2012-10-18 / Columns

Conversations with our state and federal officials

A column by Alan Campbell

One of the more pleasant side benefi ts of my work is having the opportunity to talk directly to the elected leaders of our state and country.

I say “side” benefi t because, in the strictest sense, I’m not suppose to have a relationship with politicians beyond our professional roles. The thought is by curtailing my discussions with these folks to the choppy rhythm of a print journalist’s interview would benefit readers through some verification of neutrality.

I’m not certain about that outcome. I don’t think you’ll find any journalist — and certainly not a well-known journalist — who has no personal relationships with elected officials. So I prefer to hear elected officials speak on and off the record, which gives me an opportunity to follow up on tips with interviews down the road.

I heard readers choke a bit. I do consider myself a well known journalist ... in Lake Leelanau, at least.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed past conversations with Cong. Dave Camp, who really does have concern over our country’s rising debt. He’s not putting on a face when addressing cameras as chair of the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. I’ll miss him as Leelanau’s representative; the county’s been switched to the 1st Congressional District.

I’ve spent little time with the two candidates now seeking to represent Leelanau County in the House.

Dan Benishek was unremarkable this spring in his presentation addressing fruit growers’ dealing with crop failures. He comes off “frumpy.” I did, however, appreciate his acknowledgement that he is new to the fruit industry.

Gary McDowell and I had a decidedly formal phone interview this summer after he would not speak in any detail about an extremely important topic. I thought a simple question — “If you had been in offi ce, would you have voted for the Affordable Health Care Act?” — deserved a simple answer. I spent most of the interview seeking some type of response, and never received one. It turned out to be one of the more contentious interviews I’ve ever had with a politician.

Sen. Carl Levin is earthy and knowledgeable in conversation. Our priorities are different other than agreement in most conservation topics, and to some extent foreign affairs. Still, I like the guy, and understand why he’s always a shoe-in to get re-elected.

It’s been a long time since I talked with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, more than 25 years. At the time she was running for the House of Representatives in a district that included Oakland County. But she is apparently doing something right in the minds of her constituents as chair of the Department of Agriculture. The names of a number of leading farming advocates from Leelanau County appeared in a fullpage endorsement ad published this month in the Fruit Grower News. Her backers included the Gregory, LaCross and Bardenhagen families, as well as the Mawbys, Jim Nugent, Rich Bahle and Don Coe.

I’ve never met her challenger, former Congressman Pete Hoekstra.

It’s a shame that state House candidates Ray Franz and Allen O’Shea are getting trashed and trashing themselves in advertisements. Franz, the Republican incumbent, has been frank and open in our conversations. Ditto for O’Shea, who I had not met until the weeks leading up to Democratic Primary when he bettered former county resident Derick Bailey.

I pulled out campaign flyers sent by the Michigan Democratic Party and the Michigan Republican Party when O’Shea visited the Enterprise. “So who is the real Allen O’Shea?” I asked.

According to the Republicans, O’Shea is “hiding his ties to Duke Energy.” “He’s been evasive when asked if he is a volunteer or employee of Duke Energy,” the flyer alleged.

He readily told me his relationship to Duke. He acted as a conduit between Duke and large property owners in Manistee County who might be interested in hosting an industrial windmill on their land. Should a wind farm be built, he would receive some compensation. But to date, he’s not received any money — and may never.

The Democratic flyer proclaimed him a “leader with a proven record of delivering for middle class families.” He’s former chair of the Manistee County Board.

The Michigan Democratic Party went for Franz’s throat in its attack flyer for the 101st District, saying that Franz “supports eliminating Social Security and abolishing Medicare.” Huh?

I tried to find documentation for such a claim. Couldn’t. So I asked Franz himself, and he just shook his head. It’s not his stance, and it’s not even his call. Social Security and Medicare are federal programs. He recognizes that letting them run their course in their present design will run them into the ground. Anyone in government who doesn’t see that ... shouldn’t be in government.

But, he said reluctantly, attack ads are part of a day in the life of someone in public office.

It’s a business I would not like to be in. Still, I enjoy picking the brains of those who are.

Return to top