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Politicians just want to be elected

Sep 20, 2017

Recently, I said in passing that I had never run for any office, and later I realized this was not strictly true. I have twice been elected to the board of the prestigious Historical Society of Michigan, and am now its president. However, I don’t get any salary, have no real power, and my stunning electoral triumph was due to the fact that I ran unopposed.

I can also promise that if I get defeated for reelection, I will not immediately begin running for the presidency of the American Shetland Pony Association, largely because I know close to nothing about little horses. That might, I hope, strike you as sensible.

However, that’s not how a lot of politicians would see it. They would think – vacant office? I’m there! The other day, when Congressman Dave Trott said he would retire at the end of next year, I felt there was a real threat that children would be trampled by politicians rushing to run for his job. One of the first to do so was Rocky Raczkowski, who has run for Congress before, and lost.

He’s also run for the U.S. Senate before, achieving the honor fifteen years ago of being totally obliterated by Carl Levin in the November election.

Once upon a time, he was even actually elected to the Michigan House of Representatives. But though the voters have not-so-gently suggested he isn’t a man for federal office, Rocky, a retired Army officer, gallantly soldiers on. Why? He explained it this way: “I am a conservative, God-fearing patriot that believes that a single person can still change the world for the better.”

Well, amen to that.

What Lena Epstein did, on the other hand, seemed a little less proper, at least to me. She has been running for months for the GOP nomination to oppose Senator Debbie Stabenow next year. Then suddenly, she did a complete pivot and announced she was abandoning the senate race, downsizing, and going after Trott’s Congressional seat instead.

She explained that this way: “I’m incredibly proud of the success we were having in the race for the U.S. Senate … yet I cannot ignore the requests from supporters, grass-roots Republicans, and business leaders from throughout Southeast Michigan who want to be sure that Republicans nominate the strongest candidate possible,” for Trott’s seat.

Translated into honesty, what she was saying was, “I know I didn’t have much chance to win the Senate nomination, and even less in the general election. But I want to be elected to something and I thought this is a race I could win.”

Epstein has every right to do that, but what bothers me is that she can take the money people donated to her Senate campaign and use it to run for something else. That seems like a bit of false advertising to me. However, I did feel a little better when I discovered that most of her campaign donations have come from a single donor – herself.

Finally, I think one of the most curious things about next year’s race is the number of candidates running major campaigns for the nominations for secretary of state and attorney general, even though there are no primary elections for those jobs.

But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.