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GOP can’t control Agema while Dems confront the ‘Obama Quandary’

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Before we dive into this week's It's Just Politics, we gotta give a shout out to the Washington Post who named co-host Rick Pluta one of Michigan's best state capitol reporters in America. Cheers, Rick!

“We are reinventing Michigan,” said Gov. Rick Snyder inlast night's State of the State address; an address that could (in a much-abbreviated form) double as a reelection campaign speech. It was filled with a lot of good news of revenue surpluses, money for early childhood and schools, etc.

A little something for everyone.

For conservatives -- who have not fully embraced this governor -- Snyder joined the call for a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution. For moderates and independents, Snyder used the speech to try quell some of the controversy that’s being created within and about the Michigan Republican Party.

Here’s what he said: “Publicly tonight, I’d like to make a call to all citizens of Michigan, to ask us to have a greater degree of civility and respect towards others of different backgrounds and different views. The future of Michigan is dependent on having people understand that differences are a positive power, that we can find common ground and let’s work to bring Michiganders together, not divide us.”

Make no mistake, though, that is not a call to “all citizens of Michigan.” That is a call to one Michigander - Dave Agema - former state representative and current Michigan Republican National Committeeman who has become nationally famous (or infamous) for his speeches and Facebook posts. Comments on gays and lesbians (that they lie to get health benefits to treat AIDS) and that Muslims have not contributed anything to American society have provoked a fierce backlash.

And Republican leaders are concerned that beyond being offensive, Agema’s ongoing commentaries are making it harder to elect Republicans.

Now, Snyder has resisted joining the call for Agema to step down, and GOP leaders say there’s nothing they can do under party rules to actually remove Agema. But would that be the case if Dave Agema had made similar comments regarding other groups? It was once safe to say things about Catholics, Jews, African Americans, to name a few, that are unacceptable in public life today. Asking “Have you ever seen a Jew do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?” would be simply out of bounds today.

Anyway, what Dave Agema has to say about whatever or whomever is just one thing that’s outside of Snyder’s control as he prepares to formally launch his reelection bid. We’ll focus for a moment on just one of the other things he can’t dictate : the economy. (That’s right. We said it. Politicians do not control the economy.)

And, if the economic recovery continues, who gets the lift? The credit? Rick Snyder might be the beneficiary. But so might President Obama. And that would suit Democrats just fine. That’s because the president of the United States is a vessel, a political vessel, by which the entirety of his (so far, POTUS has always been a him) party is judged. Whether or not he’s on the ballot, a president’s popularity is an overwhelming factor in the prospects for every other member of the party running for something.

Which is why the Democrats’ likely nominee for governor, Mark Schauer, would certainly like to see some improvement in President Obama’s dismal job approval ratings. Again, a factor he can’t control. But then, there was that unforced error, when news broke (MIRSnews.com was first to the story) that United Auto Workers President Bob King is -- or was -- still casting about for a different Democratic candidate for governor even as his party seemed settled on Schauer. A tempest in a teapot, certainly, but this is not the sort of thing a candidate wants circulating. Or Democratic Party leaders. But, after this got leaked, King quickly said he expects the UAW will endorse Schauer.

But this also speaks to what we’re calling the Democrats’ “Obama Quandary.” Or the “Granholm-Obama-and-maybe-Hillary Clinton Quandary.” Democrats, especially here in Michigan, have grown used to nominating and electing ground-breaking candidates. And there is a thrill factor in helping to make history.  But not this year as Michigan governor’s race is shaping up to be a couple of white guys from Battle Creek.

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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