Commentary
10:51 am
Wed July 20, 2011

Election 2012: Hoekstra is in

Pete Hoekstra has decided to run for the U.S. Senate after all, and that’s good news for Michigan. That doesn’t mean I am endorsing Hoekstra, either in the Republican primary next August, or in the general election against Debbie Stabenow in November, 2012.

What I am saying is that he is a legitimate contender with the qualifications to be a member of the United States Senate.

In America, there’s always been a school of thought that says it is better to elect to high office men and women who have no experience whatsoever. The notion is that they will come in with fresh views, and are less likely to be co-opted by a corrupt system.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a fresh outlook. However, I really don’t want my house rewired by an amateur electrician who has never done it before, but may have some fresh ideas on how to connect things. And if I ever need a heart bypass operation, I’d rather not have a surgeon who has never operated before.

Making legislation may not be heart surgery, but it is a complicated and difficult process. Learning the arcane rituals and clubby ways of Congress, particularly the Senate, takes time too.

If Hoekstra were to win, he would have a head start. He served eighteen years in Congress, in a safe Republican district centered on Holland. He was neither a lawyer nor a conventional legislator.

He was a young business executive with a furniture company when he took on and defeated a popular, long-time incumbent in a Republican primary nineteen years ago. Though he is a solid conservative, he showed an independent streak in Congress.

When he thought parts of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program made no sense, he didn’t hesitate to oppose them. That hurt his early efforts to move up in the house leadership ranks. But he eventually found his niche as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, especially after September 11th.

He sponsored some sensible legislation and worked hard to improve intelligence sharing. Two years ago, he decided to leave Congress and run for the GOP nomination for governor. He was the early favorite, especially since he was the only major candidate from West Michigan.

But he seemed miscast. Congressmen with reputations based on national issues often find it hard persuading voters they care about state matters. Hoekstra was drawn into a nasty spat with state attorney general Mike Cox, and while they hissed at each other, Rick Snyder walked away with the nomination.

Running for the senate would seem more of a fit for the 57-year-old Hoekstra. None of this means he’d automatically win the primary, though he would be a early favorite.

He would, however, be an underdog in the general election. Polls now show Stabenow’s popularity is lagging, but she is sure to have millions in campaign funds.

Pete Hoekstra is taking a huge risk here, too. If he loses this race, that will mean two major statewide losses in two years, and his career as a candidate will almost certainly be over.

But he is choosing to take a chance, to be what Teddy Roosevelt called “the man in the arena.” And the system sometimes rewards those who are bold.