BY GEORGE WEEKS
— In the wake of his announcement not to seek a seventh term in 2014, prominent Republicans joined Democrats in praising Carl Levin for his service as Michigan’s longest-serving U.S. senator in history.
Not to rain on that parade of praise, but it also should be noted that state Republicans say they see the open seat their best chance in decades to elect a senator. Names of more than a dozen potential Republican candidates were quickly floated, as well as those of at least a half-dozen Democrats. Some of those mentioned were quick to bow out.
Gov. Rick Snyder, who increasingly demonstrates he is not rigidly political, said lavishly:
“For more than 30 years, Carl Levin has been a thoughtful, compassionate voice in Washington. He effectively brought the needs and concerns of Michiganders to the halls of the Capitol. His service on behalf of Michigan and America is commendable. On behalf of our entire state, I applaud Sen. Levin for his dedication and wish him a healthy, fulfilling retirement.”
Ex-Gov. William G. Milliken, Michigan’s longest-serving governor (1969-82), called Levin an effective state champion in Washington.
Attorney Gen. Bill Schuette, a former GOP congressman who got 41 percent of the vote in a 1990 challenge of Levin, hailed Levin’s “distinguished and honorable career.” As for Schuette seeking Levin’s seat, his PR director, John Selleck, discounted it and said: “Bill will continue on serving the citizens of Michigan as their attorney general.”
Among highly speculative names of prospective candidates cited by the Detroit newspapers are former Democratic governors James J. Blanchard and Jennifer Granholm, and ex-Republican Gov. John Engler. They have been mum on the matter,
While a general election Senate contest between ex-governors would be quite a battle, it is far too early to suggest how things will shape up on the 2014 ballot. It’s too early to talk of frontrunners, but names of prospects abound in the press.
The Washington Post flatly declared third-term U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, former state senator and state lottery director, as the frontrunner for the Democratic Senate nomination and said he “confirmed that he favors the Senate race over a run against vulnerable” Snyder in 2014.
Peters would indeed be a strong prospect, as would ex-Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, now Michigan’s Republican national committeewoman. Both say they are “seriously” considering Senate bids.
As of this writing, other Republicans in the speculation mix include U.S. Reps Mike Rogers of Brighton, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Justin Amash of Cascade Township near Grand Rapids, Dave Camp of Midland, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and ex-Michigan State University trustee Scott Romney, son of ex-Gov. George Romney (1963-69) and brother of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Engler is a Scott Romney fan.
Among Republicans who last week removed themselves from the mix besides Schuette: ex-AG Mike Cox, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller of Harrison Township in Macomb County, and Metro Detroit charter school activist Clark Durant, who failed in a 2012 bid for the GOP Senate nomination.
Among the mentioned Democrats are ex-U.S. Rep Mark Schauer of Battle Creek; state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer; Debbie Dingell, longtime Democratic National Committeewoman and wife of U.S. Rep. John Dingell, dean of the House; attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who got 38 percent of the vote in his 1998 challenge of Engler.
Although media attention has focused on prospective Senate candidates, there is importance in what led to Levin’ decision, and the issues he wants to focus on “without distractions on campaigning for re-election.”
As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee he’s dealing with critical issues of military readiness, and as chairman of the Governmental Affairs Investigations Subcommittee he has been deeply involved in stopping abuses in a wide range of financial issues.
He said he wants to tackle “a growing blight on our political system that I believe I can help address: the use of secret money to fund political campaigns.” He said his subcommittee “needs to look at the failure of the IRS to enforce our tax laws and stem the flood of hundreds of secret dollars flowing into our elections, eroding public confidence in our democracy.”
Levin’s final agenda is an important one.
George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.