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Roy Schmidt goes from political prize to the GOP’s white elephant

There was a continued drip, drip, drip of new details to emerge in the state Representative Roy Schmidt ballot scandal. The latest: a new set of text messages obtained by The Detroit Free Press and MLive.com from the Kent County prosecutor’s office.

"Dirty as hell"

One text is from Schmidt’s nephew to Matt Mozjak , the patsy who Schmidt recruited to appear on the ballot as a sham Democrat to ensure that he wouldn't have a real Democratic opponent once he made his jump to the Republican Party as a part of a scheme hatched with state House Speaker Jase Bolger.

In one of the texts, Schmidt’s nephew writes to Mozcak, “obviously my uncle is dirty as hell” and, “he’s got a lot of powerful [people] behind him.”

And it just keeps piling up on Schmidt.  The first state House Republican – Representative Ken Yonker, also from the Grand Rapids area – has endorsed a write-in opponent in the Republican primary. Schmidt has gone from a trophy for the House Republicans to a white elephant.

None of which, of course, is good news for House Speaker Jase Bolger, who continues to resist calls to step down as the top dog in the House. The pressure, however, has not reached anything close to critical mass.

Save me... from myself

So, what does a politician do when he's been caught in a political scandal? Well, how about introducing some legislation? House Republicans have drafted new election  reform bills. But Democrats are calling it hypocritical. “I find it fascinating that the speaker of the House is issuing press releases about election reforms because he’s the one who got caught," said Democratic state Representative Barb Byrum.

Republican State Representative Roy Schmidt and Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger

Election reform: The issue du jour

Now, Democrats have their own elections package and they say they’re coming up with more.  It appears the stage is set for a whole lot of election reform one-upsmanship in the state House. Bolger says only serious election reforms will be considered - he wants nothing that’s about scoring political points. But, Democrats say Republicans don’t have credibility on this issue.

The Keating Five

The question remains: can Bolger salvage his reputation? It got us thinking back to the 1989 Keating Five scandal. Charles Keating owned a savings and loan and made substantial political donations to U.S. Senators Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini, John Glenn, John McCain and Michigan’s own Don Riegle. Those Senators then called off federal regulators investigating Keatings’s operation – which went belly up and cost taxpayers billions. The scandal ended the career of Sen. Don Riegle and three others.  But not John McCain. He embraced reform.

McCain became one of the sponsors of bipartisan McCain-Fiengold – Russ Fiengold was a Democrat – which created limits on political donations. McCain successfully jujitsued his scandal and became known as one of the fiercest advocates for cleaning up campaign finance.

Bipartisanship in Lansing?

One wonders if we might soon see some bipartisan in Lansing. Could Democrats and Republicans come together and compromise on an election reform package? It’s certainly not an easy question to answer. A lot would likely have to change. Is all this really about showing the public that they've got their act together and want to restore confidence in the House and House leadership? Or, is this really about making the other guys look less-than-sincere about cleaning up the state's election laws? Furthermore, Rep. Bolger has made no secret of the fact that his hobby and his passion is crushing Democrats.  And, Democrats are certainly enjoying watching their nemesis squirm.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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