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Machination in Michigan: Rep. Roy Schmidt and the offer he couldn't refuse

Politics can be messy. Politics can be confusing. But, that certainly doesn't mean politics can't be a total thrilling joy-ride. Every Friday afternoon Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta  sit down for a fast-paced spin around Michigan politics.

ZC: It’s Just Politics. I’m Zoe Clark.

RP:And, I’m Rick Pluta.

ZC: We start this week with a tale of intrigue, deception,  and – dare I say it? Betrayal.

RP: Yes, Zoe. A defection. This has not happened in Lansing since the 1990s. Democrats thought they had a reasonably safe seat in the 76th state House District in Grand Rapids... Competitive but marginally Democratic with a strong incumbent in Representative Roy Schmidt.

ZC: But then….A tergiversation,  a flip.

On Tuesday, ten minutes before the filing deadline for November’s election, Democratic Representative Roy Schmidt from Grand Rapids changed parties. He withdrew himself from the race as a Democrat and re-filed as a Republican. At almost the same moment, Matt Mojzak – a political unknown, a friend of Schmidt’s nephew, as it turns out, apparently a patsy, filed to be his Democratic opponent.

RP: A weak, unknown opponent, an almost certain loser in November.

To Democrats, Schmidt is now a turncoat… he’s been called a Judas by fellow – or former  fellow should I say - Democrats.

ZC: Republicans, however, gave the man a standing ovation at the state Capitol a day after the news broke.

RP: A lot of Democrats are asking, 'How did this happen?'

This was a weeks-long project personally led by Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger who negotiated with Schmidt, first by phone, than it culminated in a meeting Monday night at Bolger’s home.  Schmidt says it was the attraction of working in the majority, and he felt Democrats weren’t getting things done. He says it wasn’t a big flip for him to go from being a moderate Democrat to a moderate Republican.

So, Tuesday afternoon, minutes before the deadline, the same person drops off Schmidt’s paperwork and the papers for his nominally Democratic opponent, leaving the real Democrats with no time to recruit a credible candidate.

ZC: But now, faced with the glare of publicity. Democrats are calling for investigations. They're talking election fraud.

RP: It appears Mojzak may not have met the residency requirement to run, which is tricky to prove. So, how does a politically inexperienced 20-something respond to the possibility of legal action? Mr. Mojzak, who came out of nowhere, did not respond to any media inquiries about his candidacy, abruptly withdrew his name from the ballot.

ZC: Which anyone can do up until 4 o-clock this afternoon.

RP: That clears the way for a write-in campaign to put a Democratic nominee on the November ballot.

ZC: So, Rick, what might the Democrats have done otherwise?

RP: Oh, the intrigue. With a Democrat already on the primary ballot, a write-in campaign to defeat him would have been a tough slog. It’s difficult to get done. But maybe get a candidate to file as an independent. It’s not too late for that. And then throw the party’s resources behind getting that candidate elected. Or run a third party, a minor party candidate. They nominate candidates at conventions. The Democrats could have made a deal to endorse and back a third party nominee against Roy Schmidt.

ZC: But now, it’s looking like a write-in campaign. Might some Republicans want to meddle in that?

RP: Only if the engaged GOP voter wants to forego their right to vote in the Republican primary, which means not participating in a crowded, competitive GOP Senate primary. Doesn’t seem likely. 

ZC: Any write-in candidate names yet?

RP:  I’ve heard former Representative and minister Robert Dean. He made a run for the state Senate a couple years ago. Didn’t win.  But he still has one House term left under term limits if he wants to run.  There was another state Senate candidate from the last round, David LaGrande. He might pose a challenge. Whoever runs will have to live in the district. I suspect residency will be closely watched here.

ZC: So, it sounds like Representative Schmidt went from the catbird seat to what could turn out to be a pretty bitter grudge match.

RP: I think we can expect Democrats to throw a lot at this race. And if Democrats see their chances of re-gaining House control slipping away – they now have an 11-seat deficit in the state House -- they might throw even more into it just to extract their revenge in the 76th district.

ZC: Rick Pluta is Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network.

RP: And, Zoe Clark is Michigan Radio’s resident Political Junkie.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
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