:: JULY 14, 2004
makes strange fund-raising fellows
Dem opponents work together to raise funds
opponents for the same job dont work together, right? But desperate
times call for creative measures, at least in Lansings 8th congressional
The candidates for the Democratic nomination for the 8th Congressional
District will appear at a forum at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 15,
at the Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbott Road, East Lansing. Chris
Christoff of the Detroit Free Press will moderate. MidMichigan Democracy
for America is the sponsor.
Last Friday night,
July 9, Bob Alexander and Matt Ferguson, who want to be the Democratic
nominee to challenge incumbent Republican Mike Rogers, did the unthinkable
in the dog-eat-dog world of politics: They held a joint fund-raiser.
They did it in the heart of Rogers country, in Brighton, Livingston
County. Several dozen Democrats attended the function, in the home of
Jim and JoAnne Swonk. When they arrived, they were greeted by a piggy
bank for each candidate.
The consensus among attendees was that defeating Rogers was more important
than squabbling over political differences on the Democratic side.
As odd as this strategy
might seem for anyone used to the normal elbow nudging and smear campaigns
of a political race, theres something to be said for it when one
considers the Goliath the two candidates are attempting to oust.
When first elected to the 8th congressional seat, Rogers won by a thread
over his well-known opponent, Dianne Byrum, when the two state senators
faced off in 2000.
Under a Republican-led state legislature, the boundaries of the 8th
district were redrawn to favor a Republican in the next election:Republican
areas to the east were incorporated to offset the strongly Democratic
city of Lansing. And in 2002 Rogers won big time. He beat Lansing
lawyer Frank McAlpine by 85,000 votes, in contrast to his earlier slim
lead of 160 votes over Byrum two years before. Such a record might be
enough to frighten any Democratic contender.
But on Friday evening both Alexander and Ferguson were optimistic about
the possibility of a Democrat winning the election, due in part to Rogers
close ties to the Bush administration.
Ferguson, 27, formerly
a newsman at WKAR, said that there are a very few political differences
between himself and Alexander. Its nothing when compared
to Mr. Rogers. Bob and I have the same three top issues. Were
talking about jobs, health care, and Iraq. The order of the three varies,
depending on the week. Currently its more Iraq.
Alexander, 59, a retired state worker and a Peace Corps member long
active in local Democratic politics, agreed, saying that the real question
was only who would be better at pointing out Rogers shortcomings
and putting together a grassroots anti-Rogers campaign effort, without
having to spend too much money.
Still, as much as the two Democratic candidates fluffed over their political
differences, some do exist.
For example, when asked how they felt about footage in Michael Moores
Fahrenheit 9/11, which showed a defeated Al Gore silencing
the attempts of African-American members of Congress to protest the
results of the election, their answered differed greatly.
Ferguson said: For me thats the weaker part [of the film].
They could have had a debate on the floor of the Electoral College on
whether the results in Florida were just or not. But when it comes down
to it, the votes still would have been the same.
Alexander said: This testimony was most riveting for me. Not one
of the senators supported the African-American members of Congress who
demanded a congressional investigation. That was news to me. Im
sure others are also asking our senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenaw,
How come you didnt support this?
Alexanders campaign, which has capitalized on the films
Bush-bashing message, sponsored a Hannah Community Center meeting three
days after its Lansing premiere to listen to a live MoveOn.Org discussion
with the Michigan filmmaker. Alexander said that of the 200 people in
attendance, 60 signed volunteer forms for his campaign. He also handed
out fliers at the two Lansing theaters hosting the premiere.
Fergusons campaign has focused more concretely on attacking Rogers
fund-raising activities. The Republican congressman allegedly attended
a fund-raiser at the home of Tom Celani, who according to Ferguson was
one of the principal players behind Motor City Casino. Despite
being a vocal gambling opponent, Rogers accepted $25,000 from Celani
as the finance chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee,
Ferguson stated in a news release issued in Brighton over the 4th of
July weekend. The 27-year old political newcomer asked Rogers to resign
from the committee and return his full attention to the critical
needs of Michigans working families.
Rogers shortcomings became the focal point of the question-and-answer
session that followed the two candidates speeches Friday evening.
A discussion brewed over the congressmans supposed acceptance
of a $25,000 contribution from Waste Management, a company that owns
several landfills in Michigan and accepts waste from Canada. As one
guest at the forum put it, Rogers is taking money from one end,
and screwing the public at the other, and smiling while hes doing
it. The man asked how the Democratic Party could best expose the
Brighton congressman as the phony he really was. A woman
wanted to know if either candidate planned to attack Rogers on the money
issue, in case the question came up during the election campaign.
Sylvia Warner, Rogers spokeswoman in his Washington office, said,
These candidates are making wildly inaccurate statements in an
attempt to get attention for themselves in their own primary.
Warner said Rogers attended a fund-raiser at Celanis house in
his role as finance chairman for the National Republican Campaign Committee.
Federal Election Commission reports show the committee accepted a $25,000
donation from Celani.
Asked whether he accepted a $25,000 contribution from Waste Management,
she said, That falls into the same category: wildly inaccurate.
Alexander said he believes voters wont support a shrill
attack person. They want someone whos reasoned and who can
talk quickly, he said. All of us have to get involved
not just us candidates talking to friends, talking to the media
and showing up at school board meetings, asking: Why are we cutting
teachers? Michigan has lost $2.7 billion of our taxes to the federal
government to support the war and the occupation. Wouldnt it be
better to keep this money here in this state, and take care of education,
the environment and the roads? This will be a challenge to Rogers.
When asked how he felt about attacking Rogers, Ferguson
replied: I would say How are we supposed to take you seriously
on the Canadian trash issue, when youre taking money from these
companies? How are we supposed to take seriously the thought that youre
doing whats best for the church, when youre taking money
from Haliburton? The facts speak for themselves, and people are going
to get it.
Another element that may weigh on voters decisions at the polls
is the difference in age between the two candidates. In attempting to
balance this, Ferguson expressed appreciation for the political experience
of his older opponent. For his part, Alexander shaved his full beard
down to a mustache. When asked why, he said jokingly, Im
running against a young guy, after all.
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