Olympians and Republicans

By Walt Sorg

And now a roundup of political notes from around town … and beyond:

Fundraisers for local elections are generally pretty dull affairs. But Lansing City Council At-Large candidate Judi Brown Clarke is changing that next month. She stands to get a major financial and public-relations boost with a fundraiser featuring her friend Carl Lewis.

Yes, that Carl Lewis, the guy who has won a record nine Olympic Gold Medals on the track, was named “Sportsman of the Century” by the International Olympic Committee and “Olympian of the Century” by Sports Illustrated.

Lewis and Brown Clarke became friends during the 1984 Los Angeles games where Lewis won four Golds, and Brown Clarke picked up the Silver Medal in the 400-meter hurdles. Details of the event are still being set up. Other Olympians may be added to the guest list.

Republicans target 67th

State House Republicans will be targeting Ingham County’s 67th District as a potential pickup in 2014. First-term Democrat Tom Cochran had an easy 5,600-vote victory over Jeff Oesterle in 2012. But the district historically has been much closer in non-presidential-year elections. Barb Byrum was reelected by just 1,861 votes in 2010 after a 14,000-vote win in 2008.

The challenge for the GOP is coming up with a credible candidate after an election cycle where local Republicans got clobbered. It’s widely believed that Oesterle, who has run for the seat twice, won’t try again.

Among those quietly exploring options is Delhi Township Trustee John Hayhoe. Hayhoe, a lifelong county resident and owner of an asphalt paving company, was the only GOP survivor in last year’s township election. It was largely because he openly rejected the tea party ticket and ran as a moderate with the support of several township Democrats.

Delhi Township is the largest piece of the 67th district, which also includes south-central Lansing, Mason and most of rural Ingham County.

More than $500,000 was spent in the 2012 campaign for the seat, with Cochran and allies spending more than $280,000. Expect just as much spending next year.

How far would Walberg go?

Also carrying a political target on his back is U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, a Republican in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District. The Tipton conservative faces a serious challenge from former state Rep. Pam Byrnes. Walberg won reelection last year with 53 percent of the vote over Democrat Kurt Haskell, who spent just $100,000 compared to Walberg’s $1.5 million. This time, Democrats are committed to all-out financial support for Byrnes.

Which makes the upcoming votes on the federal budget an interesting political balancing act for Walberg.

Both Walberg and neighboring U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican in the 8th District, have voted dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” The tea party wing of the party, led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is pushing to shut down the government rather than support any budget bill that includes a nickel for the healthcare program.

Rogers isn’t playing that game. In a statement from his office, he said, “Congress and the President have a responsibility to keep the government open for the American people.”

Walberg isn’t saying whether he’d let the government shut down over healthcare. As a card-carrying ultraconservative, he would seem comfortable with the “shut-it-down” outcry. But his need to get votes beyond the right wing of his own party might trump principle. But voting the other way raises the possibility of a primary challenge from the even-further-right wing of the party. That’s how Walberg got elected in the first place, beating moderate Republican Joe Schwartz.

Three inquiries to Walberg’s office on a possible government shutdown vote have gone unanswered. Democrats aren’t going to agree to defund Obamacare, so,at some point, Walberg will have to decide if he’s willing to shut down government because of healthcare.

Democrats would love to see him do that. That one vote could lead to attack ads painting Walberg as an extremist more concerned about ideology than the good of the nation, someone who was willing to stop paying the military, Social Security checks, food safety inspections etc. etc. etc. — all to deny healthcare to lower income families.