Matty Moroun, the greedy billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, always reminds me of Sauron, the evil eminence in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
Thought from time to time to be finished, even dead, he merely bides his time, recovers his strength, and strikes back.
Enter Moroun. The last few years have been politically wretched ones for Matty, or as wretched as they can be when you're down to your last $1.8 billion or so.
But now he seems about to have his very own bought-and-paid-for congressman, and his newest "pet bull" is already vowing to help sabotage the new Detroit River bridge as soon as he can.
First, a little background: Moroun, an 87-year-old bag of fertilizer waiting to be planted, has one goal in life. Not to help mankind, find a cure for cancer, not even to enjoy himself. He wants to prevent a new bridge across the river.
The auto industry badly needs a new bridge to stay competitive. Canada's economy needs this bridge even more.
So much, in fact, that they're willing to front all of Michigan's costs for this project; they're content to let us pay them back years later out of our share of the tolls.
Right now, Moroun's 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is the only way to get heavy components across the river. But it wasn't built for today's monster loads, and it's wearing out.
Which is why a new one is needed. But Moroun wants to keep his monopoly, even though he is very old, very rich, and may very well be dead before a new bridge could ever open.
For years and years, Matty Moroun has managed to successfully buy off the legislature through the form of legalized bribery known as "campaign contributions." He shelled out hundreds of thousands — and money by the millions rolled in.
One of his best boys was former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. Four years ago, Bishop promised to allow the Senate to hold a vote on whether to form a public-private partnership with Canada. But Matty didn't like that.
Suddenly, Moroun poured more than $150,000 in contributions to political candidates and committees under Bishop's control. Guess what. Mikey went back on his word!
He refused to hold a vote, something that stunned Canada. Brian Masse, a member of Parliament from Windsor, called it "an international betrayal."
For Moroun, it was just another day at the office, using his latest tool. But then things changed.
Along came Rick Snyder. There's one thing about very rich people in higher office: they're harder to buy off. Snyder recognized two things: A) business, most notably manufacturing interests, needed a new bridge, and B) the legislature was owned by the Morouns.
So he found a way to go around the trolls, and used a little-known clause in the Michigan Constitution to conclude an agreement with Canada. The Morouns filed lawsuit after impotent lawsuit. That just made the lawyers richer.
Now, pretty much all that needs to happen is for the federal government to approve the $250 million customs plaza any international border crossing must have.
The first few years after Bishop betrayed his promises also weren't good for ethically challenged Mike. He was term-limited out of his Senate job. That same year, his fellow Republicans denied him their nomination for attorney general.
Bishop next ran for Oakland County prosecutor, and Jessica Cooper beat him like a drum. He then found a job as a lawyer for a credit-card processing firm in Clawson.
Eventually, he might have moved up to repo man. But fortune smiled on him this year; Mike Rogers, the congressman from Lansing, quit to host a radio talk show.
Bishop became the GOP's choice to replace him in the 8th District. And the minute he got back to the political kennel, he ran to his master. So far, the Moroun family and that of his chief mini-me, Dan Stamper, has given Bishop's campaign $18,200.
In return, Matty's man has promised to try to block the bridge by preventing funding for the customs plaza, telling a reporter for the Livingston Daily that he supports Moroun building a second bridge next to the Ambassador instead.
That's what the Morouns love to tell the ignorant. In fact, high-level Canadian diplomats have told me they'd never let that happen; two bridges next to each other would be an air-pollution hazard and a traffic-snarling nightmare.
Democrats have a decent candidate in Eric Schertzing, a moderate Democrat who is the Ingham County treasurer.
But the district leans Republican. Unless something drastic happens, voters are about to elect a congressman who will owe his true allegiance not to them, but to Matty Moroun.
Moroun, the slumlord of the abandoned train station. Moroun, the man who has done everything he can to kill a new bridge that both countries desperately need.
You have to wonder if they have any idea.
Rockin' Down the Ballot: One of the odder things about democracy in Michigan is that we vote to elect the state board of education and the people who run our three major universities: Wayne State University, Michigan State, and that school off in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan.
Even odder is that this isn't a nonpartisan election. No group of seasoned experts in academia or university finance is called on to help select candidates. Nope. The party hacks delegates to their state conventions pick 'em.
What's amazing is that we've usually gotten pretty decent and responsible people as a result, with the occasional old football coach or businessman's wife/kid thrown in.
Ironically, the candidates themselves have almost nothing to do with who wins these races. Except for a few of their friends, nobody even notices they're running.
Most people who split their tickets ignore these races. Usually, if more straight-ticket GOP votes are cast, as was the case in 2010, Republicans win all or nearly all the board seats.
When the Democrats' top candidate wins easily, as in 2008, their guys win. However, this year the governor's race could be close, which means these races could go either way.
Which means you should educate yourselves about the education board candidates, for one simple reason: Education is vitally important to any chance of an economic recovery.
Three candidates are of special interest. First, a negative: Whatever else happens, it is vital that Maria Carl, one of the GOP candidates for the state board of education, be defeated.
Carl is an anti-abortion, radical right extremist who hates the Common Core education standards, in part because, as her website makes clear, she doesn't understand them.
Chad Selweski the longtime politics reporter at The Macomb Daily, reports that at a Michigan GOP state convention in the 1990s, Carl shouted "She's a Jew! She's a Jew!" when Andrea Fischer (now Newman) was nominated for a seat on the Republican National Committee.
Classy Maria then loudly urged Macomb County delegates to support Betsy DeVos "because she isn't a Jew."
Yep, that's just the kind of person we want making state education policy ... in hell. At the other end of the spectrum is Cassandra Ulbrich, who is running for re-election.
Ulbrich is everything a board member ought to be: savvy in politics (I first knew her when she was a young aide to Congressman David Bonior), highly educated, and dedicated.
Currently, she is vice-president for college advancement and community relations at Macomb Community College, and really gets the challenges our schools face.
The other must-win candidate is Marilyn Kelly, a former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court who is running for a seat on the Wayne State Board of Governors.
Kelly herself was once a state board of education member; her knowledge of law, politics, education, and essential human decency mean she'd be a prize wherever she chose to serve.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.