Who is Clark Durant?

Jan 9, 2012

Clark Durant is a man of ideas who is far more knowledgeable about American history than most United States senators I’ve met.

His office is filled with portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, together with photos of a much younger Clark with Ronald Reagan and Sandra Day O’Connor. He’s fascinated by Washington, D.C. and absolutely hates its culture.

This year, he’s running hard for the United States Senate, because he thinks his country is in great danger of being destroyed by debt and spending with no thought for the consequences.

And he believes that maybe, just maybe, he can do something to change that. “If this were just about trying to be one more Republican senator, I wouldn’t be doing this. I know I would be a freshman senator, bottom of the pack in seniority, at 63 years old."

"But it is about more than that,” he said, adding:

“You know, my youngest son John, who is twenty-eight, said to  me, 'much of what is wrong today is the fault of your generation. 'He thought I should run only if I could make a significant difference.'"

“And I think maybe I can.”

Durant is a decided underdog in his race for the Republican nomination to take on Debbie Stabenow. Most of all the members of the Republican establishment have endorsed former congressman Pete Hoekstra, who has a wide lead in what polls have been taken.

But Durant has some impassioned supporters. Former GOP state chairman Saul Anuzis is one of those. Legendary auto executive Bob Lutz is working hard to raise money for him, and says bluntly, “Clark is absolutely the best candidate in the Republican primary, and in my judgment, he is the only Republican who can beat Debbie Stabenow for the United States Senate.”

Durant is a conservative’s conservative, someone who would have been comfortable in the company of William F. Buckley Jr, and who worked in his 20s as an assistant to the president of Hillsdale College. Later, he went to law school, and opened a practice with his late father, Dick Durant, who was well-known in Michigan Republican circles as a man who spent decades annoying the Milliken moderates who once ran the state GOP.

But Clark isn’t a typical conservative. He spent the early years of his practice defending those who couldn’t afford a lawyer, being, he said, a voice for the voiceless. Later, he did make money with a private investment management firm.

But 20 years ago, after losing an earlier senate primary, he founded Cornerstone Schools in Detroit, a private, independent, school in a grim area on the east side of Detroit, where I talked with Durant on Sunday afternoon. The school is beautiful, with a success rate far above most charter schools. Durant clearly cares about these kids. But he thinks helping them should be a matter for the private sector. There are times when Durant sounds almost libertarian.

But when asked about this, he responds, “I’m just trying to be Clark Durant.” He’d like to challenge both Hoekstra and Stabenow to a series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates over what this country should be. I don’t know if we’d end up voting for Durant, but I do know that if they had those debates, it would be a privilege to listen.