Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Why Rick Snyder can’t run for president

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

There is a persistent rumor that Michigan’s governor is running for president.

So why does speculation that Governor Rick Snyder will seek the Republican presidential nomination never end? It’s because deep down inside Snyder wants to run.

Just look at all of the signals from the governor. Snyder said he would take “the Michigan story to the rest of the country.” He hasn’t yet left the state, but Snyder did send a top aide to stump for him alongside other would-be GOP hopefuls, including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting. Then there was Snyder’s State of the State address, which drew contrasts with Washington.

This has kept alive the rumors that he might just do the once unthinkable and enter the crowded Republican field.

It’s hard to blame Snyder for thinking he could defy conventional political wisdom by mounting a presidential campaign.

After all, that is just what he did in 2010, when the then-unknown Ann Arbor businessman came out of nowhere to beat a field of career politicians and win the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

On paper, Snyder appears stronger than many of the other all-but-declared presidential candidates. He has won twice in a state the Republican presidential nominee has not carried since George H.W. Bush in 1988. Then there are Snyder’s accomplishments, including saving Detroit. Plus, unlike so many politicians, he fluently speaks the language of innovators, job creators and entrepreneurs on main street.

Still, there’s the harsh reality that the best resume is seldom enough to get anyone elected president.

If Snyder didn’t like shaking hands and kissing babies when he was up for a second term as governor then it’s hard to see him spending most of the next year on the rubber chicken circuit across Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and the other states with early Republican primary elections or caucuses in the campaign for the presidential nomination.

Also hurting Snyder is his lack of a political base. Romney, ex-Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are already lining up the support of Republican donors, party grandees and top political operatives leaving Snyder with little to no room to maneuver his way into the race.

Moreover, Snyder suffers from self-inflicted political wounds because he has done little to curry favor with those in his own party.

Michigan’s rank-and-file Republicans have little loyalty to Snyder, who hasn’t doled out the patronage that many on the political right expect to receive from the titular head of the state Republican Party.

If Michigan Republicans had a stake in the governor’s administration then they might just be willing to get behind Snyder for president, including by finalizing an early primary that makes the Wolverine State relevant in the campaign for the GOP nomination.

For the true believers, it might even be the means to get rid of Snyder just as New York Republicans did when they sent Teddy Roosevelt down to Washington.

— Dennis Lennox

Monday, January 26, 2015

Snyder must revolutionize state government

The following is from today's edition of The Detroit News.

Governor Rick Snyder should be applauded for saying in his State of the State address that it’s time for a revolution in Michigan’s government. 

However, as that old saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Right now, all we know is Snyder wants to bring various social service agencies and programs together into a single department. While this would seem logical, this sort of reorganization of state government’s executive branch has been done before.

Most recently, it was in the waning years of then-Governor Jennifer Granholm’s administration, when she merged the much-maligned departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources into a single department.

Granholm’s reform actually made a lot of sense. It was after all a natural (pun intended) alignment of two closely related state departments, but, in reality, it only involved a change to the letterhead as the reform was quickly undone when Snyder took up the governorship.

Now is the time for Snyder, as the nerd-in-chief, to do more than shuffle around bailiwicks, change office signage and appoint one less department director.

This won’t be easy because powerful public sector special interests are given taxpayer money by governments to directly lobby against the best interests of taxpayers.

Nevertheless, if Snyder could go against trade unions to sign right-to-work and the base of his own Republican Party to push for a tax increase then surely he can ignore the keep-government-as-it-has-always-been voices.

Michigan has so much government that nobody can say for certain how many officeholders there are across the state, county, city, township, village, school district and special authority levels of government. (A quick running of the numbers in some parts of the state reveals there is one politician for every 341 persons.)

Snyder needs to put everything on the proverbial cutting board by requiring every department and agency of state government, as well as every other level of government, to justify its very existence in the state’s convoluted system of government. Of course, few of these entities would actually be able to do so.

It would be easy to focus on Lansing, but Snyder would actually get more and better results if he went after the structure of local government with the three Rs:

  • Redrawing the lines of the 83 counties for the first time since 1891.
  • Reducing the significant burden of government on the wallets of city-dwelling Michiganians by making cities independent of counties.
  • Reflecting the realities of today by adjusting the governance structure of local government to ensure the best delivery of frontline services.

None of this should be seen as an attack on localism, which has been a fundamental aspect of Michigan’s political culture since Thomas Jefferson envisioned townships as “little republics.”

Rather, this is about ensuring government is best carrying out its important and necessary purposes.

—Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Scott Walker leads rivals; Dave Agema causes GOP snub

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

With a dozen-plus Republicans mulling a presidential race, it was time for one of them to stand out from the pack of would-be candidates.

That was just what Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker did last week, when he intervened in the national controversy involving Dave Agema, the disgraced Michigan member of the Republican National Committee.

First reported by the Morning Sun and later picked up by Slate, Politico, Time magazine and other outlets, Walker went where none of the other presidential aspirants who stumped among the party grandees at the RNC’s winter meeting near San Diego ventured. He boldly repudiated Agema, who posted a racist essay from a white supremacist magazine on his Facebook page. Outgoing Texas Governor Rick Perry, 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Detroit native Ben Carson were there too, but all of them chose to remain silent when it came to Agema.

This was the sort of bold move that Walker — arguably the most battle-tested Republican prospect— will need to repeat for his dark horse candidacy to succeed. 

Also going in Walker’s favor is the fact that Romney, ex-Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would slice up the GOP’s center-right voting demographic. Add in U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul competing for the true believer vote and there’s a path to the nomination for Walker.

Speaking of the presidential race, the RNC has announced the party’s schedule of authorized debates for White House hopefuls.

The RNC did this as a direct result of the 2012 nominating process, which turned into a three-ring circus and did little more than elevate those who never had a viable chance at getting the party’s nomination.

This time around, there will be only nine debates with the first this August in Cleveland, where the 2016 Republican National Convention will take place. 

While details on three additional debates in March 2016 have yet to be confirmed it’s notable that Michigan was snubbed by the national GOP in favor of California.

Compare Michigan to California, which hosts a debate on CNN this September.

Not only will the Democratic presidential nominee easily win California, but getting there requires the Washington chattering class to take a super-long flight. Then there will be the TV ratings — most likely dismal considering the three-hour time difference between the two coasts.

On the other hand, Michigan, which successfully hosted debates in 2007 and 2011, is more important electorally with the party’s nominee at least having a chance. Then there are the compelling storylines involving Detroit that make the city perfect for a GOP looking to move beyond the stereotypes and negative perceptions confirmed by Agema. 

Nevertheless, Michigan has something working against it.

That something is the presence of Agema, who steadfastly refuses to resign from his position of national party leadership.

Absent the Michigan Republican Party removing him — an action it could and should have taken long ago — the state is a pariah to Republicans, as nobody wants to go anywhere near Agema.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rules allow for Agema removal, if GOP wills it

The following was published today in The Morning Sun.

Disgraced Republican National Committee member Dave Agema may be a pariah to Republicans, but he remains in a position of national party leadership.
Before his most recent comments on New Year’s Eve — saying “blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people” — there were other occurrences of him promoting bigotry and xenophobia.
Agema’s first controversy was in March 2013 over “statistics” he posted on Facebook that contained purported research by a Holocaust-denying Ku Klux Klan activist. This alone should have been enough for him to be kicked off the Republican National Committee.
The ex-state legislator from Grandville, who won a seat on the GOP’s national board of directors in 2012, stayed on because he exploited internal party divisions between the so-called establishment on one side and the anti-establishment, establishment on the other. 
Agema mostly disappeared until this time last year, when he again took to Facebook to spread hate by targeting Muslims with his now infamous post that asked, “Have you ever seen a Muslim do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?” 
Many thought this was the final straw, as pretty much everyone in the GOP from Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to Michigan Republican Party chairman Bob Schostak and others called for Agema’s immediate resignation. But Agema defiantly ignored their calls for his resignation. Eventually, even the state’s Roman Catholic bishops and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy would step forward to disavow Agema.
Back in 2014, there was serious, high-level talk of censure and even removal, but many Republican insiders were cautious because it was an election year and they claimed the party could not afford to divert attention away from defeating Democrats. 
The biggest reason they cited in support of just ignoring him — hoping Agema would just shut up — was an utterly false claim that neither the Republican National Committee nor the Michigan Republican Party has the power to oust Agema. 
A year later the GOP finds itself in the same position heading into this week’s Republican National Committee winter meeting in San Diego because party leaders didn’t oust Agema when they had the chance last year. 
Both the state and national parties operate under bylaws that defer to parliamentary procedure, which just about anyone who has ever been involved in a club or served on a board knows best as Robert’s Rules of Order. 
It is true that the bylaws are not specific on removal in situations where a leader is acting in an unbecoming manner, however, there is nothing that would forbid such action, either.
In fact, parliamentary procedure expressly affords for removal, be it temporarily or permanently through impeachment. 
Moreover, there has also been ample time for the Republican National Committee and the Michigan Republican Party to amend the bylaws to allow for the expulsion of Agema.
The idea that Agema will disappear if the GOP just shuns him is absurd. 
Republicans need to wake up and smell the coffee before Agema opens his mouth again.
— Dennis Lennox

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

GOP’s Agema attacks blacks, coming to Mt. Pleasant

The following is from tomorrow's The Morning Sun.

Major steps made by Republicans in confronting demographic woes are being overshadowed by one of the party’s national leaders from right here in Michigan.
Sure, Republicans could do a better job at looking and talking like the America of the second decade of the 21st century, but for all of the GOP’s trouble in cobbling together a national governing majority — it’s lost the popular vote for president in five of the last six elections — the party is slowly but surely casting aside its image of being the bald, fat, old white man’s party.
For proof, look to U.S. Senator Tim Scott, a black Republican from South Carolina who won election in his own right this past November. Then there is Mia Love, the first Haitian-American in Congress. She has an extremely bright future in the GOP after winning a Utah-based House seat. Another Republican who defies the stereotype is New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who would be wise to seek her party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
However, you wouldn’t know any of this by listening to Dave Agema of the Republican National Committee.
Agema put the GOP in the news for all the wrong reasons after he recently posted an excerpt from a white supremacist magazine on his Facebook profile page.
“However, my experience has also taught me that blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people,” read Agema’s New Year’s Eve post on Facebook. “They cannot reason as well. They cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well.”
Since his election at the 2012 Michigan Republican State Convention to a four-year term on the Republican National Committee, essentially the party’s national board of directors, ex-state legislator Agema has repeatedly attacked gays, Muslims and now racial minorities. 
“This continues a pattern of very disturbing conduct that doesn’t represent the views of Michigan Republicans I know,” said Paul Welday, a longtime GOP leader from Oakland County who sits on the Michigan Republican State Committee. “At what point is he no longer welcomed to the party?”
Agema refused to resign last year in response to calls by Michigan Republican Party chairman Bob Schostak and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus for him to do so. Even a condemnation from Governor Rick Snyder during last year’s State of the State address wasn’t enough to pressure Agema into quitting.
Responding to Agema’s latest comments, a Schostak spokesman said: “Chairman Schostak stands by his previous comments” calling for Agema’s resignation.
Meanwhile, state House Speaker Kevin Cotter stopped short of fully repudiating Agema, who is headlining an event this weekend in Cotter’s hometown of Mt. Pleasant that also features several of his fellow Republican legislators. “The speaker does not agree with the comments,” spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said. 
D’Assandro said Cotter “is not planning on attending” what tea party organizers are calling a “powwow” this Friday and Saturday at Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort.
All this begs the question: What exactly does Agema have to do or say for Republicans to expel him from his position in party leadership?
The Republican National Committee would be wise at its winter meeting next week in San Diego to once and for all declare Agema persona non grata.
Nothing short of this will stop Agema.
— Dennis Lennox