Michigan State University

Bill Ballenger Report, August 27, 2018

Jon Harrison


Think about these two things:
  1. The dissing of a state Republican Supreme Court nominee (Elizabeth “Beth” Clement) by assembled delegates at a state convention is unprecedented in Michigan political history, and it can’t bode well for what has been a GOP majority on the high bench going forward, whether Clement wins in the Nov. 6 general election or not.
  2.  A tone-deaf Michigan Republican Party did the unthinkable — it nominated two males for the Michigan State University Board of Trustees in the year of “Me, Too!” even when the GOP KNEW that their adversaries a few miles away in East Lansing were nominating two women candidates, one of them a victim of sexual assault.

Let’s look at the Supreme Court first. Republicans picked the right man to chair the conclave at the Lansing Center — former state House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Albion), one of whose assets was his proficiency at gaveling through “immediate effect” on bills approved by a narrow majority in the capitol’s lower chamber even when it was obvious he did not have the 2/3 majority necessary to give a just-passed bill immediate effect. Minority Democrats protested in vain, and even filed suit in various courts (over time) in search of a verdict declaring that the Constitutional requirement for a 2/3 majority by roll call for IE is imperative. But no court has ever so ruled — no judge wants to intrude on the ability of the Legislature to conduct its business. Remember, the Legislature holds the purse strings on court funding, including judges’ salaries.

That meant Bolger could “overlook” or “not hear” the obvious expressed majority (in loud voices) at the Republican convention Saturday that Clement should NOT be rubber-stamped by the assembled delegates for nomination to the Supreme Court for a full eight-year term after her controversial rulings from the bench during the past two months. Bolger simply gaveled through his own motion for “unanimous consent” for both Clement and her fellow nominee, Justice Kurtis Wilder, despite the fact that his ploy obviously had not been agreed to by the attendees. In other words, in that and other ways the GOP top brass had “wired” the foreordained result for Clement and her patron, Gov. Rick Snyder (who had appointed her to the court — she has never faced voters before) despite Snyder not even showing up for the final GOP convention of his tenure. Meanwhile, Clement NEVER APPEARED before her new constituents, or talked with them, in any meaningful way, as all previous nominees have done throughout Michigan history. The traditional district caucuses were cancelled, and Clement and Wilder were blocked from interfacing with delegates. Wilder easily could have fared well in such an exchange, but if he had appeared alone it would have reminded everyone of Clement’s embarrassing absence. The duo’s only appearance was at convention’s end, when every GOP nominee — from Wayne State University Board of Governors on up — assembled on stage where nobody watching (delegates + the news media) could identify completely who was whom on the platform. And then Clement disappeared from the post-convention press conference that every other nominee attended. Let’s contrast this scene with 2010, when the GOP renominated Bob Young and chose appellate judge Mary Beth Kelly to run with him for two contested seats on the state’s highest court. Both were enthusiastically embraced by the convention, and Kelly and Young, running and raising money as a team, finished 1-2 in the general election, knocking off an incumbent Democrat in the process and regaining control of the high bench. That’s the farthest thing from what is happening this year, and the GOP must cringe when recalling 2008, when then-Chief Justice Cliff Taylor was ousted by a Democratic challenger named Diane Hathaway. By the way, one of the Dems’ nominees this year bears the last name of her father, former Supreme Mike Cavanagh. Meanwhile, Clement will be on her own — Wilder is running a separate campaign.

As for MSU, Republicans have nominated two quality nominees for the university’s Board of Trustees, make no mistake about it — Mike Miller and David Dutch, each very impressive in his own way. But it should be obvious that makes no difference this year. Because of the Nassar disaster, the two major parties’ nominees must be female — if only for the MSU panel. Why didn’t the GOP get that? Right now, the board is in a 4-4 partisan tie, yet all eight current members agreed at the start of the year to pick former Gov. John Engler as the interim MSU president. That was then. Since then, two Democratic board members have said that if they had to do it all over again, they would not have picked Engler. Meanwhile, the two incumbent Republicans whose terms are up this year have said they’re not running again. They very well may not have been elected, anyway. But now there are two open seats. So, who will win them in November? Let’s be clear — Democrats have everything to gain from this election and nothing to lose. Accordingly, the Dems have nominated sexual assault “survivor” Kelly Tebay and Briana Scott, a former assistant prosecutor in Muskegon Co. All the Democrats have to do is win one of these two “open” seats and they will have a 5-3 majority going forward. If they win both seats, they will boast a 6-2 majority. If they do, Engler may not even last past the end of the year — that’s how badly Democrats want to get rid of their longtime tormenter. Then the new Democratic majority could install a new interim president between the end of this year and next June, when a new (permanent) MSU president is supposed to take office. Republicans waited from 2006 until two years ago just to get a tie-vote board, and now they appear poised to blow it all in one fell swoop.

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