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Candidate Profiles for the 3rd Congressional District

June 23, 2010

(This article was submitted by Josh Sadowski)

As congressperson Vern Ehlers has publicly announced his retirement, the seat for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional district has been left open for the November 2010 election season. There are seven candidates running for the office in the fall (five Republicans and two Democrats), however little is known about them.

The debates that have been held scantily covered by the local media and focused primarily on the Republican candidates (the district is considered “safely Republican” by most observers and with disorganized participation by the Democrats, it’s easy to see why). Many potential voters may be wondering where the candidates fall on a variety of issues and where they get their funding from.

Justin Amash is, by many estimates, the front-runner for the Republican Party and thus the front-runner in the race to fill Ehlers seat. Amash announced his intention to run prior to Ehlers announcement to retire, and received early support from Dick and Betsy DeVos. Amash’s early announcement may serve as an indication that he is aiming right of the current political establishment, looking to fill Ehlers seat with a more conservative voice.

By and large, what most distinguishes Amash from his opponents is his vehement support of the free market and criticism of government intervention, regulation, and social programs in all areas of the economy.

Amash’s voting record is particularly reactionary, leaving him sometimes standing alone as the only dissenting vote. Amash has gone as far as to vote “No” against subsidized healthcare for Autism, a ban on texting while driving, and Hire Michigan First legislations in Michigan.

Amash is considered a “tea party” candidate, as his stance on most issues is framed as anti-big-government and pro-free-market. However, in step with traditional right wing values, this philosophy is not extended to abortion or national defense, where Amash is pro-life and pro-military. Amash makes a point on his website to criticize government spending on healthcare, environment, and education, but not on the defense budget, (which accounts for nearly half of all federal discretionary spending).

With such a shift in public perception on the environment in recent years, all candidates at least attempt to appear “green”, and Justin Amash is no exception. On his website, he states that “government should punish businesses and individuals that pollute the land, water, or air of their neighbors”. However, Amash is one of the few members of the Michigan House to receive a 0% on Michigan League of Conservation Voters annual scorecard (43 Michigan congressmen and women were able to obtain a 100% rating).

Amash occasionally tries to appear in favor of popular government programs, however his record and contributions illustrate he is more in favor of big businesses running society. In Amash’s run for the Michigan House, he received contributions from the DeVos and Van Andel families, with much of his money (over $70,000) coming from his family’s own Michigan Industrial Tools. In this race thus far, Amash has received $25,000 from Michigan Industrial tools, nearly $20,000 from various health care providers, and a thousand each from Amway and AT&T.

Steve Heacock is a former Kent County Commissioner and a leader in the Van Andel Institute. To date, little is known about Heacock given his lack of voting record or political presence in the area. Given his previous rolls, it can be assumed that Heacock believes in a partnership between the public and private sectors. He was the chairman of the Convention and Arena Authority in Grand Rapids and has helped to bring the Van Andel arena, the DeVos place, and MSU’s college of human medicine to the downtown area.

Heacock has received campaign dollars from the Van Andel institute, as well as the law firm Warner, Norcross & Judd, who’s contributed over $40,000, making them the largest single contributor to any candidate, dwarfing the $25,000 Amash has received from his own Michigan Industrial Tools. Warner, Nocross & Judd is one of the largest law firms in Michigan.

Heacock’s stated views (per his website: http://heacockforcongress.com/the-issues/) do little to distinguish him from a run of the mill Republican. He does occasionally try to tap into populist attitudes by listing jobs and health insurance reform (or the repeal of) among his top priorities, but these stances are repeated by the other candidates and contradicted by Heacock’s positions on other issues.

For example, Heacock has proposed an “Eight Step Plan” to fix Michigan’s failing economy. The plan includes extending the “Bush Tax Cuts”, removing regulations on businesses, and passing any pending Free Trade Agreements to open up trade with any foreign nations we have neglected up to now, all of which have proven to be detrimental to Michigan workers by accelerating (or even causing) the collapse of the financial sector, concentrating wealth in corporate pockets, and exporting jobs to other nations with less labor regulations and lower costs to the business.

Ultimately, Heacock is will be seeking to define himself more fully in the debates and campaign ads that are sure to come. With little record to stand on, it can be expected that Heacock will follow the current republican talking points, which encourage Bush era deregulation and hawkish foreign policy.

“Hi, I’m Bob Overbeek and I’m not for sale.” If you’ve heard Bob Overbeek speak once since May, you’ve heard him say those words. Overbeek claims to be on the side of working class Americans and the working poor, and thus will not be accepting more than one dollar from any contributor. By this logic, as of March 31st, 478 people had contributed to Overbeek’s campaign, which is the dollar amount he has purportedly raised from outside investors. The remaining $2,071 in his war chest was self-contributed (this compared to $116,063 raised by Justin Amash and $88,187 by Steve Heacock).

While Overbeek claims to be in support of market solutions to societal issues (such as healthcare), he is by no means a tea party candidate. His website proclaims he is opposed to “continued action in Afghanistan with the deployment of US ground troops en masse”. He is the only candidate to mention either Iraq or Afghanistan so far in the campaign.

Overbeek also supports “card check”, which is largely considered a pro-union measure supported by some democrats (including Barrack Obama and Paul Krugman) and opposed by big business advocates such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association.

Overbeek gained some media attention during the first public debate between candidates for the Third Congressional District when he pulled out a pair of vice-grips made by Justin Amash’s Michigan Industrial Tools, which were made in China. Overbeek criticized his opponent for supporting China as a Most Favored Nation in free trade. Amash failed to respond.

While Overbeek remains conservative on many issues (marriage, abortion, immigration, markets, guns) he is the most progressive of the Republican candidates in the race, giving the working poor the most to grasp onto. This is sure to be a target of his opponents, who are likely vying for the tea party vote. Considering Overbeek was the first to submit the required signatures to run in the election, he may have more support than his bank account suggests.

Bill Hardiman is a Michigan state senator and a former mayor of Kentwood Township. He is the only non-white candidate on the Republican side. Hardiman’s website features a picture of the senator posing with Sean Hannity, however the conservative pundit might be disappointed with mixed voting record.

According votesmart.org, Hardiman has supported such “liberal” and “big-government” legislation as Prohibiting Text Messaging While Driving (HB 4394), Renewable Electricity Standards (SB 213), and Tuition Assistance for Students in High Poverty Areas (SB 861), among others.

Hardiman’s voting record suggests most of all that he likes to be on the winning team, whether that be Democrats or Republicans. He has rarely supported a losing bill (and vice versa), voting with Democrats only when there were enough other republicans doing so to pass the legislation at hand (Hardiman works in the republican led Michigan senate). Hardiman is a populist among other senators, going along with whatever is popular at the time. There is little to suggest that his behavior in Washington will be different than it has been in Lansing.

In Hardiman’s campaign for state senator, he received contributions most often from Blue Cross Blue Shield, and often from DeVos family members, Realtor groups, and the Comcast Cable Company.

Ultimately, with Amash and Louise Johnson vying for the ultra-right wing, anti-government vote, Heacock coming from outside the political establishment, and Overbeek playing populist, Hardiman is going to be hard pressed to distinguish himself as a strong Republican people can trust in Washington.

Polls show people are frustrated with incumbents and America’s institutions in general. Hardiman, having allied with big businesses and worked to put Michigan where it is economically, may have his work cut out for him.

Louise Johnson is the only female in the race and she seems to be taking a far right, political outsider approach. However, this is difficult to discern considering an extreme lack of available information on the candidate. Her website suggests she is pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-government (she describes government as a “cancer” on her homepage, which begs the question, why try to work in government?).

Johnson is a member of the West Michigan Tea Party and a local lawyer at a law firm that specializes in criminal defense. She was characterized as a tea party candidate by the local press after the recent debate. However, considering the diverse range of views the tea party can attract, this information does little to inform voters of Johnson’s stance on any issues (other than perhaps taxes and the size of government, but that’s even arguable).

If Johnson is going to be a serious contender in the August primary she has some serious footwork in the coming months. As of March 31st, she had not yet reported any campaign financing information. Currently, Johnson is struggling to inform even interested voters of her positions on any of the issues facing West Michigan. Johnson’s lack of preparedness is eclipsed only by that of the Democratic contenders for the 3rd Congressional district.

Patrick Miles is the first of two Democrats registered for the August primary election. He is a Harvard Law School graduate (a class mate of President Obama) with no political record to speak of. Mile’s fundraising efforts are second only to Amash, and he has received contributions mostly from lawyers and law firms, the food and beverage industry, and non-profits. Other than these points, little is available on Miles.

Miles was the only candidate not to participate in a recent debate between those seeking Ehlers seat, and his website, though neat and sleek, does not give a basic rundown on his positions. It does feature a section called “Vision”, which is a sort of political abstract of the candidate. However, the section does little more than define Miles as a democrat who believes in vague ideas such as “job growth” and “investment in clean energy”.

Miles’ vision is also a bipartisan one, because according to his website “partisanship rules the day and things are not getting done right… we must work together to get results”. This suggests Miles is really a moderate who believes in compromising with the right, but it’s hard to tell.

According to opensecrets.org Miles has spent almost none of his $107,230 in campaign contributions. It seems as if the cannon is loaded and Miles, for reasons unknown, is waiting to fire.

Paul Mayhue is Miles’ only other Democratic contender and is a former Kent County Commissioner. As of March 31st, Mayhue had reported no campaign contributions and, as of June, has done very little to establish himself as a viable candidate. Mayhue’s website is difficult to find on the web (www.mayhue4u.com) and contains little content about what the former commissioner is proposing.

Mayhue’s website contains his positions on four issues: healthcare, education, jobs, and senior issues. Each section contains one or two sentences on the given issue, not giving the candidate much room to elaborate on anything other than the general importance of the issue at hand. Mayhue did come out in favor of universal healthcare early in the debate, but has since vowed to “inform our nation of the benefits of the recently passed legislation.” If Mayhue is willing to compromise on such an issue before even getting into office, this suggests that while he may have leftist ideals, he is more than willing to compromise and move right with the whole of the Democratic party. Again, with voters disliking the current political establishment, this move comes off as particularly weak and ineffectual.

Mayhue did participate in a recent debate with the five republican candidates. There he stated that he believed corporations such as BP should be criminally punished as citizens since they are treated as people under the law. Mostly however, Miles’ lack of participation in the debate left Mayhue to be outnumbered and outgunned by the Republicans, adding evidence to the perception that Democrats in the district are truly outmatched, in every sense, by Republicans.

Ultimately, the efforts of both Democratic candidates combined hardly compare to the work done by either Amash or Heacock separately. Thus far, Miles and Mayhue’s efforts are resembling those of the Democrats who have failed for the past 35 years to capture the 3rd district: insufficient, unorganized, and late from the starting gate. One has to wonder if the Democrats running in the 3rd district even believe they can win the seat.

Obama carried Kent County in 2008, which demonstrates some local willingness to vote Democrat. However, local candidates have failed to give West Michigan what Obama did – an inspiring and well organized candidate who believes he can beat Republicans in even the most conservative areas.

It is well known that the personality and presence of a candidate is as much or more important than their stance on the issues. Candidates who are timid and doubtful from the start are unlikely to garner any real support. Obama was a confident candidate who aspired to progressive ideals during the campaign, and he won over this “safely Republican” district. This makes the lack of a strong leftist candidate in this election seem like a missed opportunity for the left, especially for those disappointed with Obama’s retreat to the right while in office.

All things considered, with no sign of a confident candidate even left of center, November is shaping up to be a winning month for the far right in the 3rd district once again.

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