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Published: Saturday, 10/12/2002

Posthumus hopes Michigan voters check his record

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - For Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, the good news was that last week's televised debate against Jennifer Granholm was no worse than a draw. The GOP's last best hope to keep the governor's mansion scored some points on his major issues, notably taxes, and managed to put the state attorney general on the defensive over charges that she frequently tailors her positions to please her audience.

The bad news was that he still trails in all the polls by double-digits, his opponent refuses more televised debates, and the campaign has barely three weeks to go. Worse, the New Republic, a national magazine, comes out this week with Ms. Granholm's face on the cover as the model of a new breed of woman candidate.

Though not totally complimentary, the article seemed to take her election as essentially a given, referring to her opponent only in passing as “dead man running.”

Nevertheless, Dick Posthumus, an experienced lawmaker who proudly defines himself as a farmer, first and foremost, is still sunny. “The coverage was a little frustrating at first,” he said over breakfast last week. The media seemed to be mostly swooning over a new pretty face. “Now I think that's starting to change,” he said.

For the 52-year-old lieutenant governor, the problem is capitalizing on the successes of the last dozen years, while coping with voters' desires for something new. Since 1991, Gov. John Engler has dominated Michigan politics like no one before, and from the start, Mr. Posthumus, who has known the governor since they were at Michigan State University, has been an integral part of the Engler revolution, first as state Senate majority leader, then lieutenant governor.

“Promises made, promises kept,” he says. “For 14 years, Michigan's economy was consistently worse than the national average. Since 1993, we've usually been better.” He cites a net 600,000 jobs created during the Engler years and Michigan's radical and largely successful “Proposal A” public school finance reform.

When asked why voters should choose him and not Ms. Granholm next month, Mr. Posthumus quickly responds. “I won't let your property taxes go back up. She will.” Indeed, during their debate, he pledged not to raise taxes under any circumstances; she repeatedly would say only that she did not want to raise them.

“And then there is the issue of integrity. Wherever I've gone, there has been no hint of scandal. She has a state police investigation looking into the no-bid contracts and other things at the airport,” that took place while she was Wayne County corporation counsel. While he hasn't made it a big issue, he thinks it was highly unethical for Ms. Granholm's husband, Dan Mulhern, to seek “consulting” contracts from law firms and other entities that do business with the county and state.

But he hasn't been able to make much of a dent in her support. Voters, especially women, seem drawn to Ms. Granholm, who is highly charismatic and a compelling speaker, though her speeches are mostly a string of “I'm on your side” platitudes. He also is a victim of the “vice-presidential syndrome” in which No. 2s traditionally get much of the blame and little credit.

Worse, Michigan voters this year seemed to suddenly weary of Mr. Engler. Though they are in the same camp, it is somewhat unfair to lump together the two men, who despite their long association are more political allies than friends.

Personally, they are very different. Mr. Engler is grossly overweight, and is well known for being vindictive. Mr. Posthumus is trim and fit, and is personally well liked by nearly everybody in politics, even political opponents.

Commentators sometimes say that the lieutenant governor is even more conservative than Mr. Engler, something that Mr. Posthumus finds mildly annoying. “I don't know what that means,” he says. On abortion, he is, indeed, as conservative as they come; he opposes it unless to save the life of the mother. If elected, he plans to push to find a constitutional way to outlaw so-called partial-birth abortions.

But on other issues, he seems more moderate. A conservationist and hunter, he almost certainly would be more pro-environment, and he promises a “Michigan Marshall Plan” to clean up and safeguard the Great Lakes and the state water supply.

He has a hunch, he says, that in the end the voters will look at the record, and on election night, he is going to win, even if by the tiniest of margins. The odds against that seem pretty long, though Michigan voters have been known to turn on a dimpled chad and upset the safest predictions.

If Dick Posthumus does fall short, don't look for despair. “Whatever happens, I'll always be a farmer.” What is clear is that whoever becomes governor in January will face a divided legislature, a billion-dollar budget deficit, and no easy extra cash.

Regardless of who wins in November, the seat of a tractor may look pretty good come spring.



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