Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Democrat 'tsunami' has Michigan GOP reeling in disarray

DETROIT - As the final election returns trickled in, it was clear that suddenly things in Michigan have changed in three startling ways:

•The state will have far more clout in Washington than it has had in many years. U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn.), the man they used to call "the truck," will be back in charge of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D., Detroit), only man in history to participate in two sets of presidential impeachment hearings, will be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

And if, as seems likely, Democrats also control the U.S. Senate, Michigan's Carl Levin will be in charge of the Senate Armed Services committee in wartime.

•Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who won re-election by a surprising landslide, will have more power than before, especially since her Democrats surprised everyone by winning control of the Michigan House.

But her increased power will also mean increased responsibility - and the obligation to do something about a $1.9 billion hole in the state budget left when the Michigan Legislature repealed the Single Business Tax this fall, without figuring out how to replace the revenue.

•Michigan Republicans were humiliated at the polls, none more than their candidate for governor, Dick DeVos, the Grand Rapids businessman who spent at least $35 million of his own fortune and lost by more than a half-million votes. Meanwhile, Republican standard-bearer Michael Bouchard lost to freshman senator Debbie Stabenow by an even bigger margin.

The Granholm landslide was not expected, even by her staunchest supporters. Twenty-four hours earlier, there was great worry among Democrats when they woke up to sheets of gray rain in Detroit, rain that continued all day.

The final polls had been tightening, and the rain made many feel that the governor would be lucky to survive at all.

But as it turned out, she would have won without a single vote from Detroit. Dick DeVos had argued that Michigan was in a "one-state recession" and she was to blame.

Exit polls showed, however, that while voters were not thrilled with her performance, they had never warmed up to Mr. DeVos, whose family founded the Amway (now Alticor) empire and who was making his first run for office.

As Republican State Chair Saul Anuzis admitted, that despite his efforts, the election had become nationalized. And George W. Bush is not popular in Michigan.

John Dingell, however, is popular and newly powerful. From 1981 to 1995, he was the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, so powerful and overbearing he was known as "the truck." In January, the truck will be back in charge. "We're going to look into issues of fair trade," he said in an interview yesterday.

"We're going to look into dumping by the Koreans," said Mr. Dingell, who is no fan of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. He made it known that he intended to vigorously exercise his committee's oversight function.

"The Bush Administration has gotten by essentially unsupervised," he said. "We are going to start exercising our constitutional responsibility." But he indicated that a higher priority was doing everything he could to help see that Michigan's beleaguered auto industry has a level playing field.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers has backed away from earlier talk about possibly looking into impeaching President Bush. But he is expected to be very open to looking into charges of legal impropriety on the part of the administration.

In Lansing, the newly re-elected governor and legislature have to begin by addressing the thorny task of figuring out what to do about replacing the $1.9 billion in revenue lost when the legislature repealed the Single Business Tax last fall.

Republicans, who still control the state senate, want to give business a substantial tax cut. The governor believes all the revenue is needed to avoid cutting higher education, prisons, or Medicaid any further. Expect a fight - but one for which Democrats have been newly strengthened.

Saul Anuzis, the Republican state chairman, is expected to be in a fight of his own - one to save his job. The odds are against him. An energetic, motorcycle-riding son of Lithuanian immigrants, Mr. Anuzis likes it known that he is a new kind of Republican leader, one with working-class origins.

But when a party suffers a devastating defeat, much the same thing often happens to a party chairman as does to a manager of a losing baseball team. Yesterday, Mr. Anuzis defiantly said he knew there were efforts to replace him, and said he intended to fight for his job. "There's no sugar coating it; a national "anti-Republican tsunami" hit last night it was a horrible year," he e-mailed party members.

Funny, but Democrats couldn't disagree more.

Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade's ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan. Contact him at:

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