INTRO: The 8th Congressional district is gerrymandered. It favors republicans. It runs from Lansing through Howell and Brighton and on to Rochester. It’s a long narrow rectangle. Mike Rogers is retiring. He’s endorsed fellow republican Mike Bishop. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus went to Bishop’s home town to find out how state transportation projects have helped or hurt Bishop get elected to Congress.
Mike Bishop began as a state representative then rose to become Senate Majority leader before being term limited in 2011. I asked him about transportation.
“Transportation is a core function of government. It’s not only an issue of safety. It’s a commerce issue as well. We have to be able to transport and get our goods to market. And we have to be able to safely get people and families to and from their destinations. So it is a core function of government. It’s one we’re willing to invest in. I’m not afraid to ask the citizens for their support for a tax increase. I really would not be. I think it’s the right thing to do. The question is timing.”
When Bishop said this in October 2010, his political action committee, the Knights of the Round Table, got $50,000 from Matty Moroun. The billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge has spent millions to stop the state from building a second bridge to Canada. Bishop said he would allow a vote on this. He said he would also allow a vote on matching state money to get 4 times more money from Washington for high speed rail.
However, Senator Bishop left state government without supporting the bridge, high speed rail or the regional transit authority. He didn’t solve the road problem either. At the state Capitol, that final week, I asked Republican Senator Roger Kahn of Saginaw if his party’s leader, Mike Bishop, refused to hold a vote on the bridge because Matty Moroun paid him off.
“Matty Moroun has given campaign contributions to the whole world,” said Kahn, who became chair of the senate appropriations committee. Kahn, a medical doctor said there is no shame in taking Moroun’s money. Moroun has donated to Bishop and dozens of republicans and democrats in Michigan, “just like the Supreme Court of the United States says he has the right to do.”
Senator Kahn was referring to the Citizens United case of that same year. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations could pour as much money into political campaigns as they wish. There is no limit.
Rochester has a downtown with historic buildings and sidewalks where pedestrians can stroll safely at crosswalks. That’s where I met Tony Joseph is 47, born and raised in Rochester. He described himself as an investor. I asked him if he’s voting Mike Bishop for Congress.
“The election is Tuesday. Are you registered?” I asked.
“Are you republican, democrat…”
“Republican!” Joseph said, emphasizing he could not support any other party.
“But you don’t know this is the guy you’d be likely to vote for because….” and Joseph cut me off.
“No I don’t,” he said.
I briefed Tony Joseph on events at the state Capitol in 2010. Since then Governor Snyder, the auto companies, the Michigan Farm Bureau and others have been pushing for the new bridge.
“But you’re saying this vote is for what now?” Joseph asked.
“This is a vote he held up four years ago which would have allowed the state to move quicker to get this second bridge financed,” I said.
“It should have been done. And you’re saying…?”
“Bishop held up the vote so it wouldn’t happen in part because he was taking $50,000 from Matty Moroun.” I said.
Click here to see 599 entries of the Moroun family’s contributions, listed by the Secretary of State.
“Wow that’s pocket change and it’s pretty pathetic,” Joseph said. “That’s ill-mannered. Bad taste. Certainly won’t have my vote.”
“Well if you’re voting straight republican ticket that’s the guy you’ll be voting for Tuesday.”
“He will not have my vote,” Joseph said. We ended our interview on cordial terms. But Joseph refused to be photographed. I walked over to the old barn downtown that sells animal feed products, Todd Dafoe said he doesn’t vote. Not just in this election. Never. Nonetheless, he agrees with Mike Bishop.
“I don’t see why we need another bridge when there’s already one there,” Dafoe said clenching invoices and receipts at this desk. “Other than that I don’t really give it much thought. I don’t live in Detroit. Don’t go to Detroit all that often.”
In the Donut Shop at the corner of Rochester Rd and University Drive, I was trying to ask two women what party they support. One was serving the donuts and coffee. The other was standing at the counter deciding which donuts to get. She put her young son on a stool. She said her name is Christina. I asked if she was registered.
“Yea I’m registered,” said Christina. “I don’t know which one I’m voting for though.”
“Do you know anything about Schertzing or Bishop?”
“No I’ve never heard anything about either one of them.”
“Where are you from?”
“Have you May?” said Christina.
“Oh have I heard about him?” said May, the donut shop server.
“I haven’t,” blurted a man at the counter.
“I have seen the signs and what not,” said the donut shop server. But that seemed to be about it.
Back out on the sidewalk, were an 85 year old husband and wife, Tom and Yolanda Peterson.
They voted absentee this week.
“Are you from Rochester?” I asked.
“We’re from Rochester Hills,” said Tom.
“Can I ask you how you voted… Schertzing or Mike Bishop?”
“Democratic,” said Tom.
“How come?” I asked.
“Because we always vote democratic,” Yolanda said. The democratic candidate in the 8th Congressional district is Eric Schertzing. He’s been Ingham County’s treasurer and chairman of its land bank. That morning, I met up with Schertzing after his meet and greet with sympathetic local business and government people lunching at the prestigious Royal Park Hotel near the Clinton River downtown. I pitched him a softball question about Matty Moroun’s support of Mike Bishop.
“You have to remember who you represent and what your values are and not sell out to the highest bidder and do pay for play type politics,” Schertzing said. Any politician on almost any issue in contemporary America can say such a thing. It’s difficult to say it after a couple years in office and not have it apply to oneself. Schertzing is considered an ambitious politician around Lansing and East Lansing where he lives. But he’s not fighting corruption allegations.
He does have a record of improving the county somewhat. Lansing residents have criticized him for demolishing more homes through the land bank than it has sold. The Lansing City Pulse reports “the number of demolitions has fluctuated over the past few years. In 2013 the Land Bank sold 78 properties and demolished 29. But in 2012, 80 houses were razed and 62 were sold.” But around the district and the state, preservationists from the political left carry little weight compared with the ‘friends don’t let friends raise taxes’ masses. These people get their news from Fox and their clues from the republican right. Therefore, Schertzing has to defend his right flank to beat Mike Bishop.
“We take the blighted properties that are not working in the market and turn them around,” says Schertzing of his land bank. “That’s just a reality. Not everything is taken care of in this perfect market economy. What are the tools that we’re going to bring together as a public body? The land bank was a statute passed by a republican legislature and signed into law by a democratic governor.”
Schertzing grew up on a farm in Stockbridge. His father died when he was ten and his mother became disabled. He says those challenges molded him into a fiscal conservative. That’s not the most accurate label for the other man in the 8th Congressional district race.
Schertzing shares the field with Jim Casha, the green party candidate who’s a civil engineer from Detroit. He has worked on subway and sewer projects in Ontario and sewer projects in Michigan.
Casha, more than any of the three, links Michigan’s shaky economy to politicians willingness to take legal bribes surrounding major infrastructure projects. Casha is calling for bus rapid transit lines all over Southeast Michigan. He says the M1 Rail project will only benefit billionaires and that transit won’t improve. M1 officials themselves admit it’s more of a real estate development project than one that will move tens of thousands of riders. Casha says he wants to become a federal official so he can correct federal policy here. Of Washington he says:
“They’ve been involved in Michigan overseeing the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department for thirty-seven years. They did a horrible job there,” says Casha. “They were involved in the Detroit Police Department for a good ten years at least. They didn’t do a good job there.”
Casha has become known to politicians and bureaucrats around the Capitol for two issues. Decades ago his parents adopted two boys who had fetal alcohol syndrome. Both were incarcerated later in life. Casha wants government to save other youth from this fate.
Secondly, Casha has opposed the sale of the former Michigan State Fair grounds at 8 Mile and Woodward. He has denounced the Michigan Land Bank and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority at their board meetings, in hallways, on the internet and everywhere possible for what he calls “a giveway” to wealthy Lansing developer and MSU Trustees board chairman Joel Ferguson. Casha wants the Regional Transit Authority to take over those 157 acres on Woodward.
People in Rochester, Howell or Brighton might care about Matty Moroun and the second bridge to Canada and therefore vote against Mike Bishop. But they don’t care about buses on Woodward, the old fair grounds or Joel Ferguson.