Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The battle for the Michigan GOP

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

The tussle between Michigan Republicans over the re-nomination of Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley may be getting the headlines, but it is little more than a proxy war for control of the GOP.

Calley finds himself in an unprecedented offensive position heading into the Republican State Convention this Saturday in Novi, when no more than 2,000 Michiganians will decide something that has always been little more than a pro forma vote as the gubernatorial nominee of both major parties has usually picked their running mate since the adoption of the present state constitution. (Before 1963, the lieutenant governor was elected on a separate ballot line, which on occasion resulted in the occupants of the state’s two great offices being from opposing parties.)

The opposition to Calley’s re-nomination isn’t really about the affable, mainstream conservative who served two terms in the lower house of the Legislature from Ionia County.

Rather, it’s an attempt by a vocal minority of extremists, who seek to overthrow anyone with an established, credible position and instead install a junta atop the party apparatus.

This was evident at GOP county conventions a week ago, when the extremists took over some counties and presided over a reign of terror that is doing more to derail incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder’s candidacy than anything Democratic nominee Mark Schauer could ever do.

These extremists are what Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson rightly calls the “Taliban wing” of the GOP.

While the extremists attempt to portray themselves as principled conservatives fighting against what they claim to be Republicans-in-name-only (aka RINOs), the truth is they are the pretenders.

That isn’t to say everyone in the tea party is a conservative pretender.

Far from it, actually.

Unfortunately, the mothers, fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers who filled parks and courthouse lawns four years ago were preyed upon by all sorts of hucksters and grifters, who declared themselves to be the tea party leaders.

They then aligned with extremists, themselves the descendants of the John Birch Society who were rightfully expelled from the conservative movement by Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley Jr. and Michigan’s own Russell Kirk when these three served as the political and intellectual leaders of conservatism.

That’s why political leaders and activists who were the tea party long before the tea party existed — Macomb County’s Leon Drolet comes to mind — have went to great lengths to distance themselves from the extremists, who have destroyed an otherwise powerful movement for average Americans with genuine concerns over the size and scope of government today.

The extremists have no raison d’├¬tre except to hunt RINOs, as if such a thing even exists today. They have no idea how to defeat Democrats. They have no ideas, period.

And they have no manifesto for governance.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Summer is over, but it shouldn't be

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

MACKINAC ISLAND — There may be a month left of summer, at least according to the calendar, but don't tell that to families and college students for whom summer is now over.

At least that is the atmosphere here in one of Michigan's most-visited tourist locales.

While there are always tourists somewhere up north — defined by this columnist as anything north of the M-55 highway corridor from Lake Michigan and Manistee to the twin cities of Tawas City and East Tawas on Lake Huron — the crowds this time of the year are noticeably thinner from even just a week or two ago.

However, that wasn't supposed to be the case back in 2005, when state law was changed under then-Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Republican majority in the Legislature to prohibit public schools from starting classes before Labor Day.

Until then, schools across the state were on different calendars with many downstate districts — far removed from the tourism-dependent economy of Northern and Upper Michigan — starting as much as two weeks before Labor Day, the traditional unofficial end of summer.

The post-Labor Day calendar change was meant to give the economy a boost as it would allow families to spend more time on vacation and thus more money on cottage or hotel stays, fudge, bike rentals, dinners at restaurants and all of the other expenses that come with a few days of vacation.

The problem is it never went far enough because colleges were left out, as lawmakers more often than not abide by a flawed interpretation of the state Constitution that allows the 15 public universities to operate as autocracies beyond the control of state government in Lansing.

That means middle-class mom Anne and dad Harold may still take son Clarence away for one more trip between now and Labor Day, but daughter Gertrude is out of luck because her classes at Central Michigan University resume next week. She also has to get to Mt. Pleasant a few days early to attend orientation and move into the dorms.

Not only does Gertrude miss memorable time with her family, but it also makes it harder for her to get the piece of paper with an embossed seal that has become so critical to have in today’s economy.

By going back to campus two or three weeks before the time when the summer tourism season should end, she loses the much-needed wages she earns at a summer job to pay her college expenses.

It also hurts Gertrude's summer employer, who could decide hiring temporary foreign workers are better than college students quitting before the tourism season ends.

All this is the reason why this columnist found up north to be quieter than it should be right now.

Those able to take an end of summer getaway probably prefer it quiet, but this ends up hurting Michigan's economy at a time when more growth is needed to propel the fledgling recovery.

 — Dennis Lennox

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Where to go, right now: The other Niagara

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

When most people think of Ontario’s Niagara region they think of Niagara Falls.
Yet just down the road from one of the world’s seven natural wonders is a quaint, picture-perfect place a world removed from the touristy trap surrounding Niagara Falls.
Niagara-on-the-Lake (population 15,400) is full of lovely shops and upscale boutiques — not unlike the ones of Petoskey or Harbor Springs, though with a lot more history mostly because of the Niagara region’s strategic importance from the time of the American Revolution through the War of 1812. Among its historical anecdotes: It was the British colonial capital of what is now Michigan in the early 1790s.
But there’s a lot more to Niagara-on-the-Lake than its rich history and heritage.
It has some of North America’s best wines, a growing number of fine dining restaurants for Instagram #foodporn addicts and a vibrant arts culture thanks to the Shaw Festival Theatre (running through mid-October).
The best way to explore the town is by bicycle. Rent a bike for $25 from Grape Escape Wine Tours and pedal the Niagara Parkway, which connects Niagara-on-the-Lake with Niagara Falls. This makes for a nice all-day excursion with lots of historic homes, roadside markets and wineries along the way. For a good lunch, stop at the family-owned Kuntz Orchards Farm and Marketplace.
All this and more makes for a perfect weekend getaway between now and early autumn.
Where to stay
The Prince of Wales is Niagara-on-the-Lake’s landmark hotel. If you stay here, make sure to request a room in the historic section of the hotel. Breakfast at the hotel restaurant Escab├Ęche is phenomenal with all-around great service. If you have dinner here, ask sommelier Fred Gamula to see the impressive 8,000-bottle wine cellar.
Alternatively, consider The Charles Inn, a small 12-room hotel that combines the best of a boutique hotel with the charm of a classic bed and breakfast.
How to get there
Niagara-on-the-Lake is an easy drive from central Michigan. The only travel inconvenience is the border crossing, though this is more of an issue when returning home to the United States. A very useful tourism information center just across the Canadian border in Sarnia can provide you with all the necessary driving directions and roadside maps.
Just remember you’ll need a passport or enhanced driver’s license to visit.
— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Clinton's challenge: Selling voters on the future

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

Hillary Clinton may have everything going for her as the campaigns-in-waiting of presidential aspirants in both parties get ready for what will undoubtedly be an even more grueling and expensive of race than two years ago.

Clinton is without a doubt the frontrunner for not only the Democratic nomination but also 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, presuming she runs.

All signs have her running, but Clinton and her political advisers know that while her stints as first lady, Democratic senator from New York and globe-trotting secretary of state in President Barack Obama’s first Cabinet give her an unmatched portfolio it's this very experience that is her biggest weakness.

Her lengthy resume in politics is at odds with not only Obama's re-election campaign centered on the simple slogan of "Forward," but also the way her husband Bill Clinton won the presidency way back in 1992.

While much of his win over incumbent President George H.W. Bush has become the stuff of legend, one thing is certain: The Clintons found themselves in the White House after Bill made his candidacy about the future.

Both in 1992 and 1996, Republicans nominated (and in Bush's case, re-nominated) two eminently qualified candidates. Yet both were also at the end of their respective careers in politics. In hindsight, it is inconceivable to think of Bob Dole having been elected and serving through 2004, when a second term would have ended.

Make no mistake. Bush and Dole were and are statesmen of the first order. Yet for all their eminent qualifications, they were perceived as being of a different era.

This, perhaps more than anything, was the fatal blow to both campaigns because in politics perception is everything.

The perception was Bill, notwithstanding all of his moral failures, would best usher America into a new century during an ever-changing decade. Twenty-two years later, the Clintons' incredible success is their own worst enemy.

The differences in American life and the country writ large between a potential Clinton candidacy in 2016 and 1992 are arguably greater than the differences from when she first came onto the political scene with her husband's campaign and when Bush was elected vice president alongside Ronald Reagan in 1980.

With Clinton increasingly trying to distance herself from Obama's woeful presidency it will be even more difficult for her to position herself as the candidate of the future.

Think about it. The majority of college students come November of 2016 will have been born after the Clintons left the White House.

Fairly or not, Hillary and Bill could be the grandparents of most young voters in this election cycle.

This simple reality presents the GOP with a tremendous opportunity to make the forthcoming presidential campaign about a better and brighter future.

Of course, Clinton is hoping Republicans stumble and make it about her age — attacking grandmothers is hardly a winning strategy after all.

Republicans must walk a careful line, but the party would be foolish if it didn't make this election a choice between returning to the 1990s and bringing America into the third decade of the 21st century.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What to watch in the primary election

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

Two local races are among the most competitive contests in today’s primary election.

Without a doubt the state’s most-watched campaign is between state Senator John Moolenaar, of Midland, and Saginaw businessman Paul Mitchell for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Dave Camp, another Midlander, in Congress.

Camp has held this safe GOP seat running from the Saginaw suburbs west to its Midland base and along the M-20 corridor through Isabella and Mecosta counties then north to Cadillac and east to West Branch since 1990.

Mitchell was first on the TV airwaves weeks ago. At one point, he even accumulated a 23-point lead over Moolenaar, who represents about 20 percent of the congressional district in the state Senate.

One of the few independent polls has Moolenaar trailing 37.3 percent to 37.7 percent. In words, it’s a statistical dead heat.

Moolenaar needs to rack up big numbers, especially in his political base of Midland where the two are tied, to pull off a win.

With Isabella County being a key battleground — Moolenaar seems to be holding his lead in neighboring Clare and Gratiot counties — it’s safe to say the winner here will almost certainly be the Republican nominee.

What makes this even more complicated is the presence of a kooky, fringe candidate named Pete Konetchy, who lines up with the John Birch Society and not mainstream conservatives. He has zero chance of winning, but every vote for him is a vote that doesn’t go to Mitchell notwithstanding Moolenaar’s entreaties to the tea party.

The other big race is again out of Midland — there must be something in the water — with conservative activist Gary Glenn in the fight of his political life against insurance agent Karl Ieuter for the 98th District seat in the state House (parts of Bay and Midland counties).

Glenn and Ieuter come from different factions of the GOP with Glenn best known for being president of the American Family Association of Michigan. It’s through this role that he has often been labeled as an anti-gay bigot by detractors on the left, though this is unfair because Glenn is a politically astute, full-spectrum conservative who is hardly a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal.

Turnout should be especially high here, as Moolenaar depends on an overwhelmingly win in Midland.

Glenn has an edge because his lengthy background in campaign politics has allowed him to run a much more professional campaign than political newcomer Ieuter. He’s also surprised observers with his strong fundraising.

In the end, the Bay County portion of the district, comprising of six rural townships as well as Auburn and Pinconning, will likely determine whether Glenn or Ieuter end up in Lansing.

Last but certainly not least is Proposal 1, a statewide ballot question that is unusual because this sort of measure is typically reserved for the general election in November.

This very complicated question deals with the dreaded personal property tax, which negatively affects businesses.

Yet despite being supported by just about every entity on the right and the left, Proposal 1 could go down in defeat because it’s simply too confusing for many to understand.

— Dennis Lennox