Life beyond the recount

Possibly, by the time you read this, we’ll all know who our next president will be, though I sincerely doubt it. Both sides are dug in; the airlines have ferried every last spare lawyer to the front, and odds are we’re headed for a bitter and controversial final battle before the U.S. Supremes or the Congress.

It is pretty clear that slightly more Floridians — 20,000 or so — meant to vote for Al Gore than George Bush, though most of those double-voted, or didn’t press down hard enough to free the infamously unvirgin little chads. When states less messed up are added in, the national totals now are 49,921,267 Gore; 49,658,276 Bush.

Yet the Texas twit still seems slightly more likely to move into the White House, though there could be a few plot twists left in this baby. Sadly, my compromise suggestion of Al Haig (made jointly with Zero Population Growth) seems to be going nowhere. But we may yet get Denny Hastert, wrestling coach-turned-figurehead Speaker of the House.

So stay tuned, but remember, too, no matter who shuffles to the podium on Jan. 20, life, and politics, will go on. In Lansing it already is; this week I talked at length to one of its more interesting figures, state Sen. Gary Peters, who represents an L-shaped district stretching from Pontiac to Southfield/Oak Park.

Life under the dome is apt to be grim for progressives in the year ahead. There is no reason to think John Engler is going anywhere, and if he did, hope for change under his successor, the wonderfully named Dick Posthumus, would be, literally, dead on arrival.

That isn’t anything new, except next year, the Legislature gets to reshuffle the deck via reapportionment, once final census figures are in. Political strength is close to evenly divided in this state, and law requires every district be nearly equal in population. But given that, experts know how to draw those lines in such a way as to ensure a near-permanent majority for one side or the other. So since Republicans control both houses of the Legislature, how do you think their protractors will tilt? Oh, the losers can appeal — right up to the Michigan Supreme Court, which is 5-2 Republican, thanks mostly to Engler appointees. Ho, Ho.

“I don’t see much chance of us getting the Legislature back this decade,” Peters candidly said. Instead, he is thinking hard about running for governor in 2002, so, as he puts it, “the vast majority of the people have some representation in state government.”

But wait a minute; isn’t the fix in for Jennifer Granholm, world’s most glamorous state attorney general? There are certainly those who feel that way, including many who wanted to ram Casino Larry Owen down the voters’ throats three years ago.

That’s not any knock on Granholm, who, to her credit, has till now said she isn’t running for governor; she is eligible for another term as AG. To the best of my knowledge, she is a competent lawyer from California who moved here some years ago and took a job with Ed McNamara’s political machine, which she served faithfully, and which pushed her for state attorney general in 1998.

Fortunately for her, the real right-wing loonies in the state GOP turned down Engler’s choice for the job, Scott Romney, who would have beaten her. Instead, they nominated a recycled mossback named John Smietanka, who lacked wit, charm, personality, and occasionally, the good sense to pay his child support.

After he was publicly dissed by even Big John, the bootlicking media (the Free Press editorial page et al) seized on Granholm as the Democratic Party’s future.

Even so, she only won by a narrow (51 percent-48 percent) margin. She soon had the further good fortune to weather a clumsy effort by the Englerites to strip her of her powers, which gained her widespread sympathy. But what she has done since is not clear. She is, indeed, beautiful, charming, and does have political talent; I once heard her deliver a speech against violence which was warm, stirring, and moved even me, though she said nothing of substance. Last summer, she showed her loyalties were still intact by supporting old crony Mike Duggan in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s race.

That may have been questionable, but hey; even Harry Truman went to the funeral of the corrupt Kansas City boss who gave him his start, though he did sever ties with his machine once he got to Washington. I also think La Granholm would improve on the 38 percent of votes the last two Democratic nominees for governor got.

Trouble is, that won’t be enough. The Republicans are, I firmly believe, going to nominate Candice Miller, who is as glamorous as a markdown sale at Montgomery Ward, but whom many working-class whites will see as one of them. The secretary of state has also made her office, which had fallen shamefully behind in Dick Austin’s dotage, work better, and people know that too. Those who voted for Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton could easily tilt to Miller. Gary Peters, on the other hand, is a rare bird, a Democrat with the pedigree of a rising young Republican. He doesn’t need the taxpayer tit; he’s a vice president for investments at PaineWebber. At 42, he’s an MBA and a lawyer.

Peters is a good debater with a touch of butt-kicking flamboyance. He thinks we need to focus on competing in the new economy; he runs around wiring schools for the Internet on his days off. But he comes from a labor background and was one of only seven senators to vote against the Detroit school takeover. What he would try to do as governor isn’t yet clear. But in a state that desperately needs new faces and new ideas, he bears watching.

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