Oct. 29 2008 12:00 AM

Lansing plumbers and Acorn workers and last week’s preside

Look, my friends, this past week has given rise to political turmoil involving plumbers, community organizations and the presidential candidates with whom they are linked.

In one instance we have your everyday, run-of-the-mill Joe, who also happens to be a non-licensed plumber, and then we also have a community organization under investigation for trying to register Disney characters and professional football players to vote. To get a local perspective on these issues, we hit the streets in the Lansing area to find politically active plumbers and allegedly fraudulent voter registration organizations.

The headquarters of the Lansing chapter of Acorn — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — is in an office building along Center Street. It was there that Carrie Guzman showed off a map of Acorn’s voter registration drives.

“That’ll give you an idea of why everyone is so upset,” Guzman, Lansing Acorn’s financial justice director, sliding the map across a conference table, said. The map showed 18 states in which Acorn has worked over the last year to register around 1.2 million voters; the group has registered a lot of people in “swing” states, including hundreds of thousands each in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and here in Michigan.

Guzman thinks that all the heat Acorn has caught from a few county clerks and some Republicans is an attempt to suppress first-time voters — most of whom are minorities under the age of 30. Guzman doesn’t deny some Acorn “canvassers” around the country have forged voter registration forms, probably to make it appear that they signed up more voters than they actually did. The canvassers are paid $8/hour for their services, but there is no quota.

However, Guzman said a canvasser who consistently performs poorly would be let go. When Acorn hires canvassers, they are taught voting laws and then sent out into the field for one hour to sign up voters. If the potential canvassers like what they are doing, they are hired and sent out into the field full time. But before they leave the office, they are made to sign a form stating that they understand what fraud is. When the canvassers go into the field, the number of blank voter registration forms they take with them are tracked; if they come back with fewer forms, they are held accountable. After that, Acorn workers visually inspect each registration form and call the telephone numbers to verify that the people who filled them out exist.

Guzman said that no voter registration forms from the Lansing office have been flagged fraudulent, but there have been some errors. One man put down his child’s birthday as his own; another woman filled out two forms in one day because, Guzman said, the woman thought that if she filled out two, one was bound to get through.

But, Guzman pointed out, it would be impossible to register Donald Duck because he would never be issued a voter ID card. L a n s i n g City Clerk Chris Swope said that paying people to register votes is probably not good, and the Acorn scare may be result of canvassers’ trying to make a buck. “I think the people who may have perpetrated this, their goal was to make money from Acorn,” Swope said. “I don’t get a sense it’s any attempt to defraud the actual voting system.”

Swope also said that some forms that may look fishy turn out to be the fault of the person who filled it out: Some are illiterate and may mess up the spelling of their name, street or county, or transpose the numbers in their address.

“I remember someone putting down 2233 when they lived at 3322,” Swope said. “When I called, the mom said, ‘Yeah, that’s my son.’” There has so far been one arrest in Michigan of an Acorn canvasser.

Attorney General Mike Cox issued a press release Oct. 14 announcing felony voter registration charges against Antonio Johnson, 23, for filling out six registration forms without permission of the people whom he had signed up. Johnson was working for a Jackson Acorn voter registration drive in June when he allegedly committed the fraud.

Again, the people whose names were used to fill out the registration forms were not issued voter ID cards because the Jackson city clerk caught the error.

Cox spokesman John Sellek declined to say whether more individuals would be charged with voter registration fraud this year. Sellek did say that Johnson told Jackson police that he felt pressured by Acorn to collect voter registrations, but Cox isn’t planning on bringing charges against the group.

But there have also been efforts to purge Michigan voters. The Republican Party in Macomb County tried to drop voters whose homes had been foreclosed, which was first reported by the online newspaper the Michigan Messenger. A lawsuit against the Republican National Committee brought by the Democratic National Committee, Macomb County residents and the Barack Obama campaign was settled Monday, with both sides agreeing that having your house foreclosed is not a reason to be denied the right to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups also recently won a suit against Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land that struck down a state law that said any voters whose registration cards were returned by the post office would not be allowed to vote. According to The Detroit Free Press, nearly 1,500 people since Jan. 1 were purged because of this law. But enough with all this depressing talk of fraud and disenfranchised voters: The real story on America’s collective mind last week was that of Joe “the plumber” Wurzelbacher, the 36-yearold single father, American dreamer and delinquent tax-payer who was mentioned by McCain 23 times during last Wednesday’s final presidential debate. Wurzelbacher had confronted Obama, with television cameras rolling, two weekends ago at a campaign stop in Toledo about the Illinois senator’s plans to tax anyone who makes over $250,000 per year. Wurzelbacher wants to buy the two-person plumbing company that employs him, but he doesn’t want to get taxed for making too much. McCain seized the plumber’s worries about Obama’s tax plan, using it as a metaphor to illustrate the destruction the Illinois
senator’s “socialist” plans to “spread the wealth around” would bring
to all those hard working, down and out Americans … who happen to make
over $250,000 per year. So, is the dream of buying the company you work
for, but then being afraid to because of socialism, commonly held among
Lansing area plumbers named Joe? Visiting several area plumbing shops
didn’t turn up any Joes. But we did find Pat the Plumber, Chad the
Plumber and Jean the Marketing and Sales Manager.

TH Eifert
Mechanical Inc. (which is on St. Joseph Street in Lansing) employs 15
plumbers, one of whom is Pat the Plumber, who was the only one not out
on call on a recent Thursday.

Pat, who wanted to leave “the
Plumber” as his last name, said that he’s not so big on politics and
has never voted before. He might this year, and if he does, it probably
won’t be for McCain.

“I would probably rather not see McCain
in office because the last eight years have not been so great,” Pat
said. As far as the American Dream of owning your own business, Pat
surmised, “It’s feasible.”

However, Jean Morgan, or Jean the
Marketing and Sales Manager at TH Eifert, who had furnished this
reporter with a plumber to speak to, said she would be voting for
McCain — she says we need someone of high moral fiber to lead this

At Myers Plumbing and Heating, in northwest Lansing,
it would seem that Chad the Plumber’s (and vice president of Myers)
situation is much more closely related to Joe the Plumber: Chad will
one day take over Myers, a small business, from his parents. And like
Joe, Chad doesn’t

with Obama’s tax plan. “I don’t agree with taxing businesses that do
well as opposed to ones that don’t do well,” Chad, who also wanted to
use “the Plumber” as his last name, said. And Chad the Plumber, like
Joe, is also unwilling to say for whom he’s going to vote. Both
candidates, Chad said, didn’t answer questions directly at last week’s
debate, and both have pros and cons. “We definitely need change in a
different direction,” Chad said. “As for the debates, (the candidates)
get off track. I want them to sit down and answer with simple yes or
no. Then America would be more informed.”