After four years in Lansing Rep. Wayne Schmidt can tell you how he voted on a host of issues, can explain his positions and his work as commerce committee chairman and on the tax policy committee and who he has worked with on various bills.
What Schmidt doesn't have, however, is a signature northern Michigan issue or cause, something he can point to as crucial for the region, a reason for northern Michigan voters to send him back to Lansing for another term.
While he has taken some stands constituents may favor, such as opposing legislation that would strip non-profits of their tax-exempt status over their land use policies, and he says the No. 1 issues is jobs, what he is best known for is work on state rail policy, hardly a northern Michigan hot button.
Schmidt has been relatively silent on what many consider the region's most crucial Lansing issue — the huge gap in per-pupil school funding between northern Michigan and downstate districts. Traverse City Area Public Schools, his home district, gets the lowest per-pupil amount in the state, but Schmidt has never taken the fight to Lansing or rallied voters here to kick up a fuss. Schmidt may be passionate about issues and government, but you'd never know it.
Democratic challenger Betsy Coffia, however, is all about passion. She's smart, personable and energetic and has knocked on hundreds of doors to talk to voters about money in politics and what to do about it, jobs, and the disparity in school funding, which she calls "gross discrimination" against northern Michigan kids and families.
As part of her money-in-politics campaign, Coffia has refused all political action committee donations or money from out of state.
What Coffia can offer in terms of passion, however, she lacks in practical experience. She has never held elective office and if elected she would be a junior member of the minority party — and perhaps not too welcome there; she had considered running as an independent, and won the August primary without local party support.
If energy and smarts alone could win, she'd be the favorite.
Schmidt has learned the business of Lansing, but lacks passion. Coffia has convictions to spare, but not enough experience. Neither one has earned an endorsement.