tandem as a ticket under Michigan’s current state constitution, there were some awkward Executive Office moments in Lansing.

Democrat T. John Lesinski was lieutenant governor in 1961-64 and the first to occupy the No. 2 spot under 1963-69 Republican Gov. George Romney, who complained that Lesinski on occasion tried to “embarrass” him.

Hefty, cigar-chewing (even in Romney’s office) Lesinski said, “We kidded around a lot but we never really had any trouble.”

At that time, a large majority of states had their governors and lieutenant governors run separately. Two of the five lieutenant governors who served under 1949-60 Democratic Gov. G. Mennen Williams were Republicans.

Lesinski was the last lieutenant governor to be chosen in the same election with a governor of another party.

The Michigan Constitution of 1963, written by the 1961-62 constitutional convention that citizen Romney helped convene, states in Article V, Section 21: “In the general election one vote shall be cast jointly for the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor nominated by the same party.”

Gov. Romney, as he prepared to shape a tandem ticket for his 1964 reelection, made it clear — although not as a hard-line issue — that he favored as his running mate State Treasurer Allison Green, a former state House speaker. They had good personal relations and the moderate Romney was said to like the idea of having a more conservative Republican on the ticket for balance, especially since they had a good working relationship.

But moderate Senate Majority Leader William G. Milliken, R-Traverse City, (later 1969-82 governor) won the nomination by an 834-636 Republican State Convention vote. That was thanks in large part to Milliken’s team of seasoned political operatives, including Republican State Chairwoman Elly Peterson, state Sen. John Stahlin, R-Belding, a key fund-raiser who later operated out of Leelanau County, and state Rep. Don Gordon, R-Leland, who later became Milliken’s top aide.

In 2010, although Snyder had just defeated four more conservative primary opponents and declared Calley as his choice for the ticket, tea party activists demanded a rare roll call convention vote. But their favorite, Fruitport businessman Bill Cooper, withdrew his name. Tea party activists have made other challenges of party leadership favorites.

In announcing last week, Nakagiri, founder of the conservative political group RetakeOurGov based in Livingston County, said he would bring a “conservative voice” to the administration. “Having a grassroots conservative on the 2014 ticket will energize the base of the GOP to come out and work hard on its behalf.”

In a radio interview on WTCM in Traverse City, Nakagiri, an engineering manager in the auto industry, said if in the administration he would give Snyder a conservative perspective “I don’t think he’s getting from his inner circle.”

While the 2014 decision on the No. 2 slot on the Republican ticket won’t be made for about a year, the political circuit is abuzz on the subject because of the impact tea party activists are having within the GOP.

During the Friday taping of the WKAR-TV taping of the statewide “Off the Record” public television politics show, the panel of Capitol correspondents concluded that Nakagiri (who was on the show in July) could pose a threat to Calley, although there was discussion of possibility of another tea party challenger.

Calley, meanwhile, has been getting periodic media exposure during Snyder’s first term.

Beginning Tuesday, Calley was scheduled to be acting governor for 10 days during Snyder’s investment and tourism mission to China and Japan — his third mission to Asia, as well as three other foreign missions. (Among the 15 participating companies is Cherry Central Cooperative of Traverse City. All others are downstate firms.)

Snyder’s office also announced Calley’s participation with Snyder in the 56th annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge walk and related media activities.

Spanning the bridge will be a breeze. Not so easy: bridging the gap within the GOP.

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.