Do the right thing, Sandy Levin

Time to face the very unpleasant music. Michigan Democrats almost certainly are going to lose two, maybe three seats in Congress next year, and there is little they can do about it. That’s because the district boundaries all have to be redrawn, and for the first time since the 1920s, the Republicans solidly control every branch of state government.

That’s why Dave Bonior, who last year at this time had solid dreams of becoming House majority leader, is running for governor. That’s a job he really doesn’t want very much, and doesn’t have much chance of winning, but he’s suddenly desperate.

Why? They are going to eliminate his current job, that’s why. For one thing, the state has been riffed. We lose one seat in Congress, mostly because our population didn’t grow as fast as did the retirement pens of Florida and North Carolina.

That means musical chairs, with one seat disappearing and the Republicans, who particularly hate Bonior’s guts, calling the tune. Not that we ought to get very worked up at them, however; that’s how the game always has been played. Savvy politicians know how to crowd the other party into a few districts while spreading their own out to produce smaller majorities in as many places as possible.

Democrats would do it too, if they could. Right now, we have nine Democratic congressmen and seven Republicans. Actually, that was 10-6, before Mike Rogers unexpectedly outcampaigned Dianne Byrum to win Debbie Stabenow’s old Lansing-area seat last November. But Republican computers will make short work of the old numbers.

Next year, don’t be surprised if the new figure is nine Republicans and six Democrats, no matter how unpopular the pretender in the White House is by then. The GOP’s final plans aren’t in. But they’re sure to make it happen by dividing up Bonior’s old turf, making a safe Republican district for Candice Miller, and then redrawing the map to pit some Democrats against each other, setting up primary battles between Lynn Rivers and John Dingell, and perhaps Jim Barcia and Dale Kildee. Either way, Democrats lose.

But the biggest loss of all will be David Bonior — and not just because he is a highly principled, hardworking congressman who has been a voice for blue-collar, working-class Americans in an age when that was anything but the chic thing to do.

Every day, the odds get better and better that Democrats will recapture Congress next time, despite what redistricting will do in Michigan. The latest polls show clearly that despite the lapdog media, the public is increasingly seeing through the pseudo-president, the man they didn’t even elect anyway.

Example: There is no more sure-fire way for a new president to pump up his ratings than by the sort of meet-and-greet trip to Europe they just took the Shrub on. Trouble was, it didn’t work. His ratings fell all across the board — including on foreign policy.

Three-quarters of the public “doesn’t believe the president is concentrating on the right issues,” according to a new New York Times/CBS News poll. Most loathed his environmental policies. Nearly half felt he wasn’t even respected by foreign leaders, and only 37 percent of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of George II.

What that means is that if Bonior could stay in the House of Representatives, the odds are that Michigan would soon have the second-most-powerful member of that body.

And if Dick Gephardt should choose to run for president next time. Bonior would be in line to be Speaker of the House. That’s a lot of clout for this state to risk losing.

Now most assumptions are that the Democratic congressman whose seat borders his, Sander Levin, will survive redistricting; his brother is our senior U.S. senator. Levin represents the older, largely blue-collar southern Macomb and Oakland suburbs.

Levin has been a hardworking and decent congressman. He was first elected in 1982, after a career in state politics that included two near-misses running for governor.

He has been an especially important voice on labor and trade legislation. But he is never going to be a major power in Congress, and he will be 71 before the next election.

What he should do — what Democrats should lean on him, hard, to do — is retire and have the 56-year-old Dave Bonior give up his hopeless gubernatorial campaign and move his official residence slightly south and into his district.

That would make enormous sense for the party, the state, and the nation. Sandy Levin, by the way, wouldn’t exactly be left behind the Capitol dome to starve. He is a Harvard Law graduate with vast governmental experience, including at the Agency for International Development; he could have his pick of a lot of interesting jobs.

The party would also owe him, big-time.

There is nothing illegal, immoral or even fattening about this. This has long been the way they do things in Great Britain. When a top member of any party loses a seat in Parliament, a safe seat is found, often after a lower-ranking party member gallantly resigns.

Will that happen here? It may depend on whether Bonior is, in fact, left with a district somewhere he can win. But if so, he should. Part of the reason the Republicans loathe Bonior is that he went after Newt Gingrich when he was riding high, making sure the world knew the truth about Newt’s ethical standards for himself.

That helped grease the skids. Know what Gingrich is doing now? Neither do I, and we owe David Bonior a fair amount of thanks for that. And we need him in Congress.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if, for once, our politicians did the right thing?

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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