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Politics & Government

Commentary: Changing the Rules


Kerry Bentivolio is resentful of the Republican establishment, and it's not hard to see why.  Bentivolio is running for Congress in the newly redrawn 11th District, which includes a lot of prosperous suburban areas in Wayne and Oakland Counties.

He is a teacher, a farmer, a reindeer trainer and a Ron Paul supporter from Milford, and the only Republican who qualified for the August primary ballot. Few were paying any attention to him three weeks ago. That’s because the incumbent congressman, Thaddeus McCotter, was seen as a shoo-in for renomination. But a funny thing happened. Anyone who wants to run for congress in this state needs to turn in 1,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot.

But McCotter’s troops turned in a whole bunch of  fraudulent and photocopied signatures. He was thrown off the ballot, and after briefly considering a write-in campaign, decided to retire from politics.

Bentivolio did collect 1,000 valid signatures, and when voters go to the polls August 7, his will be the only name on the GOP primary ballot. You might think that would make him the automatic nominee, and since the district’s voters are about 55 percent Republican, the favorite in November.

But the GOP establishment suddenly said, not so fast. People like Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson and Paul Welday, a perennial Republican candidate, said Bentivolio’s foreign policy views are “dangerous” and “out of the mainstream.”  

By that, they meant that Bentivolio wants to pull out of Afghanistan and close U.S. bases overseas.  What’s ironic about this is that Patterson did a brief hitch in the peacetime army before Vietnam. Welday, no military service whatsoever. Bentivolio, who is now 60, is a veteran of both the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

But in any event, the GOP decided they needed to urge voters to write in somebody else, and last weekend, they came up with a curious choice: Nancy Cassis, a 68-year-old former state senator from Novi. She was known for being perhaps the earliest and most vocal enemy of tax credits for the film industry, though she supported them for many other corporate interests. After being term-limited out, she then worked as a “consultant” for controversial Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. That can’t be pleasing to Governor Rick Snyder. And someone in their late sixties is unlikely to have a long career in Congress. So -- why did they choose her?

Money. She has lots of it -- her husband owns a successful Novi restaurant -- and she pledged to spend 200,000 of  her own dollars, plus $80,000 left in an old campaign fund, on the  race.  She said she might end up spending half a million dollars to persuade voters to write in her name.

Now she has every legal right to do that, and congressmen and even senators have been elected as write-ins   before. However, regardless of your politics, it is hard not to be somewhat sympathetic to Bentivolio, who said “I did the right thing and went out and got my signatures. It is unfortunate that the (party bosses) have chosen to try  to manipulate the process."

Polls show that a lot of Tea Party supporters are cynical about the system. Sometimes, it’s easy to understand why. 

 Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry 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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