Back in 1994 I lived in a small East Lansing rental house off Beech Street with a rabid Democrat named Michael. This guy quoted JFK when he was drunk and openly wept when "Hillary Care" flatlined in Congress. Yeah, that rabid.

One fall day, a brand-new "John Engler" sign was planted in our lawn. Engler was running for re-election against Democrat Howard Wolpe and someone thought it appropriate to exhibit some pride for our first-term Republican governor.

Michael did not share in this sentiment. But instead of taking a black Sharpie to it, Michael drove his beat-up old diesel Rabbit over the curb and through our lawn so he could smash it.

Instead of then removing the nowmangled mess of twisted wire and paper, Michael let the sign stay at the end of his embedded tire tracks so the world could see how at least one person felt about John Engler.

This story comes in honor of news that Engler and his family this month purchased a 4,240-foot mini-mansion off Scenic Lake near Laingsburg, ending his eight-year selfexile from Michigan. The instantaneous skepticism amongst Democrats is that Engler is up to no good.

If his 12 years as governor taught us anything, it’s that Engler never does anything unless it’s calculated. Could this be Engler’s first move in a new political chess game?

Or is it possible that Engler, who makes $1 million plus as the president of the National Manufacturers Association, just wanted to summer with his old buddies — former Justice Cliff Taylor, Justice Robert Young and former aide Dan Pero — who live out that way?

Engler’s old press secretary, John Truscott, says the Woodhall Township property is a "good retreat, a vacation home" and there is "absolutely" nothing behind the speculation that Engler will return to Michigan politics.

In speaking at the Michigan Political Leadership Program, Engler laughed away talk that he was moving back to run for another political office, but he never drove a stake through the suggestion, either. He never said, "My political career is done. I am never running for another political office ever again."

Good politicians always leave a little wiggle room.

So let’s play this out. Could Engler run again? To run in 2012, a 63-year-old Engler would be faced with the prospects of either yanking his 17-year-old girls out of the three separate high schools they attend in the Washington area or run for the Senate with his family 600 miles away. Neither option looks particularly likely unless he wants to escape his family, which is something I’d rather not expand on.

If he waits until 2014, when he is 65, Engler could retire to Laingsburg. He could go for Carl Levin’s Senate seat, but that wouldn’t be a walk in the park regardless of whether Levin runs again. And, let’s not forget, he’ll have been out of the political game 14 years.

And why would he run again? Money? I think it’s pretty well established he doesn’t need more of that. Benefits? The guy served 30 years as an elected state official. I think he’s all set there, too. Ego? Legacy? He’s still the messiah for Republicans and still the anti-Christ to Democrats. That won’t change if he runs for Senate.

There’s always the chance. What if this Tea Party stuff sinks and the alleged Republican rebirth peters out in 2010? What if another Democrat is elected governor and the GOP strikes out in picking up congressional or legislative seats, leaving the Republicans lost and leaderless?

Could it be like the 1940 Democratic convention when a frenzied crowed wanted reliable leadership so badly it chanted "We want Roosevelt! We want Roosevelt" until the incumbent president emerged and agreed to run an unprecedented third term?

Take it from the man himself. Engler hasn’t definitively ruled anything out. Yet.

(Kyle Melinn is news editor of MIRS. E-mail