Saturday, August 18, 2007

Schauer should sit this one out

Mark Schauer has rolled up his blue Oxford sleeves, ready to tackle Michigan's paralyzing budget deficit.

He says Democrats are serious about solving the $1.8 billion crunch — unlike Republicans who keep reneging on solutions, like Lucy yanking the football away from poor ole Charlie Brown.

Oh, and he's likely taking a stab at Congress. Not that raising $3 million to unseat an incumbent legislator will distract Schauer from his job as No. 2 in the state Senate.

Yes, everyone was shocked, shocked this month to learn Mr. Schauer wants to go to Washington. Ever since former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz fell to Tim Walberg in last summer's bloody GOP primary, Dems have sounded an anguished cry: "If only Mark had run."

Maybe that's why his political machine didn't do battle for Sharon Renier, the ne'er-do-well turkey farmer who last fall came within four points of beating Walberg anyway.

Schauer is now the Fred Thompson of the 7th District, undeclared but almost a lock to jump in. He's got star power in a crowded field.

On paper, the Bedford Township senator is everything the Democrats would want: smart, attractive, experienced, hardworking and well-connected.

But here's the problem.Michigan is facing its worst crisis in history, between the hemorrhaging auto industry, embarrassingly low college-graduation rates and a state government that lacks the dough to keep the lights on.

Schauer can't possibly accomplish more for the state as a freshman congressman — one out of 435 — than as minority leader of Michigan's upper chamber. He's Gov. Jennifer Granholm's go-to guy and the Dems' strongest voice on budget matters.

Leaders don't quit when the going gets tough. And make no doubt about it: Schauer will depart the Senate in spirit long before the 2008 election.

Running against Walberg and his unlimited Club for Growth war chest is more than a full-time job.

Right now, Schauer's constituents need him in Lansing.Most disappointingly, the senator seems fixated on strategy, not issues. In an interview this week from Israel, Schauer ticked off the economy, Iraq war and health care as major campaign issues.

He spent some time blasting Walberg for voting no on the minimum-wage hike and claiming credit for W.K. Kellogg Airport funding he voted against.

But Schauer's main argument was that he's the most electable candidate — everyone has told him so. There was no vision, no real fire for working for Michigan.

It wasn't the earnest voice of the small-town guy with that Ned Flanders mustache, who had run the Community Action Agency and upstart races for City Commission, state House and Senate because he wanted to serve.

It sounded like he'd swallowed the pill of politics as usual, fed by overweening advisers.

In the rush to defeat an ethically challenged congressman, politicians can't abandon their own principles.

It's fair to judge Walberg on how he's slickly dispatched his enemies, like Schwarz and former state Sen. Jim Berryman.

But it's also fair to judge Schauer on how he has treated both men, his friends during the past two decades.

When Berryman declared his candidacy in the 7th, Schauer was right behind him, swearing he'd never run himself. But he and his advisers abruptly decided Berryman didn't collect enough cash and figured Schauer could do better.

Schwarz has mulled a run — possibly as a Democrat — and polling shows he'd beat Walberg by three points. He's told Schauer he can't run for office until he wraps up chairing a nonpartisan, state health care commission this fall, but his old chum says Schwarz has missed the boat.

Though he vowed he'd never run against Schwarz, Schauer said he's now prepared to do just that.

The political game, as it's played today, dictates Schwarz and Berryman bow out if Schauer gets in. That's exactly what the senator's advisers are smugly counting on.

But even if Mark Schauer now believes the politics-as-usual mantra, his friends don't.Both are fighters. Berryman once debated Walberg 27 times in a state House race. Schwarz signed up for a stint in Vietnam and went back for more in the CIA.

If they think running for Congress is the right thing, they'll do it.

The only thing Schauer can count on is the 7th District race will be an interesting one. And it just may make him long for the tranquility of jousting with the GOP in Lansing.

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