Back in 2005, Bridget and I traveled
around Peru with a small group of other foreign travelers that included a
grandmotherly English woman named “Paddy,” who took interest one day in
learning that I covered politics.
She asked me why I enjoyed it so much. I
told her I found politicians an interesting cast of characters who were
kind of like journalists.
“How’s that?” she prodded.
“They tend to be a quirky, slightly crazy bunch, with oversized personalities and inflated egos,” I cracked.
She laughed. It wasn’t until the last day
of the trip that I found out why. Paddy Hunt was the wife of a member
of Great Britain’s House of Lords.
So, in this spirit — and considering that
my Michigan political reporting career has lasted exactly one month
longer than City Pulse — I’m sharing my top 10 list of most interesting
Lansing-area politicians I’ve had the pleasure of covering these last 10
1. Virg Bernero — You love him or you
hate him. He loves you or he hates you, and there just isn’t a lot of in
between with Lansing’s fiery mayor. The thin line separating the two is
easily crossed. It’s kind of like the line holding back what this
opinionated pol really thinks.
Bernero’s bombastic rhetoric explodes out
of his mouth with such force, the cable news networks are tripping over
themselves to get their cameras in front first. It makes for great copy
on the campaign trail, which he has traversed five times in the 10
years City Pulse has published.
2. Melissa Sue Robinson — Born Charles
Edward Staelens Jr., Robinson became Lansing’s very visible embodiment
of gender reassignment surgery, a decision that landed her on “The Oprah
Winfrey Show.” In hindsight, her multiple runs for office (mayor, City
Council, state Senate, school board) were less about her scant
qualifications for public office and more about raising public awareness
and acceptance of transgendered individuals.
3. Judge Hugh Clarke — If “want” reflects
how well Clarke does on the 54A District Court, the former Lansing
School Board president may be the best ever to don the black robe. After
multiple unsuccessful runs, Clarke gambled away his law practice for a
judicial appointment the attorney general argued should have lasted only
10 days. The state Supreme Court ultimately disagreed.
The appointment ultimately proved two
things: Gov. Jennifer Granholm had good legal advice and the Lansing
School Board is just as, if not more, dysfunctional without him in
5. Dale Abronowitz — The unsuccessful
2005 mayoral candidate only managed 10 percent of the primary vote, but
his raw, home-spun straight-talk style earned him a certain
rabble-rousing following that nearly resulted in his own personal and
financial ruin. Abronowitz took his numerous union grievances to the
brink before agreeing to bury the hatchet in exchange for keeping his
job as a city public works employee.
6. Sen. Rick Jones — The legislator
intent on “saving Christmas” by pledging to rename the Capitol’s
holiday-time pine tree after the Christian holiday is a living,
breathing example of taking Republican populist politics to the next
level. The media-friendly Jones wanted his pro-Taser bill moved so badly
he allowed himself to be tasered in a House committee to prove it
Whatever the former Eaton County sheriff
is doing works. He gets his legislation passed. Nobody credible
(Democrat or Republican) runs against him and he’s somehow avoided the
state’s ridiculous recall craze.
7. John Pollard — Say what you will about
the city’s most knowledgeable “gadfly,” you’d rather have Pollard
throwing his verbal axe at someone other than you. He pays attention. He
does homework and he’s relentless. While his own political aspirations
to the Lansing City Council fell short, Pollard’s recall effort against
Bernero went farther than most people envisioned it would.
8. Mark Grebner — The area’s longest
serving Ingham County commissioner coined the wonderfully
self-depreciating campaign slogan, “No worse than the rest.” Even if the
phrase is correct, it’s nothing short of amazing that this quirky
political genius (who once owned a pet pig in downtown East Lansing)
wins in a Michigan State University-dominated district despite not
having been a student since the early ‘70s.
9. Senate Minority Leader Gretchen
Whitmer — Maxim magazine ranked her the 8th hottest politician in the
world, for crying out loud. Who wouldn’t take that? But beyond the
beauty, Whitmer is a sharp knife who will quickly overmatch a political
adversary. Add in her highly charged oratory skills and it’s no wonder
she’s viewed as the future of the Michigan Democratic Party.
10. Kathie Dunbar — No joke, the Lansing
City Council’s resident comedian is the body’s most strident Bernero
supporter, even though the mayor preferred her chief opponent, Bob
Johnson, in her first campaign.
The forward thinking, executive director
of the South Lansing Community Development Center’s openness to new
ideas and approachable personality make her the darling of progressives
and effective to boot.
(Kyle Melinn is editor of the Capitol newsletter MIRS. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org)