Aug. 18 2010 12:00 AM

It’s safe to say the Tea Party didn’t exactly take over Michigan politics during the August primary. Not even close.

But I’m not about to declare this anti-government, no-tax movement dead.

They’ve put themselves in a position to be a major voice at the Michigan Republican Party convention Aug. 28 at the Breslin Center, where the state GOP will pick nominees for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, supreme court justice and several education boards.

It’s amazing, considering the Tea Party’s belly flop in the Aug. 3 primary.

This loose conglomerate of political dissidents didn’t unseat any Michigan member of Congress. They won two legislative primaries (by my count) in districts where they enter the General Election as underdogs. The two Republican gubernatorial candidates who were the most Tea Party-friendly finished third and fourth.

The Tea Party candidate in the 1st Congressional District struggled to get 8 percent. Its candidate in the 2nd finished fourth. Jack Hoogendyk in the 6th didn’t come close to U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, and its preferred candidate in the 7th, Marvin Carlson, finished a very distant last place in the GOP primary.

The national Tea Party political action committee iCaucus endorsed in 17 races in Michigan. Its candidates won in three. In Ingham County, "Tea Party" candidate Jeff  Hall lost nearly 2-to-1 in the 67th House primary to Jeff Oesterle, a former local Farm Bureau president.

Don’t tread on these Gadsden Flagwaving confederates, though. They may not be as politically naïve as we may think.

Thursday, Tea Party activists across the state barnstormed county- and
districtwide Republican committee meetings. In Livingston, Lenawee,
Oakland, Washtenaw, Emmett and many other counties across the state,
huge numbers of first-time convention attendees reportedly showed up at
these party gatherings.

of the tried-and-true party regulars getting nominated as delegates to
the state convention, folks never involved in party government literally
took over meetings and rammed through their own slate.

Shinkle, Ingham County’s Republican Party chairman, reported the
highest turnout he’s seen in 10 years, but the pre-determined slate of
candidates still were elected as delegates and most people who wanted to
participate were at least given an "alternate" designation.

Washtenaw County, Willow Run Tea Party Caucus director Dennis Moore
boasted that Tea Party activists not only took over the 15th
Congressional District meeting, he claims they prevented state
Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser from being nominated as a delegate.

Emmet County, Brian Sommerfield, an accountant never before involved in
politics, joined forces with Tea Party activists and claims to have
mastered the Emmet County Republican Party’s rule process days before
the meeting. When it was all over, Sommerfield had taken over the
meeting and his cohorts were named to eight of the nine available
delegate positions.

was motivated by what has happened to our state over the last decade,"
Sommerfield said. "And, the way our liberties and freedoms are being
taken from us more recently. The stimulus, out of control spending, and
Obamacare kicked me off my couch … ."

Monday, Gene Clem, the designated spokesman for the Tea Party Alliance,
told the capital news service MIRS there is a movement to host an Aug.
27, pre-convention Tea Party caucus.

The significance can’t be overstated. Republican
gubernatorial nominee Rick Snyder will pick his choice for lieutenant
governor, but the convention still needs to give the candidate the
thumbs up. If Snyder picks someone Tea Party activists can’t swallow,
Snyder could face some political embarrassment if the issue becomes a
floor fight.

Also, the biggest question mark among Republicans going into the Aug. 28 convention is their secretary of state nominee. The
Tea Party activists, untouched by the vigorous campaigning that has
been going on for (in some cases) a year an a half, may determine the

Republicans don’t pick their next candidate wisely, they could set up in
a situation similar to 1998. That year, Republicans picked a weaker
General Election candidate to face Democrat Jennifer Granholm. Republican John Smietanka lost to Granholm, who used the AG post as a jumping board to the governor’s seat.

Democrats love their secretary of state candidate, Jocelyn Benson.
She’s sharp. She’s not overtly political. She personable, peppy,

the Democrats’ best shot to win statewide this year, but most Tea Party
folks don’t think about political match-ups. These political novices are
motivated by ideology. They’re thinking Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama,
not driver responsibility fees and no-reason absentee voting.

Unfortunately for them, the general electorate probably is not.

Different strokes on LG choices

Within the next two
weeks, gubernatorial nominees Rick Snyder and Virg Bernero will announce
their lieutenant governor picks. Look for both of them to take very
different approaches.

For Snyder, the
popular wisdom is that he needs to pick a bonafide conservative who will
pacify the Republican Party’s right wing, which believes it got a
moderate in Snyder. The person will probably need some government
experience (to balance out Snyder’s lack thereof).

possible the person could come from West Michigan and may be a woman.
The Republicans would like to avoid a situation where all four of their
big-ticket nominees are men, but that remains a possibility.

Bernero, his running mate must be an African-American. Democrats
haven’t run a ticket without an African American since at least 1970,
and it would be bad form to start now. Voters in Detroit have few
reasons to go to the polls in November as it is. Without someone to get
them excited, they could stay home on Election Day, which makes
Bernero’s chances even longer.


In last week column, I
made the statement that Bernero’s only political loss in Ingham County
came in 2003 when he was defeated by then-Lansing Mayor Tony Benavides.
Come to find out, I didn’t turn back the pages of history far enough.
According to the Ingham County Clerk’s Office, Bernero lost in the 1994
Democratic primary for the District 10 Ingham County Commission seat. I
stand corrected.

I also incorrectly identified Jeff Oesterle as a Vevay Township trustee. I should have said he used to be one.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He’s at