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Summer news stories giving way to election stories

Sep 8, 2016

So is this now summer, or fall?

I know that by the calendar, we officially have two more weeks of summer. But the kids are back in school, the days are starting to get noticeably shorter, and Labor Day marks the traditional dividing line between the seasons.

Psychologically, anyway.

Many of today’s news items still seem like summer stories, with headlines like “naked man charged in homicide,” and “legal deal in the works for killers of pet guinea pig.”

Our national obsession with all Trump, all the time has blocked out most other political news, but there is one item that to me illustrates everything wrong with term limits.

Diana Farrington is a mortgage auditor who is the Republican candidate for the Legislature in Macomb County. She’s running because the current state representative, Jeff Farrington, her husband, is term-limited out of office. 

This has become a familiar pattern.

A large part of what term limits have done is create sort of dynastic, keep-it-in-the family idea about elected offices; if Diana succeeds, we may be able to look forward to one of the Farrington children running in six years.

But Democrats know how to play the name game too.

Their candidate is Michael Notte, who has been an auto worker but who is principally known as the son of Richard Notte, the legendary longtime mayor of Sterling Heights, who died a couple years ago.

This is one of a very few so-called swing districts, one that either party could win, and you might well wonder what the main issues would be.

Road repair? Economic development? Their respective unpopular presidential candidates?

Well, no. So far, the entire campaign has revolved around Diana Farrington’s attempt to get Notte disqualified for not having lived in the district long enough.

She isn’t having much success with that; yesterday a second judge in a second court dismissed her case. Earlier, another judge said she waited too long to file her complaint, and hadn’t provided any proof Notte didn’t meet the residency requirements.

You might think that would indicate that it might be time to get on with the normal business of campaigning, but Farrington told a reporter that she is considering another appeal.

This is not, by the way, a battle for the presidency, the leadership of the galaxy, or a last-ditch attempt to stop Hitler ...

This is not, by the way, a battle for the presidency, the leadership of the galaxy, or a last-ditch attempt to stop Hitler, but a race between two fairly ordinary people for one out of 110 seats in the lower House of the Legislature.

There’s something to be said for a sense of perspective, and maybe this candidate will eventually find one.

Finally, there’s a sleeper story that is getting almost no attention but has the potential to transform state government.

Taxpayers for Michigan Constitutional Government filed a lawsuit against the state Wednesday, charging that the state has severely shortchanged local governments in the amount of money it’s been returning to them under the Headlee Amendment.

The lawsuit charges that the state is mistakenly counting things like spending for charter schools and some state road repair as local spending. If this suit should ultimately succeed, even partly, it could mean Lansing owes various Michigan cities billions.

I’m not a constitutional expert, but I can tell you this: There are a lot of cash-strapped local officials who are thinking: It’s about time.

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Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's 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.