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Published: Friday, 9/1/2006

Kilpatrick was the real winner at Michigan Democrats convention

DETROIT When the smoke-filled rooms emptied out at Michigan s state Democratic Party convention last week, the big winner was clear and his name wasn t even mentioned.

That was Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who managed to destroy State Rep. Mary Waters campaign for secretary of state and also got the candidate for attorney general he preferred.

Here s what really went down. Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, is in the fight of her life for re-election. Her opponent, Grand Rapids Amway heir Dick DeVos, is immensely rich and spending more freely than any candidate in state history.

To win re-election, she needs an enormous vote out of Detroit and a mayor motivated to work for her. The mayor and the governor have had differences, and the governor has never been wildly popular in Detroit.

Mary Waters campaigned hard for the nod for secretary of state. But she also endorsed Freman Hendrix in last year s mayoral election. That made her anathema to the mayor.

Meanwhile, M. Scott Bowen, 41, a Grand Rapids lawyer and former judge, fought even harder for the nomination for attorney general, and had raised a great deal of money.

Polls showed him within striking distance of the Republican incumbent, Mike Cox. But he was challenged for the Democratic nomination by Amos Williams, a 59-year-old former Detroit cop with a law degree.

The same polls show Mr. Williams far behind the incumbent. But the United Auto Workers union preferred him, as did the mayor. And there is no stronger force in the Democratic party than the unions. Never mind that they represent less than 9 percent of the workforce these days, or that the automotive sector is declining.

But why the mayor? Not, evidently, because both men are black. The mayor knew the party would only give one of the two top jobs to an African-American. If Mr. Williams was nominated, that would take care of his secretary of state problem.

Some whisper that the mayor actually doesn t want Mr. Cox to lose. The two men have gotten along well, especially since the attorney general declined to press an investigation of a rumored wild party that happened at the mayoral mansion.

Mr. Bowen would certainly have won a statewide primary. But in an archaic throwback, these offices are selected by the party bosses.

And selected they were. After the attorney general s nomination, Carmella Sabaugh, the Macomb County clerk, was suddenly nominated for secretary of state. (Days before, she hadn t even known she was running.)

In fairness, Ms. Sabaugh may be more qualified than Ms. Waters. It also should be said that the incumbent Republican, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, is well regarded, very popular, and likely to beat any challenger in November.

But the process last week was, well, anything but democratic. And that should concern the few voters who were paying attention.

Under the Radar: Both party conventions also nominated candidates for the various university boards of governors, who are elected statewide. Democratic candidates include Debbie Dingell, wife of the legendary congressman, for the Wayne State board, and George Perles, the former Michigan State football coach, for the board of regents of the school that fired him.

For their part, Republicans tapped Tom McMillin, a former suburban mayor (Auburn Hills) for state board of education. That seemed an odd choice, given that he has been harshly critical of public education and obsessed with opposing gay people. Yet Right to Life of Michigan likes him, and it has as much clout with the GOP as labor does with the Democrats.

Party Disunity: U.S. Rep. John Joe Schwarz (R., Battle Creek) narrowly lost his bid for renomination last month to Timothy Walberg, a former state legislator and fundamentalist preacher who campaigned on what amounted to a religious right platform. Before the primary, Mr. Walberg refused to say whether he would endorse the congressman if he lost.

Now, Mr. Schwarz is returning the favor. I ve lost elections before, and after each one I could invite my opponent out for a beer. Not this time. I can t endorse Walberg. His campaign tactics were reprehensible, consisting of one lie and mischaracterization after another.

During the race, Mr. Walberg painted Mr. Schwarz, a Vietnam veteran, former CIA agent, and strong supporter of the Iraq War, as a liberal who was far too left-wing for the district.

The congressman, who is also a medical doctor, complained that virtually all his opponent s money came from not only out of the district but out of state, mainly from the shadowy Club for Growth, which funded a smear campaign against him.

Whether he will endorse the Democratic nominee, 50-year-old organic farmer Sharon Renier, is unclear. Two years ago, she lost to Mr. Schwarz, 58 percent to 36 percent, but had no money. The district, which includes Hillsdale and Lenawee Counties, is mainly Republican but voted for Bill Clinton twice. Any Democrat is a long shot yet keep an eye on this one.



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