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Horse Race: “Electing” a Michigan Governor

June 6, 2010

In 19th century Ireland, horse races provided the dream that any impoverished farmer could turn his life around on a single flyer: a fast horse entered in the county steeplechase. But the reality was different. Front runners would turn up mysteriously lame just a day or two before the race. Other horses were “nobbled” with drugged corn or carrots. On the day of the race, a tavern owner or merchant with enough money to buy a horse on the spot might be coaxed into purchasing an exciting last-minute entry: an old horse made young with boot blacking and a meal of botanical performance enhancers that wore off fast. All this drew attention and the heavy betting away from the real favorite: a horse owned by one of the wealthy landowners.

And of course, the wealthy landowner’s horse always won.

The horse didn’t matter. The backers did. And that’s why, even though our state primaries aren’t until August 3, this race has been run. Pete Hoekstra is going to be our next governor.

How can we tell? All the signs are there. First of all, Hoekstra isn’t talking much. At the Mackinac Policy Conference, he said very little, less than the other candidates. When an attempt was made in April to pin him down on the Arizona immigration law, he hedged and took a “let’s wait and see” tack. Last year, he danced around whether or not he supported school vouchers. Opening up a little more in his infamous “the terrorists will get us” fundraising letter, Hoekstra noted, “I am running for Governor to bring conservative leadership to Lansing. I will fight every day to lower taxes, create jobs and stand up for our shared values.”

The point is, he doesn’t really have to speak out right now. His backers are lined up, he’s leading in the polls, and his rigidly far-right-wing voting record (which has won him supporters like the hate group FAIR) remains largely unexamined by most voters.

Hoekstra’s slipperiness at this point in the campaign lets him appear as a blank slate, in order to attract the most voters. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, his backers are writing checks.

If you look at a list of Hoekstra’s early individual contributors, the big names are lining up: Van Andel. Meijer. Bauer. Cook. Along with a healthy dollop of support from Blue Cross-Blue Shield, looking to wriggle out of its mandated role as the nonprofit which must accept all Michigan applicants. BCBS is joined by other corporations such as Morgan Stanley, Spectrum Health, Fifth Third Bank, and the Michigan Credit Union League.

When Hoekstra wins the primary, much of the contributions that are pouring into the Michigan Republican Party coffers will be at his disposal. When he ran for Congress, he also had the full support of the DeVos family and the Prince empire, so it’s hard to imagine they won’t be throwing considerable financial weight behind him in this race. In fact, Open Secrets recently reported that Hoekstra has already received over $25,000 in contributions from Amway.

Another nobbling tool that just fell into the hands of those looking to fix our elections was January’s Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission. It lifted a ban on political spending by corporations in elections. Companies that want to protect their interests—like insurance corporations looking to find loopholes in recent health care reform laws and heavy industries that want environmental restrictions lifted—can now contribute as much money as they want to the candidate that they believe will give them the desired results. And for Michigan governor, that would be Hoekstra.

Our dream of free elections in this country is, at this point in history, as much of a delusion as those dreams of Irish farmers that they’d win the county steeplechase race. Until working people join together and overturn the election system with essential, grassroot changes, we’ll continue in our current reality. We have no say in our elections and no representation in government. We live in a country controlled by powers capable of ordering the Supreme Court to halt vote-counting and place George W. Bush on the presidential throne.

The Michigan governor’s race is a much simpler fix. The favorite, a shiny-faced frat boy from Hope College, has already proved in Congress that he’ll do the bidding of his conservative masters. He’s as good as crossed the finish line because that’s what the wealthy landowners in our part of the world have decided will happen.

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