Did a main street deplorable disrupt some Biddle Marsh big club backroom quid pro quo shenanigans?
Roughly three weeks out from a state convention, and ordinarily I’d be armpit-deep in some to-do list, but I’ve spent most of the past nine weeks considerably preoccupied. (If you really want to know why, then the obituary is here, and the funeral is here.) However, about four weeks ago, I had reason to have a rather lengthy and interesting conversation with one of the candidates for Michigan Republican State Committee Chair (the actual full title). I gotta tell you, it’s kinda nice to see that certain things really don’t change.
After the straight up disaster that was the November 2018 state election results (and subsequent blatant power grab), this contest to replace Ron Weiser should be about ideas and strategies to deliver the Great Lakes State into the republican column in the 2020 election cycle. Perhaps the candidates could discuss a postmortem of the 2018 campaign, what they believe went wrong, and maybe analyze the why or how. Perhaps the candidates could discuss specific changes they’d like to make to certain things, what they think could be done differently and perhaps better.
Or, you know, one of the candidates could just decide that playing dirty is the smart move.
When Gina Barr entered the chair race in early December, she did so because she saw a need for change in the party, and knew from her own experience that too many are afraid to actually be the necessary agents of change. Barr thinks that it would be a great idea to change the state party bylaws to sync up the standing committees with the convention-elected vice-chairs, and then make the vice-chairs the actual chairs of those committees . . . the way that they were designed to be. She’s also a fan of actually providing precinct delegates and poll challengers with substantive training, as well as actively recruiting people to serve as paid election inspectors. And – something that I think is long overdue – Gina also thinks that aggressive, consistent outreach directly onto the democrat plantation is critical to republican success going forward.
Barr is well aware that the party bosses have developed a bad habit of disenfranchising delegates, actively undermining candidates who refuse to knuckle under to the establishment, willingly surrendering core urban precincts, and happily turning a blind eye to known weaknesses in the state’s election systems and protocols. Because Gina’s platform and goals run directly counter to the preferred behavior of the professional political establishment, they would likely interpret her campaign as a threat to their interests, and there is no way that they won’t respond.
A couple of weeks ago, the Gina Barr for MRP Chair campaign sent out a letter, and published a video, discussing some disturbingly predictable behavior aimed at kicking Ms. Barr and Mr. Akouri off the convention ballot. For whatever reason, someone within the MIGOP professional political establishment is clearly willing to engage in some deep state swamp tactics to grease the skids for their chosen candidate. Leaking financial records to the press, attempting to strong-arm the Policy Committee, and seeking to harass the district chairs . . . why is it so damned important that someone have an unimpeded path to the state party chair?
When Laura Cox announced her candidacy for MRP Chair, back in mid-November, I think it’s a safe bet that many activists, delegates, and officials were experiencing a WTF moment. A key reason for the head scratching is that Mrs. Cox, in 2018, not only narrowly lost a state senate seat (the 7th District, which Patrick Colbeck had handily won twice in 2010 and in 2014), but did so to a novice whom Cox outspent roughly two-to-one. Not knowing Cox personally, I did some asking around; almost without exception, the feedback that I received, from people who do know Cox fairly well, characterized her as a clueless elitist. This raises the question of why the professional political establishment would select someone so glaringly unimpressive to oversee the efforts to restore Michigan to the republican column just under two years from now.
I’ll freely admit that I don’t have a definitive answer to that, but a modicum of actual research has produced a rather disturbing, though unsurprising, link.
Between Bridge Magazine and the Plymouth Voice, there’s been a bit of a recent hullabaloo over a pair of $10 million MEDC grants to a specific Washtenaw County township, clearly intended to directly benefit a specific project of a certain private real estate developer. Two weeks ago, a couple of stories ran, one focusing on the fact that the second of the grants was jammed through during the recent lame-duck session, and the other focusing on the reality that Michigan’s current open records laws don’t cover the legislature, and therefore we cannot definitively know who actually sponsored the grant per se. Curiouser, according to an article published last week, the legislative sponsor of the Salem Township Infrastructure Grant isn’t identified, which omission was attention-getting precisely because it’s unusual. Given that the locals wanted nothing to do with this, and have even fought the Schostak Brothers in court to prevent the project, why would this have been done at all . . . cui bono?
So, let’s connect a couple of dots, shall we?
In his two articles, Don Howard points out that the 2017 grant money was earmarked under House Bill 4323 of 2017 (now Public Act 107 of 2017), and that the 2019 grant money was earmarked under Senate Bill 601 of 2017 (now Public Act 618 of 2018). Both bills were introduced as standard appropriations templates, and were enacted as multi-page . . . distributions . . . with no change in the original sponsorship. Like it or not, that means that the original sponsors (Rep. Laura Cox and Sen. David Hildenbrand) own these bills, and in fact, current Plymouth Township Supervisor, Kurt Heise, was quoted as knowing that Cox had helped the Schostak Brothers get at least the initial grant. But, when asked about her role, Cox would neither confirm nor deny Heise’s statement, responding that, “It would be preposterous to believe that one person such as myself, a state rep, would have the ability to put a $10 million grant in the budget.”
Maybe so, maybe no, but I think that anyone who’s actually familiar with the legislative process would have a problem taking Cox’s quote at face value, in no small part because Cox makes a point of advertising herself as experienced and connected. Also, during the 2017-2018 legislative cycle, she wasn’t any random state representative; she was the House Appropriations Chair, and I understand that such a position comes with a considerable amount of clout . . . and more than a few connections.
To be very clear, what I’m about to say is strictly conjecture, applying Occam’s Razor to what I already know to be so.
Knowing how the professional political establishment operates, would it be too much of a stretch that Mrs. Cox did, in fact, directly or indirectly earmark $20 million worth of MEDC grant money evenly divided into two appropriations bills? Would it be too much of a stretch that she saw to it that the insertion of those earmarks was timed to avoid any scrutiny whatsoever? Assuming that the first two are true, would it then be too much of a stretch that the earmarking was done with the implicit or explicit quid pro quo that Cox would succeed Ron Weiser as the MRP State Chair?
As I said, this is strictly speculation, an educated guess based on some verifiable facts (check out the links throughout this article), and an understanding of how things work inside the Biddle Marsh. However, given the aggressiveness of the response to Ms. Barr’s challenge, I’ll wager a four-course dinner at my favorite steakhouse that I’m not off by much, if at all. But if someone has a different explanation, then I’m all ears.
Like I said, it’s oddly refreshing to notice that certain things don’t change.