April 19 2018 11:03 AM

DeWeese seeks political comeback

Paul DeWeese may be knocking on your door soon for support in his bid to return to the state legislature.

Meanwhile, though, the former House member from the Lansing area is knocking on other doors — to deliver packages for a commercial delivery service.

That’s quite a change in circumstance for DeWeese, 62. Until three years ago, he was a medical doctor operating two private practices.

Now, he wears a red knit shirt bearing the delivery service’s insignia. He drives a used white van delivering packages for Staples, Walmart and other companies. He gets $1 per package. Some days he loads thousands of pounds.

DeWeese, who served in the House from 1998 to 2002, surrendered his medical license three years ago as part of settling a civil suit that alleged he had violated the federal Controlled Substances Act in his addiction practice.

DeWeese said he overprescribed opioids and other drugs because he was too “caring” of patients, who sold their medications on the street in order to obtain heroin.

“I probably wasn’t the best suited to treat people with addiction,” DeWeese said, “because on the scale of wariness vs. care, I was way over on the care side.”

DeWeese faced bigger legal problems two years ago, when he pleaded guilty to health care fraud in a separate neuropathy practice. He was sentenced to three years’ probation and 250 hours of community service.

About $1 million is what the twin expriences have cost him, when you add up fines, restitution and legal fees, DeWeese estimates.

The delivery work fulfills a requirement of probation to have a job. He also receives a monthly Social Security payment.

DeWeese said the decline in income has been easier because he has “never really lived a lavish lifestyle.”

Indeed, it’s something of a return to his upbringing, which he described as “lower middle class,” with clothes from the Salvation Army.

Raised in Grand Haven, DeWeese put himself through Hope College in Holland and medical school at Wayne State University, in both cases with considerable help from government scholarships and loans.

“As a physician, I was one of the people they’d say, ‘You really pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps.’ That’s nonsense. I had to study hard, but if it wasn’t for private scholarships but especially the government providing loans and scholarship grants, I would never have been able to go to college” or medical school.

DeWeese no longer buys into the quintessentially Republican philosophy of the selfmade man overcoming obstacles by hard work alone.

He was raised a Republican — he said his police-officer father belonged to the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. He was elected twice to the House as a Republican from the suburban Lansing 67th District. He was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for the state Senate in 2002, losing to future Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

But several years ago, DeWeese switched sides. Today, he is running for the Democratic nomination for the 68th state House seat, which Andy Schor gave up after he was elected Lansing’s mayor last November. DeWeese lives in Lansing Township near Waverly Road.

DeWeese said his doubts about being a Republican were sown while in the House two decades ago. He recalled two issues that put him on the road to reshaping his political views.

One was prevailing wage, which he said Republicans wanted to repeal.

“I fought for prevailing wage,” DeWeese said, even though the Michigan Chamber of Commerce “was just livid with me and the governor as well,” referring to John Engler, now the interim president of Michigan State University.

“I didn’t even know what prevailing wage was,” DeWeese recalled, when the House Republican caucus was debating it. But, he said, “I went and talked to union workers and came to the conclusion to be on the side of public policy that supports workers earning a living wage.”

The other issue was an anti-bullying bill to protect gay students. “My caucus refused to support that, and I just remember being so disappointed and angry. I said, ‘What we’re doing here by not supporting this law is saying it’s open season on gay students.

You’ve got to be kidding. I’m ashamed.’” Another departure from his upbringing is his Catholicism.

“My family was very anti-Catholic,” said DeWeese, but over time he found the social activism side of the religion appealed to him. He even went to India to work with Mother Teresa.

His faith has also helped him endure his fall from grace in the last few years.

“It has strengthened me,” DeWeese said. “Humility is of great importance in Catholicism.”

“By confronting our own personal wrongs, you’re able to say, ‘I’m a fallible person. I’ve made errors. I’ve made poor choices.’” And in doing so, he added, you find “that’s not all you’re defined by. You’re not defined by the worst thing you’ve ever done.”

“We’re a composite.”