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Published: Sunday, 10/27/2002

Race-baiting in Michigan

Michigan is a state divided both by geography and politics. It has the upper and lower peninsulas, plus Democrats in Detroit versus Republicans virtually everywhere else.

So it was no particular surprise that Richard Posthumus, the Republican candidate for governor, would try to defeat Democrat Jennifer Granholm by running against not just her but the state's largest city and its majority black population.

This racially charged tactic has worked with varying degrees of success for the GOP over the years.

John Engler, the conservative outgoing governor, engineered a state takeover of the long-troubled Detroit public school system while tolerating similar problems in majority white districts outstate.

Several weeks ago, Mr. Posthumus, Mr. Engler's even-farther-to-the-right lieutenant governor, played the race card with television ads that portrayed Ms. Granholm, the state attorney general, as subservient to Detroit interests.

The ads featured a memo to Ms. Granholm, written but never actually sent, by Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, which supposedly demanded all sorts of gubernatorial appointments for blacks in return for a big turnout Nov. 5.

But the ploy has backfired, as Michigan's respected former Republican governor, William Milliken, has spoken up to denounce the ads as “morally wrong and politically stupid.”

“The race-baiting theme in television ads and campaign materials pitting Detroit and our state against one another, not to mention some gross distortion of facts, is outrageous,” Mr. Milliken declared.

That's a fair comment, one that should be taken to heart, from a political moderate who served from 1969 to 1982 and is regarded by many as Michigan's best chief executive.

The Posthumus ad certainly won't be the last of its divisive ilk, but it is long past time - in Michigan and everywhere else in politics - to call a halt to this sort of blatant pandering to racist fears.

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