Independents day?

John Joseph Henry Schwarz grew up a Republican. He supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Earlier, he served in Vietnam, and, afterward, went back to Indochina — with the CIA.

He supported his friend John McCain for president two years ago, and twice was endorsed for Congress by George W. Bush.

This year, he is thinking about running for governor. And my fairly well-educated guess is that he might easily be the best we could get at this point in our history, if he can only get elected.

No, I haven't been seized by Glenn Beck commandos and brainwashed, nor have I been forced to write this at gunpoint in a cave in Utah. I have not fallen in love with Sarah Palin's nasal whine, hand-scribbles and arrogantly stupid outlook. None of that.

What I have become devoted to in my declining years is common sense. Democrats are not going to win the governorship this year, not after controlling the office during eight years of recession. Nor does it help that the present governor, Jennifer Granholm, has been the weakest and most ineffective chief executive in modern Michigan history. Right now, Democrats are gearing up for a primary fight.

The unions are supporting Virgil "Call me Virg" Bernero, the mayor of Lansing. To be sure, he has guts and some good ideas. But he is virtually unknown statewide, and can come off as a little goofy. Plus, as I noted last week, he has a distressing tendency to start running for a new job the moment he gets elected to something.

His main opponent is Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, who has good looks, bad hair, and a number of other drawbacks. The unions hate him because he wants to put all statewide workers on the same health care plan. Actually, he is right about that; the union leaders, especially the overpaid, bloated bureaucrats of the Michigan Education Association, either don't care or don't want to know much about the true condition of the state today.

However, Dillon has proven ineffective as a leader, and is suspected of having essentially Republican sympathies. Last year, he negotiated a budget "deal" under which the Democrats gave up everything and got nothing in return (though Dillon did get to yuck it up with Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop on some talk shows.) Also, Dillon is pro-life and anti-stem cell research, which is just fine if you want to return society to the Middle Ages.

There is also Alma Wheeler Smith, for whom I'll probably vote in the Democratic primary, since she is the only one so far to unveil a sensible tax plan. She thinks kids matter and the rich should pay more than the poor, and so nobody will give her campaign money.

Indeed, the Democratic establishment's strategy goes like this: Nominate Virg; we can control him on issues dear to our interest groups. We'll probably lose, but we can always hope the GOP nominates Mike Cox and he gets caught in another scandal.

Joe Schwarz, however, knows if Michigan is to have a future, it lies in better educating our citizens. He was in the state Senate from 1987 to 2003, and did his best to protect university funding.

He is a medical doctor who thinks abortions should be "safe, legal and rare," a sentiment that got him virtually drummed out of the Republican Party. Six years ago, he was elected to Congress from his Battle Creek district. He was widely regarded as the best freshman congressman in the nation. Two years later, he was defeated in a primary by a right-wing yahoo who was a former Bible salesman.

Schwarz now knows he doesn't have a home in the "Kool-aid drinking" nut society the present-day GOP has become. He's not about to become a Democrat either. Instead, he's an intelligent guy who loves this state and knows how the legislative process works.

Running as an independent is not an easy thing to do, not if you care about winning. First, he needs 30,000 signatures to get on the ballot; then he needs to get the money — we are talking millions of dollars — to run a credible race. That's hard enough.

Plus, while he has always appealed to that distinct minority known as literate adults, the good doctor is not a matinee idol, and has never been especially good at the sillier aspects of campaigning.

He's also 72, and some will think that too old. But he's likely our best hope of good government. Eight years ago, when he was running for the GOP nomination for governor (he got creamed) he told me:

"I don't think people should expect the governor to be their best buddy. I think the job of the governor of Michigan is to protect people from the hazards of life; to try and make sure they have a job, and that the job has benefits and that they can live, own a home and support their family. But I'm not everybody's buddy. In fact, sometimes I am a hard-working prick.

"But if that's what it takes, that's fine. ..."  

Aw, hell. If we have to fight for our future, wouldn't it be nice to have a governor who is a well-adjusted grown-up, for a change?

Can we still save the public option?
 Like me, you may have been bombarded with e-mail appeals claiming that is it still possible to put a public insurance option back in the health care bill, which the Obama administration is now trying to pass by reconciling the previously passed House and Senate versions of the bills.

Democrats still have a large (59-41) majority in the Senate, but if they want to pass health care reform this year (maybe even this decade) they'll have to do it through reconciliation, thanks to their loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts. If they can't, the obstructionist party, aka the Republicans, can block any new vote through a filibuster.

Early on, it became clear to me that I didn't understand exactly how reconciliation worked, and that few others did either. Fortunately, I had the chance to ask someone who ought to know: Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. He's a Harvard-trained lawyer who has been in the Senate longer than anyone in Michigan history.

Like many of us, he would love a public option. But sadly, he said we can forget about it, at least this year. "It's actually very complicated, very technical. You've got to jump over seven hurdles to meet the test, and if it doesn't, it doesn't fly," he told me.

"The parliamentarian, who is a neutral, has got to say that any bill proposed as a reconciliation bill must meet the seven — the most important one, every single [changed] provision of the bill must have as its principal focus reducing the deficit, not policy.

"You can raise or lower money for a program, but you can't change, say, the abortion issue. If any one provision fails that seven-part test, the whole thing is subject to a point of order.

"So you can not, for example, have a public option. I wish you could. But you don't have the 60 votes for it," he said.

Believe it or not, there are some so-called liberals whose attitude is that if they can't have a public option, they might as well allow the bill to just die. Which is, frankly, nuts, unless your aptitude tests indicate that kamikaze pilot is the right profession for you.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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