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Commentary

A candidate to cure some pessimism

Jack Lessenberry

If you’ve been around for a while, it isn’t hard to be cynical about Michigan government in general and the legislature in particular. As I’ve said a few million times, a combination of term limits, gerrymandering, and a dogmatic anti-tax ideology has prevented our lawmakers from taking care of our needs or preparing for the future.

Well, I talked with an energetic young man yesterday who is anything but pessimistic. Sixteen months ago, I first met Brian Stone, who had a brief moment of national fame involving his hometown, Dearborn, and the persistent rumor that it is under Sharia law.

Dearborn, whose most famous native was Henry Ford, does have a substantial Muslim population, something that has caused Tea Party types in other states, including a U.S. Senate candidate from Nevada, to claim it is a Muslim terrorist hellhole.

Dearborn in fact has an Irish-American mayor and far more churches than mosques. Stone, a Navy veteran who was finishing a degree at the U of M Dearborn, ran around with a friend last year and posted pictures of a strip club, ham store and other non-Koranic institutions, with a sign saying “Dearborn Sharia law!”

When I interviewed Stone then, he told me he felt compelled to do this in part because he was gay. When people were beating him up in high school, Muslim students were the only ones defending him, perhaps because they were outsiders too.

Well, Stone is now an old man of 29, and has become passionate about making the world a better place. So, he’s running for the legislature, trying to win the Democratic nomination in August for his home district, which includes almost all of Dearborn.

The seat is safely Democratic, but he has to get by four opponents in the primary first. So he’s been campaigning door to door in his battered 2009 Ford Focus. He isn’t rich, but as a Dearborn patriot, bought Ford Motor Company stock when it was near its lowest levels. The auto industry has come roaring back, and that has enabled him to wage a full-time campaign.

Stone told me his top issues were infrastructure and education, but he seems motivated primarily by a passion for social justice. He became aware that traditional debt collection agencies are being pushed out of the marketplace by unscrupulous banks which were calling themselves “debt forwarding agencies” and doing the same work more recklessly.

A legitimate Dearborn firm, Midwest Recovery and Adjustment, sued, and won a unanimous verdict in the Michigan Supreme Court. But Brian says the banks are still behaving badly, and claims the state attorney general refuses to prosecute them.

That, he tells me, is why he wants to be in government. I told him that if he did win, he would be a lowly freshman in what may still be a Republican-controlled body, serving with a Republican governor. Wouldn’t that be frustrating?

Nope, he said, reminding me that he is gay, a Buddhist and a U.S. Navy veteran. Just surviving required him to become a master of the art of persuasion. I don’t know if Brian Stone will win his race, or even if he should. But I do know that if are ever going to fix things, it will take more people who are cheerfully willing to try.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's 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.

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