Some primary stupidity

Next week, the vast majority of Michigan voters won’t show up for a primary election that will determine the major candidates for governor and tons of other offices. In many areas, where one party dominates the field, the primary will virtually decide the November winners, as in the race for Wayne County Executive.

Statewide, this has been a far more exciting contest than usual. For the first time since 1982 the incumbent governor isn’t running, and five big-name candidates are fighting for the job. All of which means that if the weather is nice and interest runs high … no more than 70 percent of the registered voters will skip the election.

That’s probably too optimistic; turnout almost certainly will be less. What that means, bottom-line, is that the next governor of the state will, on Tuesday, win his or her party’s nomination with the support of barely 5 percent of all those eligible to vote.

Isn’t that awful? Well, yes. Columnists, including me, have been known to complain bitterly that people are ignoring their hard-won democratic responsibilities by giving up a right that, even in my lifetime, people in this country died for.

There’s another school of thought, however, which is that if people don’t care enough to vote, they probably shouldn’t. Keith Crain, the publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business, wrote a column earlier this month suggesting “maybe we don’t want to encourage those folks” to cast ballots who don’t know enough or care enough.

That is, in fact, closer to what the founding fathers envisioned: voting by educated white men with property and a stake in the system. That’s who is still most likely to vote now. The day after the Republicans took Congress in 1994, one of my students asked me if it was true they intended to abolish welfare.

“Yes, indeedy,” I said. She was horrified. Naturally she depended on it, and naturally she had never voted. I resisted, not very successfully, nasty thoughts.

However, we are supposed to try to make this a better world — and Michigan holds its primary at an awesomely stupid time. Thousands of people are on vacation, up North, at the beach or otherwise not likely to remember to vote the first week in August.

That might have been a good time to have a primary in 1902, when many of the voters were farmers, then between planting and the harvest. What would make far more sense now would be to move it to mid-September or mid-May, depending on whether you think we should have a little or a lot of time before the general election.

My choice would be September. We also ought to have a runoff a week later, for statewide offices where nobody gets more than 40 percent of the vote.

Say, for example, David Bonior, the only anti-choice Democrat, wins Tuesday with 34 percent of the vote. Does that necessarily mean he’d be the preferred second choice of the two-thirds of Democrats who voted for Jim Blanchard and Jennifer Granholm?

Well, till we demand differently, that’s the system we have. Two weeks ago, Blanchard ran into a voter who greeted him enthusiastically and praised the job he had done as governor. After which he asked him, “Say, what are you doing now?”

Though the candidates have been running like rabid greyhounds for more than a year, it’s only in the last two weeks that humans, as opposed to political junkies, have begun to vaguely realize an election is at hand. But anyone with a TV isn’t likely to be able to ignore it from now on. The candidates are spending millions of dollars on last-minute TV spots praising themselves and whacking the others.

Who is going to win is anybody’s guess. Blanchard and Bonior are pouring on the negative ads, attacking Granholm in spots that, curiously, seldom say who the voter should pick instead. Her husband’s penchant for aggressively pushing his “consulting” services has become an issue, as I predicted it would last winter.

Last week, both her rivals accused EPIC/MRA pollster Ed Sarpolus of a conflict of interest, since he and Granholm’s spouse are both listed as part of a Troy marketing company’s professional team. Bonior and Blanchard have both bitterly complained about Sarpolus’ surveys, which usually have shown Granholm leading.

Frankly, the charge that the pollster, who does surveys for the Free Press, would risk his reputation by cooking the data because of a minor business connection with a candidate’s husband seems absurd. What may be more significant is Dan Granholm Mulhern’s continuing drive to chase down any loose buck that’s legal with solicitation material that makes it quite clear who his wife is. Would he continue that if she becomes governor?

For me, the best quote of the campaign was Granholm’s, who told her biggest booster, the same Free Press, “I would like to give people bushels of specific proposals, except that’s not what the political experts say I should be doing.”

Even so, in the last debate she boldly disregarded that advice. She denounced waste, fraud and abuse, and said she’d keep “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Winston Churchill, phone home.


Worth taking in: Though we seldom think about it, the world may be in more risk of a nuclear war than ever, as India and Pakistan recently demonstrated. On Friday, Ira Shorr, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Back From The Brink campaign, will be speaking at 8 p.m. at St. James Catholic Church in Ferndale. He’ll talk about the risk today, what our government’s current policies are, and what we can do about it. This is part of the Detroit Area Peace With Justice Network’s annual commemoration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Whatever your politics, it’s worth noting which was the only nation ever to drop nuclear bombs on human beings.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
Scroll to read more Metro Detroit News articles
Join the Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.