- Question: Detroit Police Chief James Craig has announced he’s retiring June 1. He says he will make a decision whether he will run for public office after that time. If so, will it be for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2022? GOP leaders are giddy in their belief they finally will have a ‘top tier’ candidate who can sweep Gretchen Whitmer out of office. One public relations maven says a Craig candidacy would be a “game changer.” Is it?
1. Answer: Not yet — there’s a long way to go. Although candidates with law enforcement credentials have certain built-in advantages, there is much more to being a candidate for political office, particularly for a major one like governor, than simply being able to show that you once wore the badge, even if you did a good job of it. In fact, the Republicans, and even some ostensibly non-partisan candidates, have a less-than-exemplary track record over the past seven decades when running for high office in Michigan. Look at the list of who fell short not so long ago, and even back into the 1950s. Oakland Co. Sheriff Mike Bouchard won a competitive GOP primary in 2006 but then got waxed by incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the general election. Before that, it was Gil “Beverly Hills Cop” Hill, who was a commander in the Detroit police department and later president of the Detroit city council. He had a lot of key endorsements, but he lost to then-state Rep. Kwame Kilpatrick in the non-partisan race for Detroit mayor in 2001. Earlier, the Republicans in 1986 nominated Bill Lucas, who was the Wayne Co. Executive after serving as Wayne Co. Sheriff; Lucas was decimated by sitting Gov. James Blanchard in the general although Lucas went on later to be elected a judge. In 1973, Detroit Police Chief John Nichols finished first in the non-partisan primary for Detroit mayor, but then lost the finale to state Senator Coleman Young. Nichols recovered by moving to Oakland Co. and was elected sheriff as a Republican. Way back in 1954, in the last race that might be truly analogous to the current situation if Craig should become the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee next year, a former Detroit Police Commissioner (that’s what the ‘chief’ was called in those days) named Donald Leonard was the Republicans’ nominee for governor against incumbent G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, who was then seeking his fourth consecutive two-year term. Soapy clobbered Leonard in a year when the Democrats swept every major statewide office. So Craig has to prove he is a bona fide political commodity. He has to show he can raise campaign cash, and he probably won’t get a free ride to the GOP nomination — he’ll likely have to beat one or more opponents whether they are considered top-notch or not. There are a whole bunch of social/cultural issues that will be in play that he’ll have to deal with adroitly. It will help that he won’t have the “baggage” that other candidates have accumulated from years in office, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be judged by his ability to address the issues in a coherent way.
2. Q: Will Donald TRUMP play a role in Michigan’s 2022 gubernatorial race — and if so — what will that role likely be?
2. Answer: Almost certainly, but will it be more significant in the Republican primary, or in the general election? You might imagine James Craig would be the perfect kind of candidate for Trump to get behind. The former president weighed in on the special election in Texas’s 6th Congressional district two weeks ago, and the primary candidate he endorsed, Susan Wright, finished first in a 23-candidate field, although she faces a runoff. It was a jungle primary, and Democrats were completely locked out of the finale. The Republican aggregate vote overpowered the Democrats, 62%-37% in a district that Trump carried by only 3% in 2020. Trump can be expected to endorse both in Michigan’s GOP gubernatorial primary, and in the general, where he would most likely sweep in and deliver a stem-winder against his old bete-noire, “The woman from Michigan.”
3. Q. Just a week ago, potential top-notch contenders for a Michigan GOP gubernatorial bid seemed stuck in a holding pattern waiting for John JAMES to decide whether he was running or not — and, if so — realistically how long could they wait?
3. Answer: No matter — nobody is waiting anymore. If James Craig jumps into the race, it’s a signal that James won’t run, if indeed he was even seriously considering it. Yes, others not considered top tier have already announced, but will they actually follow through with it? Someone with a lot of money could decide to take a shot at it, but who would that be? There are no signs of a 2009-10 Rick Snyder out there. Yes, their financial advantage could propel them to run no matter what someone like Craig might eventually decide, but it seems unlikely.
4. Q. Politically speaking, who benefits most from Gov. Gretchen WHITMER’s decision to tie lifting COVID-19 restrictions to the percentage of Michiganders who get vaccinated?
4. Answer: If all the benchmark metrics for vaccination are met as projected by the governor, it’s hard to see anybody but Whitmer getting the political benefit, if any is to be had. Even if she’s bungled her handling of the pandemic over the past year, her latest strategy — out of left field, with many questions about it still unanswered — is actually what Republicans have argued should have been done a long time ago. They won’t get any credit for her change of heart, however. One caveat: we aren’t out of the woods yet with COVID-19. There’s still plenty of time for the governor to make a hash out of something else that will prove to be more important to voters than her latest vaccination regimen.
5. Q. With two State House members being charged with drunk driving over the last couple of weeks, how much pressure is now on House Speaker Jason WENTWORTH (R-Clare) to treat them both in precisely the same way?
5. Answer: Drunk driving incidents look like snowflakes — they’re all the same, yet they’re all different. There are obvious differences between what happened with Rep. Jewell Jones (D-Inkster) and his reaction to it, and Rep. Bryan Posthumus (R-Greenville) and how he handled things afterwards. Jones’s troubles are all on video. I’m not sure whether any House Speaker should have a role in any of this, and if he does he’d better be very careful. One of these legislators is a Democrat, one a Republican. The Speaker is a Republican. Whether there should be any internal, “in-House” punishment of either legislator beyond what the law metes out in their respective cases is problematic.
Steve Stockmeyer says
Bill — wasn’t Don Leonard the State Police Commissioner when he ran for Governor?
Shaun McParland says
Bill is correct about the 1954 election. Don Leonard was the Detroit Police Department Commissioner from 1952-1954. He then resigned from DPD and ran for governor. Previous to serving as DPD Commissioner, Leonard was the Michigan State Police Commissioner. He resigned from the MSP in 1952 and made his first run for governor. Ultimately, Don Leonard was elected as a Detroit Recorder’s Court judge in the 1960’s after serving a stint with Michigan Liquor Control.
John Stewart says
Right on point. James Craig was tepid today I didn’t see any fire in the belly. Republicans are looking good to maintain a majority in the State House.
Walt Sorg says
To amplify the most recent analogous race: Wayne County Sheriff Bill Lucas lost to Jim Blanchard’s reelection campaign 68%-31%. And Blanchard basically stopped campaign during the final two weeks of October.
In addition to the political profiles of the two candidates (career cop vs. career politician), Michigan’s economy was booming, incumbent Governor was a reasonably charismatic figure who was an excellent campaigner, both Dem incumbents were proteges of Frank Kelley.
Nationally, Lucas was not helped by the massively popular Republican President (Ronald Reagan, 60% approval in Fall of 1986 according to Gallup) which didn’t seem to hurt Blanchard; right now, Biden approval is 57% right now according to Gallup) and Biden is friend and fan of Whitmer..
Only African-American has been elected to statewide office in Michigan on his own merits: Richard Austin. Multiple women have been elected and reelected: Jocelyn Benson, Dana Nessel, Jennifer Granholm (Governor and AG), Debbie Stabenow, Ruth Johnson, Terri Lynn Land, Candace Miller.
The profile of the only two governors in recent history who were not experienced politicians were two wealthy business people (Romney, Snyder).
The past is no predictor, but it amplifies the potential historic obstacles facing Chief Craig.
Jerome Dallas Winegarden Jr says
Hi Bill -Ho Hum Article .Until The GOP gets rid
Of the Political Radicals .They are Sunk in Michigan !
The Hinterland is actively responding to the Demons
Left by 45 ! Oh and Former Governor Snider
Aren’t They Republican?
Dennis Muchmore says
Commenting on one of Bill’s articles and the reactions to it encourages the use of some horse racing metaphors. When horses get all lathered up during a race, the walkers make sure they warm down and cool off the horse before they pour cool water on them. Political people should follow that example. It’s a long race and wishing and hoping won’t bring the horse across the line first, and that goes for all the ones in the race.
David Waymire says
You left out the necessary drug testing anyone crazy enough to want to be governor should face. 🙂
Christopher Kelly says
Bill: The other day I was driving and WJR said you were going to be on and comment on this subject well I arrived at my destination before you were on and I hurried to get done what I had to do and by the time I was back you had been on…..so thank you for you for your valued thoughts. -CSK