Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dems, Christie kick off 2016 race in Michigan

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

Iowa and New Hampshire may dominate the political headlines for candidates eying the White House, but Michigan’s importance in the presidential nomination process came into focus after two big developments last week.

That’s because the Michigan Democratic Party broke with three decades of party tradition and opted to participate alongside Republicans in the Wolverine State’s presidential primary on March 8, 2016. Until now, Democrats had generally eschewed a taxpayer-funded and state-run primary in favor of a party-run caucus.
While Iowa and New Hampshire keep their positions as the first caucus and first primary contests of 2016 respectively, Michigan will have a critical role in deciding the Republican and Democratic nominee.

This is especially the case for the GOP. Recall 2012, when Michigan sealed the deal for favorite son Mitt Romney.

Hence why New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was in suburban Detroit on Friday as the after-dinner speaker at the Macomb County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

Christie’s appearance in Shelby Township — the heart of Macomb County, home of the so-called Reagan Democrats — was the first appearance by a presidential aspirant since the Legislature finalized Michigan’s primary earlier this year.

True, Christie has lost some of his luster, but he’s still in demand on the rubber-chicken circuit, at least judging from how Congresswoman Candice Miller, Lieutenant Gov. Brian Calley and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson went out of their way to make sure they were seen in his presence.

Also seen glad-handing was Tonya Schuitmaker, the president pro tempore of the Legislature’s upper house, whose Senate district is literally completely across the state from Macomb County. Schuitmaker’s name is being circulated for secretary of state, attorney general and lieutenant governor in 2018, presuming she doesn’t run for Congress in the likely event that Congressman Fred Upton calls it quits.

Now that Christie has been here, expect to see more of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, all of whom have powerful Michigan Republicans backing their candidacy.

Speaking of 2016, Miller may be stepping down from Congress, but sources close to the former secretary of state tell this columnist she hasn’t ruled out a state-level campaign two years later.

It’s impossible to imagine Miller running for a seat in the Legislature, which means the only two great offices of state she can run for — the Michigan Constitution prohibits her from running for secretary of state again and since she isn’t a lawyer she can’t be attorney general — are governor or lieutenant governor.

It’s safe to assume Calley will run for the governor’s mansion, presumably with the endorsement of term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder. Also guaranteed to run is Attorney General Bill Schuette, who for better or worse will go down on the books as the last defender of traditional marriage when the U.S. Supreme Court decides the matter once and for all later this spring.

Surveys show Schuette’s support among rank-and-file Michigan Republicans above 70 percent, which is beyond formidable. Still, the former congressman, state legislator and Court of Appeals judge from Midland is in a seemingly no-win position with his defense of Michigan’s gay marriage ban. Nobody expects the high court to uphold Schuette’s position now that gay marriage has been legalized in a majority of states.

This could create an opening for Miller or Calley. Neither of whom have stood against the winds of change.
Working in Miller’s favor the most are two things: Her gender and her geography.

Not only do Republicans need more women running for office, but Miller’s political base in Macomb County would go a long ways toward neutralizing likely Democrat candidate Mark Hackel, the Macomb County executive.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

If not Hillary, then who?

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

The sorry state of the Democratic Party might just be the most overlooked story in the fledgling 2016 presidential campaign.

For proof just look at the all-but-certain coronation of Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee.
It’s become obvious that many, if not most, Democrats don’t actually want Clinton, who is tainted by the stink of her husband’s presidency and by her own unforced errors. (Emailgate being only the latest controversy.)

True, Clinton has her supporters. Still, one can’t help but to think how many are truly loyalists to the House of Clinton, as opposed to women who only want to shatter the proverbial class ceiling by electing the country’s first female president.

The opportunity for Democrats to make history is without a doubt the most appealing quality of a Clinton candidacy. This explains why so many Democrats would just as easily back Elizabeth Warren, if the unabashed left-wing senator from Massachusetts were to run for president.

Warren would be a fool to run, though.

Her zealotry — she’s well to the left of President Barack Obama — makes finding an electoral path to the White House much more difficult than Clinton, who is a master in her own right of the art of political triangulation. Plus, Warren could have a national platform as the conscious of the Democratic left for another decade or more, assuming the voters of deep blue Massachusetts keep electing her through 2030, when she would turn 81 (hardly old, by Senate standards).

Clinton is more or less the last Democrat with any swing-state appeal left standing as the party approaches the end of the Obama presidency.

Think about it.

Name one Democrat besides the 67-year-old Clinton with any constituency outside the bastions of liberalism.

Stumped? You aren’t alone. The only Democrat to come to mind is Vice President Joe Biden, who at 72 is hardly the one to carry the torch of liberalism into the third decade of the 21st century.

The reality is today’s Democratic Party lacks a farm team for national office. Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the 75-year-old whose recent injuries makes him look like a nursing home resident council president, leads the Democratic minority in the Senate. Of his colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus leadership, not a single one falls outside the age range for membership in the AARP.

Things aren’t much better for Democrats over in the House of Representatives, where California’s Nancy Pelosi, who is a year younger than Reid, maintains her leadership post despite failing to retake the speaker’s gavel in the last two congressional elections. Her right-hand man (or in Pelosi’s case, left-hand man) is 75.
The fact that 2000 Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore’s name has emerged as a possible candidate only illustrates how bad Democrats have it.

Contrast this with the much deeper front bench for Republicans.

At 44 and 43 respectively, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are young enough to be Clinton’s sons. Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, is 47. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky may be of AARP age at 52, but his brand of libertarianism is attractive to many millennials. Even ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could be seen as a fresh voice, as he is known to think outside the box and challenge GOP orthodoxy.

Then come Bobby Jindal (43), the Louisiana governor, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (55) and Gov. Nikki Haley (43) of South Carolina. None of them fit the bald, fat, old, white man stereotype that has plagued Republicans for too long.

Of course, Democrats always have Jerry Brown, who has served as California’s on-again, off-again governor since 1975. For the record, he’s bald, old (76) and white.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Learning from Ferguson

The following was published in today's edition of The Morning Sun.

The turmoil in the Missouri town of Ferguson offers up a valuable lesson on the state of law enforcement.

Actually, there are several lessons to come out of the events that have unfolded in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis.

This was highlighted in a recent report from the federal Justice Department.

While undoubtedly influenced by the anti-police orientation of the politics and ideology of President Barack Obama and Eric Holder, the outgoing attorney general, the report nevertheless exposed flaws that are relevant in Michigan.

Like the Wolverine State, the Show-Me State’s policing and judiciary is jumbled with multiple layers of police agencies and courts that often have overlapping jurisdiction.

Michigan did a decent job streamlining its judiciary during the 1961-62 state constitutional convention, when the lowest level courts, overseen by justices of the peace, were abolished. Missouri still has municipal courts, described by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as “sheltered from the scrutiny of the state courts” and existing only to “enrich municipalities and lawyers.” The Justice Department had harsher words for Ferguson’s court, calling it “constitutionally deficient.”

Missouri isn’t, however, alone.

An investigation into New York’s justice courts by The New York Times in 2006 exposed similar gross abuses of due process and other fundamental rights that have been enshrined into Anglo-American jurisprudence since the Magna Carta 800 years ago.

Many on the left, as well as a few big-‘l’ Libertarians, have claimed the militarization of policing is responsible for the woes of law enforcement.

Some of their arguments have merit, at least when compared to the principles established by Sir Robert Peel, who is credited with creating what became modern police.

Fundamental to the Peelian principles was the civilian nature of law enforcement and that “the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.”

However, police long ago diverged from the policing Peel envisioned.

Everything about police today — the uniforms, the military-style rank structure and the weaponry of police, even in relatively low-crime, small communities — is paramilitary, not unlike the military forces early constabularies were created to replace.

Proof of the dysfunctional nature of law enforcement can be found closer to home than Ferguson.

The illogical way law enforcement is structured from the Michigan State Police down to county sheriffs and city, township and village police result in varying standards across community lines. In fact, the differences between locales can be stark.

Not only is the status quo in law enforcement not working, but it has arguably made maintaining public safety and order worse.

Just look at the case clearance rate of the state police, which averaged 66 percent in 2013, according to state statistics. By comparison, local clearance rates were more often than not less than half of the state police, according to the same statistics. Only the bad guys could find comfort in the job performance of too many local agencies.

Then there’s Saginaw County, where the village police in Oakley, barely changed since its incorporation in 1887, has enlisted nearly 150 reservists into its force to serve and protect a population of under 300 people.

Despite little transparency in the training each reservist underwent in order to carry a badge and gun anywhere in Michigan, including in places where law-abiding civilians are prohibited from having a firearm, it is known those same reserve policemen have given around $200,000 to the village’s coffers.

Quid pro quo? It sure looks that way, especially when many live far from the village limits.

Those in police and the courts depend on the public’s respect and trust, but troubling revelations in Ferguson and Oakley do nothing but undermine the good and honest men and women who serve, protect and dispense justice.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Foul odor Clinton’s worst enemy

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

Hillary Clinton’s use of a homebrew computer server and private email as secretary of state is more than an unforced error by the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.

It’s all too easy to dismiss this as just the latest scandal in the cyclical nature of the political career of Clinton and her husband former President Bill Clinton. After all, it’s somewhat difficult to imagine American political life without the Clintons being accused of some legal, moral or ethical wrongdoing.

Yet, it would be foolish for Republicans to base their political strategy on making the election about past scandals — the Clintons clearly believe in the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, unless your name is spelled wrong — as Rand Paul seems inclined to do.

Paul, the Kentucky senator and all-but-declared libertarian Republican presidential candidate, believes it’s “fair game” to remind voters of what happened the last time the Clintons were in residence at the White House.

“It’s not Hillary’s fault, but it is a factor in judging Bill Clinton and history,” Paul said last year, when he made headlines for raising what he called Bill Clinton’s “predatory behavior.”

To a degree, Paul is right.

After all, many young adults, commonly known as millenials, who are arguably the most important demographic in the electorate, have no real memory of his presidency from 1993 until 2001.

While their parents and grandparents get the tired old jokes and pop culture references and can recall the sorry state of the presidency in the late 1990s, the millenials know little of all the Clinton scandals that to this day shape so much of the political right, in particular talk-radio (see Shanklin, Paul and Limbaugh, Rush).

Still, this is politically dangerous territory, not least for Paul, who between his father and his own long embrace of fringe cause célèbres is an opposition researcher’s dream candidate.

If Clinton and Obama didn’t pay an electoral price when the American ambassador to Libya was murdered in the weeks leading up to the 2012 presidential election then it is pretty difficult to imagine the latest scandal involving Clinton’s use of email determining what happens in an election some 20 months from now.

Helping Clinton the most is her sex.

It won’t be the main plot of her impending presidential campaign, but her being a woman, a mother and a grandmother is certainly going to be the chief subplot with endless subtle and not-so-subtle pandering to her core constituency.

This is how the historic nature of Barack Obama’s candidacy resulted in record turnout among black voters. Most intriguingly, the prospect of electing the country’s first female president may be more of a motivating factor, as academic literature indicates women see their sex as a greater barrier than race when it comes to shattering the proverbial glass ceiling.

Anyone who denies this reality by claiming female voters, including those in otherwise Republican-leaning suburbs, won’t want to make history is stupid.

Then there is the sympathy vote.

Just how many women share similar life experiences with Clinton, in which they stood by their man despite adulterous indiscretions and other transgressions, is unknown, but suffice to say there are many who have been in similar situations as the former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state.

It may seem as if Clinton is predestined to be president, but the reality is she could actually lose to whomever is nominated by the GOP.

Voters might just listen to one of the five million olfactory receptors behind their sense of smell and conclude the foul odor emitted by the Clintons stinks a little too much.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Conservatives lost in political wilderness

The following was published in today's edition of The Morning Sun.

The right may have triumphed in the last two mid-term elections, but last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference showed conservatives remain lost in the political wilderness.

Notwithstanding the tired, old narrative of civil war between the so-called establishment and the fabled right-wing insurgency — as if one can truly be anti-establishment when they are a member of the world’s most exclusive club — CPAC was really about whether one accepts the realities of how to win the White House in 2016.

While many of those who attended the annual confab just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital in Maryland did care about winning the presidency after nearly a decade of Barack Obama the voices of ignorance were significantly more vocal as a dozen presidential aspirants contested what was essentially the first, albeit unofficial, primary contest for Republicans.

Just look at the results of the CPAC straw poll, which was without question the most anticipated item on the agenda.

Of the 3,007 attendees who participated in the straw poll, only 11 percent said a candidate’s “ability to win states Obama won” was the “most important quality for a Republican presidential candidate to possess.” By comparison, 39 percent of respondents said having a “solid conservative record” was the most important attribute of a would-be GOP president.

Make no mistake. This is not about the battle between the libertarianism of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and the more traditional conservatism of Texas Senator Ted Cruz — to say nothing of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s third way strategy — for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Rather, this is about curing the 39 percent of activists who have taken the shake oil causing them to go mad.

Those prescribing the pseudo-medicine claim it brings about ideological purity, as if Republicans nominating the Model Conservative is enough to secure the necessary number of Electoral College votes to win.
The dire reality facing Cruz, Paul, Walker, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, or whomever else wins the party’s nomination for president is far different.

Being more conservative, being more evangelical and being more blue-collar will do little to win back Virginia, Florida, Ohio and the other so-called purple states carried by Obama. Heck, even being whiter (the code word is often “Reagan Democrat”) is not the answer when 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have won in a landslide election with 46 states, if only white Americans were allowed to vote.

As it sounds now, a majority of the population in California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas are non-white, according to “States of Change,” a new study jointly produced by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Center for American Progress and Brookings Institution.

Of those four states, California used to be Republican and New Mexico, where Republican Governor Susana Martinez has won two terms, has been purple since 2000. Only Texas is Republican, though even demographics here are cause for concern. By 2060, 22 states will be majority non-white.

Not long after Obama took office in early 2009, this columnist told attendees of a forum in Oakland County, the rich and traditionally GOP suburban county bordering Detroit, that Republicans and, by extension, conservatives would not win again until they looked and talked like the America of the 21st century.

Seven years later, the GOP remains out of power because too many conservatives continue denying the fact that the United States of today is vastly different from the country that twice elected Ronald Reagan to the presidency.

Reagan’s principles should still be guiding principles, but conservatives and Republicans need to wake up and realize what has always been done no longer works. Denying reality and pretending that nothing is wrong only stops the right from winning.

— Dennis Lennox