Friday, March 28, 2008

Can Granholm pass the Kwame test?

“I’m a mother. I’m used to cleaning up other people’s messes.”

That’s long been Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s disarming reply to Michigan’s record unemployment, billion-dollar budget deficits and loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs.

Of course it’s not her fault (picture a certain rotund Republican governor who preceded her) but by golly, Granholm is going mop up the muck and set the Mitten State on a path anew.

Well, governor, have we got a mess for you.

The stench left by Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s 12 indictments (eight of them felonies) this week for perjury, obstruction of justice and conspiracy has engulfed the state.

This isn’t a sex scandal. I know, those racy text messages of Kwame and his paramour/former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty (“And did you miss me, sexually?”) are on permanent loop on national TV. The Eliot Spitzer hooker extravaganza is sooo old, since the New York gov actually had the gumption to resign, so Kwame’s office boot-knocking is getting its due.

Whatever. What this is really about is Detroit and the state of Michigan.

It’s about hizzoner’s spending spree of more than $9 million of the city’s money to cover up firing police officers (the less titillating, but far more damning of the 14,000 text messages). Police had allegedly uncovered abuses in Kwame’s posse/security detail (all former altar boys, natch) and a certain wild party at the Manoogian Mansion that Attorney General Mike Cox dubbed an “urban legend.”

Cox’s investigation was less than thorough, as documents from the Michigan State Police now show, so expect more revelations on that front. And perhaps we’ll all find out why Coxie was so chummy with Kwame and if it has anything to do with the AG’s burning desire to live in the governor’s mansion in 2010.

As always in politics, it’s the cover-up that did Kilpatrick in. He lied about his affair under oath, as well as planning to sack the cops. The proof is there in black and white.

The outrage is that a city as economically bludgeoned as Detroit is being bilked by a corrupt mayor who feels no shame in treating his hometown like a brothel and making residents pick up the tab.

Motown has never recovered from the flight of the industrial base or the riots of 1967 – blocks of buildings resembling bombed-out Baghdad testify to that. Infant mortality and literacy rates are on par with third-world countries.

It is a travesty for Detroit, once a beacon of hope on the Underground Railroad and the source of inspiration for Henry Ford, to have become America’s living symbol of urban decay.

Kilpatrick tried to turn that image around and masterfully wooed the business community. But now we’re told that those efforts somehow should absolve him of essentially pilfering city coffers (and of his felonies) and keep him on the job.

Since he has no defense, he’s adopted the last refuge of scoundrels: Lash out at the media for reporting his misdeeds and make this about race (“I’ve been called (the n-word) more than anytime in my entire life.”)

This is sad and shameful and we all pay the price. Because whether you live in Benzie or Battle Creek, we’re all Detroiters, baby. What’s the first thing entrepreneurs think about Michigan nowadays? Kwame is the 300-pound, diamond-studded elephant in the room.

You can live in denial that our crumbling core city doesn’t affect you - but the rest of the world knows otherwise.

So should Kwame Kilpatrick stay or should he go? How is this even a question?

The biggest favor Kilpatrick could do for the city and state he claims to love is walk away. We’re struggling enough with 7.2 percent unemployment and record foreclosures, thank you very much.

But that ain’t gonna happen. So it’s up to Granholm to whip out the industrial Hoover and vacuum up the manure.

The governor does have the power to oust the frat-boy mayor, plain and simple. She denies that, but her narrow reading of the Michigan Constitution smacks of someone who skirts politically thorny decisions at all costs.

Anyone paying attention to six years of budget crises knows that. It’s clear to anyone who’s heard Granholm’s soaring rhetoric about education and watched her gut college funding up until this year.

Jenny doesn’t like to pull the trigger.

Look, this isn’t easy. Kwame’s a fallen star in her own party from the fiercest Democratic stronghold in the state (and one of the biggest in the country). But it would show tremendous leadership.

And it’s the right thing to do. It is crucial for Michigan - we all need to move on from the mayor’s wanton criminality and national humiliation.

This is a key test for Granholm and Democrats. Stop whining that you’re cleaning up John Engler’s mess and wipe out one of your own.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Susan J. Demas on "Off the Record"

"Off the Record," hosted by Senior Capitol Correspondent Tim Skubick, featured a panel Friday, March 21, of Susan J. Demas of MIRS, Bill Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics, Kathy Barks Hoffman of the Associated Press and Dawson Bell of the Detroit Free Press.

The aborted Michigan Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton's Detroit visit, Bill Schuette's career options and the Blue Cross/Blue Shield bills were debated.

To catch the show online:

Off the Record 3.21.08

Friday, March 21, 2008

A recall worthy of ridicule

Want to mangle things even more in Lansing? Then by all means, recall House Speaker Andy Dillon.

The Redford Township Democrat epitomizes everything we need in a legislator - he's brilliant, pensive, ruthlessly pragmatic and honest to a fault (even with the press). He plays well with others, a rarity in the ego-sodden Capitol.

For most of last year, I blasted leaders for their ineptitude and crass politicking in solving a $2 billion budget deficit. No one was without fault (the media included for our sometimes shallow reporting) and I once christened Dillon the Cowardly Lion for his role in negotiations last summer.

But even with only two years of legislative experience under his belt, the speaker appeared to be the only grown-up at the table, constantly trying to lower the temperature of high-octane flare-ups between Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle credit Dillon for the bipartisan deal that avoided a long, painful government shutdown. The price was higher income and business taxes and budget cuts.

"I'd do it again tomorrow," Dillon told me this week.

But the anti-tax fanatics want their pound of flesh.

So they're coming for Andy Dillon, the capitalist turned conservative Democratic rep, whose pro-life, pro-growth views haven't endeared him to many in his own party. He gets even less love from liberal blogs, which haven't exactly leapt to defend him against recall, too busy panting every time Granholm or Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer burp.

Recalls almost always are a rash, partisan-soiled scare tactic. They should be reserved for those who commit gross negligence or criminal acts and refuse to step down. (Yes, Kwame Kilpatrick, that means you).

In reality, recalls are wielded as a billy club to batter lawmakers who make tough decisions. My advice? If you loathe Dillon, forget about a costly August recall. Grow up and vote him out in November.

Last year, elfin ringleader Leon Drolet declared there would be recalls by the dozens. But his right-hand woman, Rose Bogaert, now admits the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance doesn't have the money or manpower. So Dillon is the No. 1 target.

Drolet, a former GOP lawmaker, contends a sitting speaker of the house has never been recalled. "We're ready to make history!" he bloviates.

Shy and retiring, the man who drives around Michigan with a mammoth foam pig named Mr. Perks surely wouldn't be trying to ride this circus to a national job with anti-tax guru Grover Norquist (who's on his board) or a congressional seat.

I asked Drolet if he really believes Dillon spends every waking moment plotting to raise taxes again.

"It doesn't matter if I think he'll rape someone again," he told me breezily. "He has to be held accountable for the rape he did commit."

Now I like Leon, always armed with a comeback and wicked sense of humor. But he didn't back away from his incendiary statement, maintaining Dillon committed "an economic crime."

He also insisted "Dillon's thugs" are harassing his paid signature-gatherers, calling it a "friggin' war zone." When I asked if there were black helicopters hovering, the anti-tax man, for once, didn't laugh.

Perhaps more bizarrely, he told me he'd rather deal with far-out lefties in the Legislature because they'd compromise more, whereas Dillon "has to vote for every piece of the liberal agenda."

Look, Drolet was a professional flame-thrower in the House; his goal was never to govern. That's the real difference between he and Dillon, who as a freshman in the minority got the innovative $2 billion 21st Century Jobs Fund passed.

That's why GOP former House Speaker Rick Johnson is incensed over Dillon's recall and is defending him. "I voted for tax increases several times," Johnson scoffed. "Where were the zealots then? It was never an issue."

Bishop, a tried and true conservative, has offered to help in any way he can, telling me his relationship with Dillon was "one of the few positive things to come out of last year."

And the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, which spent all of 2007 screaming bloody murder about a tax hike, is fighting Dillon's recall.

It's heartening to see such an outbreak of common sense. But if the recall does go on the ballot - Drolet has until May 1 to collect about 10,000 signatures - Dillon's probably toast, if history's any guide.

The speaker calls the recall a "major irritation" at a time when he's working on alternative energy legislation and fiscal 2009 budgets.

After last year's fiscal fiasco ("All the stupid machinations were an embarrassment," he sighs) Dillon briefly considered calling it quits. The Notre Dame-trained lawyer who's turned around a string of businesses could return to a blockbuster career in the private sector.

But the speaker is determined to stay put for one simple reason: "The state needs help right now."

That's the definition of a leader. Now's not the time to lose one in Lansing.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Clinton stacks the deck for re-vote

Saturday Night Live” is clearly in the tank for Hillary Clinton, but here’s what you might not know: so is the Michigan Democratic establishment.

That’s the disingenuous backdrop to the frenzied debate over a do-over primary in the Great Lakes State after Clinton’s comeback last week.

She’s locked up Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former Gov. Jim Blanchard and Sen. Debbie Stabenow. And let’s not forget House Energy Chair John “The Truck” Dingell, whose wife, Democratic National Committeewoman Debbie Dingell, (not coincidentally) engineered the botched Jan. 15 primary to be Clinton’s firewall.

So much for that.

There’s also Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Mark Brewer, who swears on a stack of Bibles that he’s neutral. But everyone knows he was a big fan of fellow labor guy John Edwards and jumped to Clinton after he dropped out.

Who’s in Barack Obama’s camp? Rep. John Conyers, Teamster President James Hoffa and a smattering of state legislators, which means the Clintonistas hold most of the cards in the battle over a re-vote.

By now, the world knows Michigan’s primary was a bad joke straight out of SNL. Unlike Florida, Clinton was the only major candidate on the ballot; Obama and Edwards yanked their names off as soon as the Democratic National Committee erased the state’s delegates for brazenly flouting party rules.

Last fall, even Clinton called the contest meaningless.

She only mustered 55 percent against no one (a.k.a. “uncommitted”) in the race for zero delegates, which Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell cleverly spun on Sunday’s “Meet the Press”: “You run against uncommitted, that’s the toughest election to win.”

Yeah, right.

As it stands, Obama has stingily hung on to his 100-plus delegate lead, even with Texas (which he won anyway in delegates) and Ohio.

That means the Clinton camp needs to reset the electoral math equation to win. And voila! Michigan and Florida have reemerged as the battleground.

Problem is, Clinton still can’t catch up unless Obama nets zero delegates in some contests. Enter Blanchard, who proposes “all-or-nothing” primaries in the two states in a last-ditch attempt to give a Clinton nomination electoral legitimacy.

If you don’t like the rules, change ‘em. Worked for the Soviet Union.

Granholm has been less blatant, casting an eye to the federal bench or a cabinet post with either candidate, though her heart belongs to Hillary. (When Obama was on a winning streak, the gov notably was one of the first to glom onto the “dream ticket” scenario).

So Granholm’s thrown out the idea of a “firehouse primary,” a scaled-back contest on a Saturday.

Of course, it’s still murky how the Mitten State – which just hiked taxes to plug a $2 billion deficit – can afford another primary after shelling out $10 million for a worthless one in January.

One solution you’re not hearing about is a less-costly caucus – which the state party has traditionally held in presidential years. But caucuses have favored Obama’s hustle and organization, and thus have been deemed “undemocratic” by Team Clinton.

That surely will come as news to first-in-the-nation Iowa.

Sen. Carl Levin, who doesn’t have a dog in this fight and thus has moral standing, backs a mail-in re-vote. Sounds sensible, especially from a cost perspective, but there’s no way to snuff out the stench of becoming a banana republic.

The truth is, there aren’t any great solutions here.

But Brewer wants his delegates – he’s staked his reputation on this fight. The staunch Granholm ally is negotiating furiously, insisting the outcome will be fair to Obama, since the MDP, DNC and both campaigns all have to sign on.

Many Obama backers would leap at the chance to vote for him for the first time. But Brewer’s promises ring flat - kind of how the Arab world scoffs at the idea of the United States as an honest broker in the Middle East peace process.

Let’s be clear - nobody is pure in this. The Obamaniacs want their guy to win and some are willing bend the rules accordingly. State Sen. Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, for instance, wants to split Michigan’s delegates 50-50.

The difference is, he’s in absolutely no position to make that happen. The Clinton cabal has stacked the deck.

What they don’t realize is ultimately, their strategy is a house of cards.

The most ominous sign for Clinton is her crushing defeat in Detroit, where uncommitted pulled 70 percent of the vote. Our biggest city – which is economically decimated and 82 percent black – already feels disenfranchised.

Clinton could irreparably alienate the party’s most dependable voting block - and racially explosive remarks by supporters like Geraldine Ferraro don’t help.

After all, how does a Democratic presidential hopeful ever carry Michigan? Stockpile big margins in Detroit to offset outstate returns.

Yep, Hillary can win this hand. But I’ll bet she still loses in the end.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Clinton tries to stack deck for contest

Susan J. Demas
The Detroit News

"Saturday Night Live" is clearly in the tank for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, but so is the Michigan Democratic establishment.

That's the disingenuous backdrop to the frenzied debate over a do-over primary here. Clinton has locked up Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former Gov. Jim Blanchard, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn.

In Barack Obama's camp is Rep. John Conyers, Teamster President James Hoffa and a smattering of state legislators, which means the Clintonistas hold most of the cards in the battle over a re-vote.

Michigan's $10 million primary was a bad joke. Unlike Florida, Clinton was the only major candidate on the ballot; Obama and Edwards yanked their names off as soon as the DNC erased the state's delegates for brazenly flouting party rules.

Clinton only mustered 55 percent against no one (also known as "uncommitted").

Obama has stingily hung on to his more than 100-delegate lead. That means the Clinton camp needs to reset the electoral math equation to win.

Problem is, Clinton still can't catch up unless Obama nets no delegates in some states. Enter Blanchard, who proposes "all-or-nothing" primaries in the two states in a last-ditch attempt to give Clinton electoral legitimacy.

One solution you're not hearing about is a less costly traditional caucus -- which the state party has usually held. But caucuses have favored Obama's hustle and organization.

Granholm has proposed a "firehouse primary," but it is more expensive, is open longer and is held on a Saturday.

The Clinton team is trying to stack the deck against Obama for a second Michigan contest. But Clinton risks alienating the party's most dependable voting bloc, African-Americans -- the key to carrying Michigan in November. In that case, the Clinton strategy will become a house of cards.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sisterhood is petulant

I hope he sent Hillary flowers.

John McCain's real triumph Tuesday wasn't snapping up the last of the 1,191 delegates needed to finally convince the dejected far right he's the Republican nominee.

No, it was the many gifts Clinton plopped into his lap, starting with that grating red phone ad she unleashed last week warning that cherubic children will die in their beds if Barack Obama beats her:

"It's 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call. Whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military - someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world."

Who could that be? The answer, dear Hillary, is obvious: John McCain.

Last time I checked, he's the one who can't hold his arms above his head because they were busted so many times by the North Vietnamese. After a more than five-year stint as a POW, he spent 25 years cultivating his foreign policy credentials in Congress.

When did Hillary ever have to pick up the (nonexistent) red phone when Bill was in office? Never. First ladies don't get national security clearance.

So while McCain was boogying down Tuesday, I hope he didn't forget the little lady who seems hell-bent on delivering him a bigger prize in November by mortally wounding Obama.

Of course, Clinton's still a lock to lose.

Confetti-strewn victory bashes over Ohio and Texas rock, but it's all about delegates - and she comes up short. Clinton didn't major in math or miracles (and we saw how well the latter worked out for Mike Huckabee).

So unless she twists the arms of superdelegates to defy the will of voters or makes a rotten backroom deal to capture Florida's and Michigan's invisible delegates, Clinton is toast.

If she does eke out a victory, it'll reek. The starry-eyed Obama kids will stay home - anyone who recalls Richard Nixon's 1968 win after the Chicago Democratic convention carnage knows that.

The crux of Clinton's case will crumble. Once she's on stage next to McCain, whose hair was shocked white in the Hanoi Hilton, all that nonsense of 35 years of experience will crystallize.

Clinton's a brilliant woman whose crowning glory is botching our best shot to fix health care. She'll make a wily Senate Majority Leader someday. Meantime, enjoy President McCain's picks for the Supreme Court.

It's Obama who ultimately will pay the price of Clinton's "kitchen sink" strategy - and she and her multimillion-dollar consultants couldn't care less.

If Barack loses in 2008, guess who makes another run for it in 2012? It doesn't take a cynic to figure this battle plan out.

Team Clinton is doing McCain's dirty work for him. But somehow I don't think Mr. Straight Talk would shade Obama's face to look darker in a menacing ad. I can't see him doing the Texas two-step on Obama being a Muslim like Clinton telling "60 Minutes," "There is nothing to base that on, as far as I know ..."

Wink, wink. Nod, nod.

Republicans like Bill Nowling are lapping it up.

"The big winner is John McCain," the state GOP spokesman effuses. "We're building a national campaign for the White House while the two Democrats fight amongst themselves over who will be the first to surrender in the war on terror."

As Clinton careens down the course to become the most unlikable presidential candidate in recent memory, she has her girlfriends screaming that you're sexist for noticing. Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem are busy browbeating young (and older) women as "gender traitors" for backing Obama, as if the election is some fusty women's studies class at Bryn Mawr.

They never mention Clinton's feminist accomplishments in the Senate (there aren't any) - but assert the jarringly simplistic idea that women are morally obligated to vote for others with ovaries.

As an ardent feminist, it's hard to see my heroines caricature themselves. Their joyless rants feed into the worst Rush Limbaugh stereotypes and are just depressing.

In fact, Hillary Clinton's whole campaign is depressing. (As one Toledo college student told me last week, "She sucks at life.")

Clinton maintains she's a fighter, while paradoxically playing the victim to the press. She's goaded the national media into throwing punches at Obama between her own blows.

She's set the terms of the race from beginning to end. That's why few people dared suggest the Warrior Princess bow out after 11 straight smackdowns, whereas Obama would have been laughed back to the south side of Chicago.

Clinton's slimy strategy of character assassination worked perfectly for the Tuesday primaries and she promises much more to come.

Hillary doesn't mind winning ugly, because she's decided "it's time to put a woman in the White House." But it isn't about equality or the Democratic Party.

In the end, it's all about her.