State Senator Steve Bieda is perhaps the biggest history buff in the Michigan legislature. He’s an expert on coins, once designed one for the mint, and fought to get new replicas of Civil War cannons installed on the lawn, and to get the Capitol restored.
Born the day after John F. Kennedy became President, Bieda long dreamed of serving in Congress himself. And for a while, he thought this would be his year. When his congressman, Sandy Levin, decided to retire after 36 years in office, Bieda, who is term-limited out of the state senate after this year, jumped in the race.
But so did the congressman’s son, Andy Levin, an entrepreneur who has both the family name and has served in high appointed state government positions. Ellen Cogen Lipton, a patent attorney and former legislator, also got in the race and was endorsed by Emily’s List.
As of the end of March, fundraising reports showed both Lipton and Levin had raised more than half a million dollars; Bieda had barely $128,000, beating out only the relatively unknown Martin Brook, a former Bloomfield Hills school board member.
Over the weekend, Bieda made the difficult decision to end his campaign for Congress, and instead run for Macomb County Clerk and Register of Deeds.
“It was a hard decision. I’m not sure which of the five stages of grief I’m going through,” he told me wryly. “But I decided that not only is this the best thing for me, it is the best thing I can do for Macomb County.” That may be a rationalization, but is probably very true.
We often operate under the assumption that the higher the office is, the more important it is. But in recent years, I’ve come to realize that this is often not the case. Republican Candice Miller, also from Macomb, spent fourteen years in Congress, and probably could have stayed for decades. But she voluntarily gave it up two years ago, and came home to manage enormous infrastructure problems in her home county.
I have no doubt Steve Bieda, who was sometimes called the conscience of the state senate, would have been a good congressman. But he would have been a very junior individual in a body of 435 members where seniority counts for nearly everything.
Meanwhile, know what North Dakota, Delaware, Alaska and Wyoming have in common? Those entire states all have fewer people than Macomb County, Michigan. The clerk’s office in any major county is its nerve center – and Macomb’s, once a model of efficiency, has been horribly damaged by perhaps the most bizarre county clerk in Michigan history.
The courts have removed her, but there is plenty of repair work to be done. Bieda will have both primary and general election opposition for the clerk’s job, but this time will be the clear favorite. His integrity, calm demeanor, knowledge of state government and background as a tax lawyer all should be assets if he does take over the clerk’s office in January.
Life, John Lennon once said, is what happens while you are making plans. I’ve learned that when it comes to life, public service and politics … you never can tell.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.