Think about these two things:
- 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.
- 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.
Will former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s virtually certain upcoming term as the first Muslim female ever to serve in the U.S. Congress be her last one?
If not, she must strive mightily to overcome the somewhat fluky nature of her narrow win in a crowded field of Democrats in Michigan’s Aug. 7 primary election.
To be sure, Tlaib’s victory was no fluke in terms of her brilliant campaign, which outshone all her rivals. Tlaib raised the money, exerted the energy, and delivered a progressive message that blew her opponents off the board. She clearly deserved to win.
But the fact that she LOST the separate race for the unexpired portion of the term of her predecessor, John Conyers, points to Tlaib’s “problem” going forward: she won’t be representing her majority African-American district for the last six weeks of 2018 because two of her black opponents did not file to run in the unexpired term race. Without state Senator Coleman Young II and Shanelle Jackson in that contest, their votes went disproportionately to Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who won the partial term seat from just after the Nov. 6 general election through the end of the year. But, of course, Young and Jackson DID run for the full two-year term, and they siphoned enough votes away from Jones that Tlaib was able to scrape through to the full two-year term seat by less than a thousand votes.
Only one current white Member of Congress has been able to do that — Steve Cohen of Tennessee’s 9th CD. In a crowded 2006 Democratic primary centered around heavily black Memphis, Cohen had 14 opponents, almost all of them black. Predictably, they split up the African-American vote so thoroughly that Cohen was able to squeak through to the nomination, just as Tlaib did early this month in Detroit. Once elected, Cohen has worked assiduously to cement his incumbency. He faced four black opponents in 2008 when running for re-election, then former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, also African-American, four years later, and managed to put all of them away. Cohen is Jewish, now serving his sixth term and a heavy favorite to be re-elected to a seventh term this fall.
Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, will have to do what Cohen has done — begin running immediately for re-election in 2020 to fend off a challenge from at least one prominent African-American who believes the majority-minority 13th CD should be represented by a black. Tlaib can hope that, like Cohen, she gets more than one black opponent who will again fragment the African-American vote.
Tlaib needs to look, as she almost certainly already has, at the neighboring 5th state Senate District, where incumbent Democrat David Knezek, considered a “rising star” in political circles, won a Tlaib-style victory in 2014 because three black state legislators — David Nathan, Thomas Stallworth, and Shanelle Jackson (yup, same gal) — split up the African-American vote in an open seat contest that enabled the only prominent white name in the field (Knezek) to win with a plurality. But Knezek evidently didn’t realize that, once elected, a white legislator in such circumstances is a marked man. Accordingly, he must make like Cohen and compile a voting record, and on-the-ground, door-to-door relentless community presence, to try to make sure he keeps winning. Instead, Knezek was lulled into complacency, thinking he had NO opponent right up until the filing deadline last April, and then got blindsided by the unexpected candidacy of one Betty Jean Alexander, an unknown African-American who made it appear she had nothing going for her in this majority black district by filing a waiver that she would spend no more than a thousand bucks in her campaign. But her brother-in-law and political mentor, crafty former state Rep. Lamar Lemmons (D-Detroit), made sure she and her invisible campaign got the word out in Dearborn Heights, Inkster, Garden City and Redford Township that SHE was the black candidate and that Knezek wasn’t. That’s all it took. Knezek was toast, by a whopping 9%.
Many don’t realize that Michigan actually produced a SECOND Member of Congress (besides Cohen) in 2013-14 who was a white man representing a majority black district. That man was former U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, now U.S. Senator Gary Peters, who had been a two-term incumbent serving southeast Oakland County before he was thrown into the 14th CD under reapportionment. Worse for Peters, there was another Congressman (half-Bengali, half-black) in that district, Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit), so the two had to face each other in a 2012 Democratic primary. Peters, who had all the major Democratic/union endorsements, managed to win, but it was surprisingly close. Facing a re-election battle against what certainly would have been a challenge from an African-American in 2014, Peters was bailed out by Senator Carl Levin’s retirement. Peters happily gave up his 14th CD seat to run to succeed Levin. He was unopposed in the statewide Democratic primary and then easily dispatched the Republican nominee, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. Meanwhile, Brenda Lawrence, the African-American former mayor of Southfield, won the 2014 Dem primary and the general election in the 14th CD to take her seat alongside Conyers as the only two black Members from Michigan, both representing majority-minority districts.
In other words, if Tlaib wants to be more than a “one-term wonder,” she’ll have to put away her Alexandria Octavio-Cortez gear and suspend campaigning in other states for Muslim candidates. Instead, she should concentrate on convincing her African-American constituency that she deserves to be the female version of Steve Cohen on a permanent basis.
Visitors to TheBallengerReport.com website can listen to a one-of-a-kind list of predictions for Michigan’s Aug. 7 primary election, from Governor and U.S. Senate through Congress and the state Senate and state House of Representatives.
Bill Ballenger’s “Fearless Forecasts” are archived in “The Political Insider” radio program which is being broadcast on a dozen Michigan radio stations this week-end. The list is included in Episode #10 near the top of The Ballenger Report’s web page.
Episode #10 also includes an interview with EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn.
“The Political Insider” is carried by WFLN (1480) in Flint; WJIM (1240 in Lansing); WJRW (1340 AM) in Grand Rapids; WYPV (94.5 FM) in Mackinac City; WKLQ (1490 AM) in Muskegon; WWMN (106.3 FM) in Thompsonville; WJML (1110 AM) in Petoskey: WJNL (1210 AM) and WJML (101.1 FM) in Traverse City; and WHAK (960 AM) in Alpena/Rogers City.
No other Michigan news source has made such predictions about this year’s Aug. 7 primary election campaigns.
Former Michigan Gov. John Engler, the interim president of Michigan State University, said today he feels “tremendous progress” has been made during his six months on the job at putting in place mechanisms to prevent any recurrence of the Dr. Larry Nassar sex predator disaster, and inculcating a climate of safety and “changed attitudes” for undergraduates on the East Lansing campus.
Engler said the difference between news media coverage today and how the press covered Michigan’s 1977 PPB crisis, when thousands of cattle had to be destroyed after they had ingested feed contaminated with a fire retardant, is the absence of deep analysis of what happened, how and why.
“I remember (the PPB crisis) very well. It was a disaster. Donald Albosta (a St. Charles farmer) said, “I rode a dead cow to Washington” in the 1978 campaign for U.S. Representative in a northeast Lower Peninsula Congressional District. Democrat Albosta served three terms in Congress before being ousted in 1984 by a political neophyte named Bill Schuette (R-Midland).
“Yes, there were sensational elements about what happened with PPB and our experience at MSU with Larry Nassar, and the media covered those both times, as they should have,” said Engler. “But what’s missing today is the analysis of why everything happened as it did, and what are the options going forward. What is being done, how can we improve the situation and make sure it never happens again?”
Engler said he hoped his testimony before a U.S. Senate committee in Washington early this week will help alert other institutions of higher learning around the country that they must have policies and procedures in place to prevent any Nassar-like incidents from happening on their campuses.
Engler said he expects MSU’s new legal counsel, former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Young, will prevail in the university’s battle with its insurance carriers to “honor their policies” to help pay costs MSU incurred from the Nassar case, including a $500 million settlement with the victims. The university sued the insurance companies in Ingham Co. circuit court yesterday.
The ex-governor said he doesn’t feel the Michigan Legislature needs to do anything more dealing with the MSU/Nassar fiasco than it already has.
Engler answered questions for 20 minutes on Bill Ballenger’s “The Political Insider” talk radio show, airing statewide on a dozen Michigan stations this coming week-end.
Timing is everything, and the Gretchen Whitmer for Governor campaign evidently believes it can run out the clock on complaints that it is trashing Michigan’s campaign finance laws.
How else to explain a decision by a mysterious “dark money” group coordinating with Whitmer to spend at least $2 million between now and the Aug. 7 primary even if it means that, LATER, after this year’s elections are over, Whitmer and her campaign are willing to pay some $4 million in fines? After all, by then she’ll be governor and any campaign finance malfeasance will be overlooked or forgotten, or it will be easy to raise money to pay the penalty.
In this year’s Democratic Party gubernatorial primary, a soft-money 527 non-profit called Build a Better Michigan (BBM) has been broadcasting a 30-second ad featuring Whitmer, who appears in the ad and speaks directly into the camera. The ad is supposedly an “issue ad” like such ads run for Mark Schauer by the Democratic Governors Assn during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Sounds innocuous? Uh-oh! The ad superimposes the graphic “Gretchen Whitmer Candidate for Governor.” That makes it what is called “express advocacy.” Just putting “Candidate” before “for Governor” does not somehow exempt it from the charge that it is “express advocacy.”
So what are “express advocacy” ads? They are NOT what are called “issue ads,” meaning ads that do not contain words of express advocacy. Issue ads do not contain words of express advocacy for a particular candidate or cause, and therefore issue ads can be paid for using corporate or labor union funds WITHOUT public disclosure of the contributors.
That’s not what the BBM ads are. They are “express advocacy” ads for Gretchen Whitmer as a candidate for Governor. By the way, what IS BBM? It’s a Michigan non-profit corporation whose mailing address is 700 13th Street, NW, Suite 600, in Washington, D.C. 20005. Its directors and officers are Mark Burton, listed as director and president (Burton was chief of staff for Whitmer when she was Senate Minority Leader). A woman named Suzanne Shkreli, who was the defeated Democratic nominee against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI-8) two years ago, is listed as director and treasurer. Former state Senator Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit) is listed as a director and BBM secretary. He was the Democratic Minority Floor Leader when Whitmer was the Dems’ senate leader. In fact, if you’re looking for a plausible Democratic running mate as Lieutenant Gov. with Whitmer this coming November, he’s your man, along with ex-state legislator Buzz Thomas (D-Detroit).
The difference between issue and express advocacy ads began with the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Buckley vs. Valeo in 1976. That decision said that only “express advocacy” communications can be regulated, not advertisements centered on “issues.”
The high court’s decision contained a famous “footnote 52” that listed eight words or phrases that illustrated “express advocacy.” Those words were “vote for,” “vote against,” “elect,” “defeat,” “support,” “reject,” “cast your ballot for,” or a phrase to the effect of “(Whitmer) for (Governor).” Footnote 52 was intended to provide examples of speech that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the speaker was advocating for the election of a candidate or the passage or defeat of a ballot measure.
The court felt that limiting campaign finance laws to speech using express advocacy was necessary to avoid a “chilling effect” on speech about issues that are protected under the First Amendment.
In Michigan, the 1976 decision came into play four years ago when a technician in error added the words “for State Senate” into the graphics for TV ads for two Republican candidates for the state Senate, Ken Horn and Dale Zorn. Neither Horn nor Zorn spoke directly into the camera in the ads. The ads were supposed to be issue ads, but because of the technician’s error they instantly became advocacy ads. When the errors were discovered, the ads stopped and the ads were pulled from the stations. Campaign finance complaints were filed by the candidates’ Democratic opponents against the ad’s sponsor — the Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation (MJLF) — because the ads had violated various sections of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act stemming from the 1976 Buckley decision. The MJLF was forced to sign a conciliation agreement with Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, and fined $17,696.60, which was the civil levy equal to the cost of the two media buys that ran before the ads were pulled.
Flash forward to two weeks ago, when the Whitmer campaign began running its “Build a Better Michigan” ads while making essentially the same mistake that the MJLF made on behalf of Horn and Zorn in 2014.
Two complaints have now been filed against BBW — one by the Michigan Republican Party, the other by the Michigan Freedom Fund. However, BBW, unlike the MJLF in 20124, has made no effort to mitigate its violation by either pulling the ad or re-editing it in the studio to remove the offending “Gretchen Whitmer Candidate for Governor” graphic. Instead, BBM has doubled down — it continues its $2 million+ ad buy for Whitmer.
Is there any penalty for this? Yes, a fine equal to the $2 million buy could be imposed by the Secretary of State if she finds a violation of the MCFA has occurred and follows the 2014 MJLF precedent. Whitmer could be vulnerable to the same fine personally. This would be the highest civil penalty ever assessed under the MCFA in its entire history. How would Whitmer and her campaign pay off such a fine?
No problem. Ruth Johnson probably won’t respond to the complaints until September or October. Then BBM could be expected to take the matter into court and string the verdict out till after the election — an election Whitmer would have won using “funny money.” And the Democrats could also expect that a new Secretary of State, Democrat Jocelyn Benson, would be in office and not as eager as Johnson to apply justice.
Another example of trying to run out the clock? BBM is a soft money 527 organization that tells the Internal Revenue Service (Form 8871) that it is not regulated by either the Federal Election Commission (FEC) or any state disclosure agency (in Michigan, that would be the Secretary of State). BBM had a July 15 filing deadline with the IRS to disclose its contributions of $200 or more, or its expenditures of $500 or more. But BBM claimed it could not file its disclosure report (Form 8872) electronically, because it had not been issued a PIN number by the IRS. So BBM says it sent its report by snail mail U.S. Postal Service (what about Federal Express or UPS?), which may cause a “delay” in the report being posted on the IRS website (like, not until after the Aug. 7 primary election?)
Finally, the Whitmer campaign gave in to pressure from its critics on Monday, releasing voluntarily the list of BBM contributors. Prominent on the list were the Teamsters’ DRIVE committee, Emily’s List, UAW CAP, the Philip A. Hart Democratic Club and the Progressive Advocacy Trust.
Too bad one of Whitmer’s primary opponents, Abdul El-Sayed, who tried ineffectively to make an issue of Whitmer’s campaign finance shenanigans in the Democrats’ last gubernatorial debate, was either too timid or too ignorant of campaign finance law to press his case to what might have been a meaningful conclusion.
Now Whitmer and her BBM, with which she’s clearly in collusion, will continue to run their ads to the detriment of her Democratic opponents, El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar, over the next two weeks — and she’ll probably never have to pay the price.
FLINT, MI — A man who warned of possible dangers tied to showering in Flint water in 2016 now says it’s “extremely unlikely” bathing caused “significant adverse health effects” here.
Scott Smith, who worked with the nonprofit group Water Defense, made the comment in a guest blog, titled “Lessons I Learned in Flint and Clarifying the Facts,” which was posted on the website Flint Water Study Updates.
“When I made statements about the possible dangers from inhaling lead in showers and Flint residents potentially having problems from low blood pressure from the phosphates added to water to assist the recovery, this was based on superficial input and research unrelated to drinking water provided to me from toxicologists/trained scientists,” Smith wrote.
“Given what I now know, I should have indicated that significant adverse health effects from these issues was extremely unlikely, and my statements were opposite to those of scientific authorities leading the federal relief effort.”
In addition to Water Defense, Smith worked with local plumbers and the group Water You Fighting For to promote shower testing.
Although he maintained there was not enough data to draw conclusions about the safety of bathing in Flint, Smith also noted at the time that residents were suffering from skin rashes and said high levels of disinfection byproducts in city water may have been the cause.
Smith announced some of his findings on testing of Flint water in a news conference in Flint City Hall in April 2016.
At that time, he said testing in water heaters showed elevated lead levels between 30 parts per billion and 1,100 ppb.
Federal health and environmental officials said months later that they were unable to find a definitive link between Flint water and rashes reported by residents.
In 2017, a study by Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards said shower water from Flint tested similar to water sampled from three other communities and did not have unusually high levels of disinfection byproducts.
On Friday, July 13, Smith said he wrote the 12-page guest blog to eliminate any confusion over his work and to encourage additional conversation about the lack of standards for bath and shower water.
“If you make a mistake, it’s OK to own it,” he said.
Elon Musk’s offer to help get clean water to Flint drew praise from some and derision from others Thursday as the billionaire tech entrepreneur continued to make waves on social media.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has not yet heard directly from Musk, but her spokeswoman said Thursday that “all we thought was ‘Thank God'” when the Tesla Inc. founder pledged a day earlier to help the city recover from its lead-contaminated water crisis.
“There are several different ways he could help,” said Flint public information officer Candice Mushatt, though she declined to offer specifics. “We’ve been saying, ‘Don’t take your eyes off Flint.’ This is not over.”
Mushatt said one of Musk’s associates reached out Wednesday evening for Weaver’s phone number. In a tweet Thursday morning from China, which is 12 hours ahead of Michigan, Musk said he would call Friday.
But at least two people — a significant investor in Musk’s Tesla automobile company, and a Virginia Tech professor whose work helped uncover the damage done to Flint residents through its tainted pipes — did not share the city officials’ enthusiasm as Weaver awaits that call.Challenged by Twitter users, Musk had said Wednesday, “Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels. No kidding.”
Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards, noting that Musk had cited FDA levels when he should have said EPA, also pointed out that “Mr. Musk did not seem to be aware that Flint residents are already getting free lead filters from the state.”
“He should be more focused on meeting his Tesla production goals,” Edwards said in an email to The Detroit News, “rather than trying to meet non-existent FDA drinking water standards.”
Musk had been in headlines earlier in the week for offering a mini-submarine to the rescuers retrieving 12 young soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand.
Asked if he knew of anything unaddressed in Flint that Musk might help with, Edwards responded, “donate a mini-mini-submarine, so that Flint residents and all America can see the horrible state of their water infrastructure — that is one problem that is not fully being addressed.”
Only hours before Musk’s announcement on Flint, Tesla’s fourth-largest shareholder had urged him to focus on improving production figures for the Tesla 3, which has hundreds of thousands of deposit-paying customers awaiting delivery.
James Anderson, a partner and portfolio manager at Baillie Gifford & Co., told Bloomberg Television that “a time of quiet and peace is what is needed to work through these issues. It would be good to just concentrate on the core task.”
But Sandy Pensler, a Grosse Pointe financier running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, announced Thursday he would add $500,000 of his own money to whatever Musk undertakes.
Pensler issued a statement crediting Musk with “a very interesting idea on how to ensure remaining homes get clean water — and to do it fast. According to the EPA, there has been tremendous progress in water quality, but by installing high-end filtration systems at houses still under impact we can fix any remaining problems within a few days.”
“To Elon, I will put $500,000 of my own funds behind this,” he said. “Let’s be innovative. Everyone put politics aside and fix the remaining problems. Elon Musk has my support.”
About 37 percent of Flint’s estimated 18,000 lead water service lines have been replaced with copper piping, Mushatt said, and the goal is to complete work on the rest by the end of 2019.
About 90 percent of the high-risk sites in Flint have been testing below federal action levels of 15 parts per billion for nearly two years, according to state regulators.
The state lets Flint residents get their water tested for free and continues to provide free water filters, replacement cartridges and water test kits.
The Detroit News reported Wednesday that many residents don’t trust that their water is pure even if their pipes have been replaced.
JACKSON, MI – Musical motifs of “Auld Lang Syne” and “Happy Trails” trumpeted from the loudspeakers.
Bittersweet onlookers stood, clapped and readied their cameras for photos and videos to chronicle the Jackson Harness Raceway’s closing chapter.
The wings on the starter car were drawn in for the last time at the Jackson County Fairgrounds at 4:58 p.m. on Sunday, July 8, as the 12th and final race in the Remembering Jackson Harness event began.
Two minutes and 3 seconds later, Kandy King – driven by Jackson’s own Kim Pluta – crossed the finish line first in the open trot race.
“Coming around the last turn, he had a tear in his eye,” said event co-organizer Claudia Davidson, who spoke with Pluta after the race. “It was a bittersweet day.”
The exhibition event comes 10 years after the raceway closed and just weeks ahead the track’s scheduled demolition. Jackson Harness Raceway opened in 1948.
Co-organizer Mike Way expected 2,000 to 3,000 to attend the free farewell event. Instead, he estimates 6,000 to 7,000 showed up and came to life for the dozen two-lap races.
“The roar of that crowd is what I’m going to remember forever. That was so loud, I was taken aback,” Way said. “That just reinforces the passion that’s out there for harness racing.”
Lines at the concessions queued to the parking lot. Numerous lots surrounding the venue filled to capacity hours before the racing began. All 1,000 event programs were purchased in the first few hours.
Those still seeking one of the retro-designed programs can still buy one by connecting with organizers through the Remembering Jackson Harness Facebook page.
All event proceeds, which Way estimates at $6,000 to $7,000, will go to the Jackson County 4-H program.
Getting up close and personal
One of the draws to Sunday’s event was increased access for fans new and old. Jog-cart rides put fans in a two-seater cart with a professional for a lap around the half-mile track.
Mic Dreffs, a Jacksonian who retired from harness racing earlier this year, donned his colors while volunteering to help with the rides. He never won a race at the raceway, but has fond memories of the place – including witnessing Bred To Be The Best set the track record of 1:54.4.
“The little kids, when they’re high-fiving me, they’re actually hurting my hand they’re hitting me so hard – they’re so excited about riding on it,” Dreffs said.
“I wish this was still going on. This was a family thing,” Friend said. “The kids growing up now, they don’t know what they’re missing.”
An encore for the drivers
No prize money was awarded to winners of each race – although all racers received $150 for coming, Davidson said. Most came back to honor the raceway’s final event and promote the sport.
Among the drivers was Croswell native Steve Oldford – who has two wins at the track. Oldford started coming to Jackson as a kid to watch his father’s horses race. By the time he was 12, he was already getting his feet wet in the sport.
“As my friend would say, you’re 30 inches off the ground, you’re going 30 mph, you’ve got 1,000 pounds in front of you and you’ve got no brakes,” Oldford said. “There’s nothing more exhilarating.”
Oldford raced at two of New York’s highest paying raceways the previous weekend, but said the energy in Jackson trumped them both.
“This crowd dwarfs the combined crowd that they had. It’s just unfortunate that we don’t have more racing in Michigan,” Oldford said. “The size of the crowd is unbelievable out here. It’s thrilling to see. But the bad news is, this is it.”
In addition to welcoming new fans into the fold and honoring Jackson Harness Raceway’s history, event organizers hoped to convince Michigan legislators, a few of whom were in attendance, that harness racing is worth saving.
“The general public, they’ll bet on if the sun comes up or not,” Davidson said. “They want to game. In order for us to get into the new modern era, we need to have alternative gaming.”
Gambling wasn’t allowed during Sunday’s event. However, fans could purchase tickets to place in a box of the horses they thought would win. A winning ticket was drawn after each race, with prizes awarded from local sponsors.
So there were no exactas, trifectas or superfectas in Sunday’s races. But the potential to bring home big bucks wasn’t the reason drivers and fans alike packed the fairgrounds for one final time.
“There were a lot of tears,” Way said. “If you didn’t believe there was a passion for harness racing, you learned it today.”
Longtime Michigan pollster Steve Mitchell went out on a limb several times Friday, predicting that President Donald Trump will nominate federal appellate judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday and then, next fall, shut down the U.S. government in a budget battle with Congress.
Mitchell, who is president of Mitchell Research & Communications, said he thinks the high court pick will come down to Kavanaugh and another appeals court judge, Michigan’s Raymond Kethledge, but that Kavanaugh will get the nod. Indiana’s Amy Barrett and Michigan’s Joan Larsen won’t make the final cut, he said, even though it would be a smart political move for Trump to appoint a woman.
Mitchell says he thinks the president — any president — always wins in a government shutdown battle with Congress, and that this is one way for Trump to finally get the support from Congress he needs to build a wall across the U.S. southern border, thereby firing up the conservative base that Republicans need to turn out at the polls in the Nov. 6 general election.
Talking on “The Political Insider” syndicated radio network that will be aired this week-end on at least 10 stations throughout Michigan, Mitchell said he thinks Attorney General Bill Schuette will hold off Lt. Gov. Brian Calley for the Republican nomination for Governor in the Aug. 7 primary, and that former state Senator Gretchen Whitmer will win the Democratic nod on the same day.
Mitchell says he finds it hard to believe businessman/Iraq war veteran John James can overcome the huge financial advantage that multi-millionaire Sandy Pensler has enjoyed with his prolific TV ads for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. And even if incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow starts out with a big edge over the GOP Senate nominee, the presence of Super PACs and various independent issue-oriented spending groups means that she can’t take anything for granted — the Republican nominee may well be able to match her dollar-for-dollar in a chaotic, unpredictable political climate.
Because she enjoys the same kind of advantage in campaign spending in the 11th Congressional District that Pensler enjoys in his race for the U.S. Senate, Lena Epstein should win the Republican nomination in that CD, says Mitchell. He also believes Suneel Gupta is the likely winner of the Democratic primary in the same district, for the same reason.
There is no question Democrats “are really fired up” this year and will turn out in November if it’s for no other reason than to “send a message” to Trump, Mitchell said. “The question is whether the Republicans will turn out with equal intensity.”
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