2017-02-16 / Columns

Early Moves in 2018 State Races

Michigan Politics
By George Weeks

Early stirrings are increasing in the two top statewide races looming in Michigan next year: The fourth term bid by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, a leading figure on Capitol Hill, for reelection, and the battle to replace term-limited Republican Governor Rick Snyder.

As noted here previously, prospects to run for governor include very early announced Democratic contender former four-year Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, a prosecutor from East Lansing who promises “bold new ideas.”

Republican not-yet-announced gubernatorial prospects include Attorney General Bill Schuette, a former congressman who’s not exactly a Snyder chum, and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who is.

Third-term U.S. Representative Dan Kildee (D-Flint Township) also has long been seen as a gubernatorial prospect, and the Snyder administration’s handling of the Flint water crisis will be an issue in the race regardless of whether he runs.

Last week, Democrat Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Detroit’s health chief, said he resigned to make his first bid for public office by running for governor. The 32-year-old Rhodes scholar said in The Detroit News: “I am a doctor, educator, and a public servant … and that’s who I will be if I am so chosen by the people of this great state.”

A significant recent stirring for Michigan on Election 2018 was the revelation that 6th District U.S. Representative Fred Upton of St. Joseph, the senior Republican in Michigan’s congressional delegation and a leading figure on Capitol Hill as recent chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, is considering challenging Stabenow.

The Almanac of American Politics calls Upton, 63, an “affable Republican” with “an unusually moderate voting record for a Republican committee chairman, but he offsets his centrism by regularly aligning with business interests against what he considers excessive government regulation.”

The almanac calls Stabenow, 66, who has held office in Michigan for more than four decades, including state House (first elected in 1978 at age 28) and Senate and U.S. House and Senate - “one of the more enduring figures in state politics.”

Stabenow has held Democratic leadership U.S. Senate positions, chaired the Senate Agricultural Committee, and became its ranking Democratic member when the GOP took Senate control.

If there is a Stabenow-Upton Senate race in 2018, it would be a battle of Michigan Capitol Hill leaders.

Rocking Chairs

Former Michigan party chiefs do not tend to quietly fade away. The most obvious one is ex-GOP chairwoman Betsy DeVos, who last week became President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education by the closest confirmation margin only after thanks to Vice President Mike Pence casting a historic tie-breaking vote after two GOP senators opposed her.

Also, ex-state GOP chairwoman Ronna Romney, niece of former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, became the national GOP chair choice of Trump, thanks largely to having been instrumental in Trump being the first Republican presidential nominee to carry Michigan since 1988. The Michigan win highlighted his decisive Rust Belt success.

Since leaving the office, longtime Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer, a combative lawyer, has been making waves pursuing assorted political causes. Former Chairman Lon Johnson, who ousted Brewer, lost a 2016 bid for the 1st District congressional seat.

Former Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis in recent years has been quoted often on state and national campaigns. He’s among party leaders who have not dropped out of sight after dropping out of office.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was 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.

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