Dirty tricks on Michigan campaign trail get less entertaining, more depressing

Jul 30, 2014

“One person can make a difference,” President Kennedy used to say, “and everyone should try.”  That was the spirit that inspired a lot of people to get into politics, once upon a time.

Well, there are still idealists out there trying to make a difference, and there have been no-goodniks running for office since George Washington’s day.

But in the final days before Michigan’s statewide primary, two things have depressed me about this year’s campaign.

One is the amount of money involved, and I’ll talk about that later. But the other is the below the belt tactics.

Take the Democratic race for the congressional nomination in the 11th district. Eight years ago, former radio talk show host Nancy Skinner ran for Congress in another district.

She lost, but did better than expected. She was then given a job as chief of staff to First Gentleman Dan Mulhern, which struck me as a frivolous waste of taxpayer money.  

This year, Skinner resurfaced and jumped into the 11th district race. Since then, she has run an almost entirely negative campaign, bombarding me with e-mails hinting that one of her opponents is really a Republican and another a secret CIA agent.

When I told her I would be more impressed if she explained why someone should vote for her, she said she had to save the world from climate change, and then went on to rant that her opponents were liars and were trying to buy the election.

We should ask ourselves - do we really want a political system where the only people willing to run are sociopaths?

Things have been generally more civil in the neighboring 14th district Democratic primary. When I talked to the candidates – Hansen Clarke, Brenda Lawrence and Rudy Hobbs, they mostly said nice things about each other, which I found refreshing.

However, I’ve been getting e-mail bombed by a shadowy group called Women Vote, which claims that Hansen Clarke, who has served two years in Congress, is essentially a Republican.

While there may be reasons not to vote for Clarke, he is as much of a Republican as I am an Olympic athlete. The ad looks like it comes from a nonpartisan group like the League of Women Voters, and says it is “not authorized by any candidate.”

But it actually is from a group supporting Brenda Lawrence.

She ought to have the integrity to denounce it.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, we have Todd Courser, who was nearly elected state party chairman last year, sending a fundraising e-mail denouncing a fellow Republican because he married his longtime male partner.

Courser is running for the legislature, and the strategist, Greg McNeilly, isn’t supporting him. What’s most bizarre is that Courser also sent out a video he called “too graphic for viewing.”

I can’t ever remember any campaign sending a video and telling people not to watch it, but apparently, it shows McNeilly kissing his partner after their marriage ceremony.

If this is more than Todd Courser can cope with, he must not go to many movies. All these antics are vastly entertaining for journalists. But they can’t be good for democracy, or our state.

And I think we should ask ourselves – do we really want a political system where the only people willing to run are sociopaths?