Here comes Geoffrey

May 15, 2002 at 12:00 am

Don’t look now, but the governor’s race, already crowded with heavyweights, may get all shook up in a way nobody expected. Can you say ... Geoffrey Fieger?

We’ve learned that the world’s most flamboyant attorney plans to take out petitions to seek a spot on the ballot — but not the primary ballot, and not as a Democrat. This time, if he stays in, the man who won national fame by keeping Jack Kevorkian free will run as an independent. “That’s the only way to do it,” he said early this week. “Otherwise, you just go broke trying to win this lunatic primary. They should all run as independents,” he added while trying simultaneously to discuss politics and prevent his infant son, Julian, from dumping a glass of wine onto his lap.

But why? Four years ago, the Fieg did indeed shock every so-called political expert in the state by winning an upset victory in the Democratic primary for governor. He went on to run a colorful, if chaotic campaign, and was overwhelmingly beaten (62 percent-38 percent) by John Engler, whom he sometimes politely referred to as “that fat nincompoop.”

That time, however, his main competition for the nomination was a colorless, third-rate apparatchik named Larry Owen whom the ham-handed union leadership and their lackey, party chairman Mark Brewer, tried to ram down voters’ throats. This year, the Democratic field is crowded with major-league candidates — Jim Blanchard, David Bonior and Jennifer Granholm. So what’s Fieger doing?

“Basically, it’s not that I want to be governor. I don’t. I just want to make sure that some of the issues that are really important to the people of this state are addressed, and if the only way to do that is for me to have to get elected myself, I may have to do that.”

There has been speculation that Fieger despises Jennifer Granholm so much that if she is the nominee he would run as a spoiler, just to torpedo her chances. “That’s not true. I’m concerned about all of them. And if I do run, this time, I’m going to win. Jesse Ventura did it the right way, and even last time, I got more votes than he did.”

Ventura, a former pro wrestler with a thing for feather boas, was elected governor of Minnesota the night Fieger lost, winning 37 percent as the Reform Party candidate.

However, when pressed, the star malpractice lawyer admitted that he doesn’t see all his potential rivals in the same light. He has few disagreements with Blanchard, though he blames the former governor for blowing the 1990 election to Engler. Fieger admires Bonior’s integrity and his pro-labor stand, but has problems with his opposition to abortion — “though unlike Granholm, who pretends to be pro-choice, he’s honest about it.”

But he has little respect for the attorney general, who was narrowly elected the night he was going down. There has been no love lost between them since she opposed his crime program during that campaign — a move he regarded as a deliberate stab in the back. That isn’t, however, why he says he might run against her.

“My problem is that she seems to be truly the Manchurian candidate. She has no positions, other than what Ed McNamara or someone else tells her. Nobody really knows who she is, except that she showed up in this state a few years ago (1987) and McNamara made her his corporation counsel. I don’t think she knows what the issues are.”

Fieger promised to put out a release in a few days detailing what his key issues are, although it seems clear that tort reform and civil rights would be key among them.

Is there any way the eventual Democratic nominee could satisfy his worries enough to prevent him from running as an independent? “Yeah, that could happen.”

Even Jennifer Granholm? “I’d have to say anything’s possible. But it would take some convincing,” he said. “And she’d have to come to me and prove it.”

What does seem clear is that, at the very least, Fieger means to assert some leverage. If he does run, could be possibly win? Most so-called experts say no way, that Fieger would draw votes exclusively from Democrats, and at best would elect the Republican nominee, probably Dick Posthumus.

Possibly. But it’s worth remembering that not one of the experts thought Ventura had a chance either, and, to the end, the polls never showed his true support.

However, winning might be harder for Fieger. It’s hard to imagine him winning votes from Ottawa County farmers, especially after his oft-repeated assertion that Engler was the product of an unnatural relationship between the governor’s father and a dairy cow.

When Ventura won, Minnesota voters seemed equally dissatisfied with both major parties. This year in Michigan, there is more of a feeling that after a dozen years of Engler, the Democrats deserve a turn in the statehouse. But stranger things than Gov. Fieger have happened ... even if it is hard to think of any.


Worth watching: Want to bet who the next Democratic nominee for president will be? My money’s on U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, himself a medical malpractice lawyer who at 48 has movie-star looks, money, a compelling story and a solid marriage. I met him a week ago in somebody’s living room. A very skeptical Geoffrey Fieger (“This guy’s supposed to be a lawyer?”) listened to him speak for five minutes. When Edwards finished, Fieger wrote out a check for $2,000, the maximum you can legally give a candidate, handed it to an aide and walked away, wowed.

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