Politics 2002Week of October 21


If the race for the seat of disgraced Sen. Robert Torricelli (D.-N.J.) is the strangest Senate race of all 34 this year, the contest for the seat of the late Rep. (1964-76, 1990-2002) Patsy Mink has got to be the most unusual of all 435 House races.

After the venerable congresswoman died September 28 at 74 following a long illness, Democratic Party leaders in the Aloha State immediately called for her re-election to the 2nd District seat anyway, since, under state election law, the deadline had passed for removing Mink’s name from the ballot. After she was “re-elected,” Democrats concluded, Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano could call a special election for the remaining weeks of her current term and then call another election to fill the vacancy for the two-year term to which Mink was presumably going to be elected November 5. Besides, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D.-Hawaii) declared, re-electing Mink would be a “tribute” to the late House member, a fixture in Hawaii politics since she was elected to the territorial legislature back in 1956.

“Foul!” cried the Republican nominee in the 2nd District, conservative State Rep. Bob McDermott, who had been waging a spirited race while Mink was alive. To pay tribute to his former opponent, McDermott said, would be to praise her work or contribute to the memorial fund set up by her husband and daughter. But, he added, “it is not a tribute when one creates a situation that will cost Hawaii taxpayers an estimated $2 million to conduct two special elections.” The case for his own election, McDermott concluded, was now stronger: He would “provide full-time representation for the 2nd District and eliminate the need for costly, taxpayer-funded special elections.”

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Desert Storm and father of three, the 39-year-old McDermott worked as a manager of area coffee plants until deciding to run for the state legislature. In an area that is historically Democratic, he has been re-elected twice-never trimming his ideological sails.

“I’m pro-life, I support the 2nd Amendment, and I support tax cuts-there I am,” McDermott told me over lunch during a recent trip to Washington. “I meet people, I tell them where I stand and, even when they don’t agree with me, they will at least respect that I don’t try to be something I’m not.”

Coupled with the fact that this year’s front-running Republican gubernatorial nominee, Linda Lingle, carried the Maui-based district four years ago and is expected to win big there in November, McDermott’s candidacy appeared to be catching on.

Two weeks ago, as New Jersey was in the headlines with Torricelli’s exit in shame and bizarre replacement on the ballot, Gov. Cayetano suggested that Mink also be replaced on the ballot. However, unlike the New Jersey court’s extra-legal decision, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that her name must remain on the ballot November 5. The governor thereupon set November 30 as the date for the first special election to fill the remaining month of Mink’s term. No fewer than 41 candidates (including the congresswoman’s widower, John Mink, as well as Republican McDermott) filed for the by-election.

Retired hydrologist John Mink, who managed all of his wife’s campaigns, said that while he hoped to finish out her term, he would not run in a January 4 special election that would have to be called if the late House member gets more votes than McDermott November 5. Among Democrats almost sure to run should a January by-election be needed are former state legislator Ed Case (who lost this year’s gubernatorial primary), former Gov. (1986-94) John Waihee, and former Honolulu City Councilman Mufi Hannemann, who has the dubious distinction of being boomed as a bright political star of the future in the ’80’s, ’90’s, and this decade.

(McDermott for Congress, 1509 Piikea St., Honolulu, HA 96818;


Most political eyes in Michigan are riveted on the race for governor between Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus and Democrat Jennifer Granholm, the current state attorney general. Although Granholm-one of the liberal media’s darlings this year, featured in national publications such as the New Republic and the Washington Post-was long considered the heavy favorite to succeed termed-out Republican Gov. John Engler, the contest has tightened up considerably in recent weeks. Posthumus’s strong performance in televised debates has been considered a major reason for the tighter-than-expected contest.

Lately, there has also been great interest in the race to succeed Granholm as attorney general. For a long time, it was taken for granted that whoever was elected governor would sweep in his (or her) ticketmates for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general-all of which are open. Now, however, there is a strong feeling that whatever happens at the top of the ticket, conservative Republican Mike Cox will emerge as Michigan’s top lawman.

The strong position of the 40-year-old assistant Wayne County prosecutor has less to do with philosophy, party affiliation, or even campaign style than it does with one question that the GOP hopeful’s campaigners ask over and over: “Doesn’t Michigan Need an Attorney General Who’s a Real Lawyer?”

Although Democratic nominee Gary Peters has a juris doctor from Wayne State University Law School, there appears to be no indication that the Oakland County state senator has ever actually practiced law. In fact, under the “business and professional positions” portion of his biography in the latest edition of Who’s Who in American Politics, the 43-year-old Peters lists “securities arbitrator” rather than “attorney.” Peters handled securities work for Merrill Lynch and Paine Weber for years before winning his senate seat, but there is no evidence that he has prosecuted, argued, or litigated anything in a courtroom. His campaign website also gives no indication he has ever practiced law.

Given this background, Peters’ nomination to be Michigan’s top law enforcer was somewhat of a surprise. With nominees for the three statewide offices beside governor made by state party conventions held after the gubernatorial primaries, the betting had been that Granholm would tap Bay County Attorney Joseph Sheerin-president of the state association of county attorneys and one of her earliest supporters-for attorney general. But Peters’ had greater clout with the state AFL-CIO, which flexes considerable muscle at the Democratic state convention, and he got the nod.

In striking contrast, Republican Cox has spent his entire life involved with the law-a dream he and his three brothers have had since childhood, after their Irish immigrant father lost a case over wages for a side job he did and felt it was because he didn’t have adequate legal representation. (All four Cox sons became lawyers). A graduate of the University of Michigan, Cox was named to head the Homicide Unit of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, which oversees 250 murder cases a year. Interestingly, the prosecutor who appointed Cox was Democrat Mike Duggan.

There are, of course, other differences between the candidates. Peters, for example, was campaign co-chairman of Proposal B (the losing statewide initiative in 1998 to permit assisted suicide) and has indicated he opposes a ban on state funding of partial birth abortion. “Out of the mainstream!” is how he was characterized by opponent Cox, who has the strong support of Michigan Right-to-Life.

But in recent weeks, the race has come back to the legal credentials of the protagonists. “With over $6 billion in child support owed to 644,000 kids, when this state ranks 11th in the nation in most violent crimes and fourth in rapes,” says Cox, “a lawyer should be attorney general.”

(Cox for Attorney General, P.O. Box 532197, Livonia, Mich. 48153)


Embattled State Republican Chairman Shawn Steel last week ended a month of guessing when he told the Executive Board of the California GOP that he would stand for a second two-year term at the next state convention in February.

As HUMAN EVENTS readers are aware, Steel has been locked in a long, bitter fight over party control with liberal Los Angeles investment banker Gerald Parsky, President Bush’s closest political friend in the Golden State. Longtime conservative activist Steel has made no secret of his distaste for the plan accepted at the September 2001 state party conclave that severely weakened his power and enhanced that of what he calls “unelected Republicans”-namely Parsky and a few of his buddies. The chairman has also been critical of the federal judicial selection procedure overseen by Parsky.

Consequently, Steel is expected to face stiff opposition from State Party Vice Chairman Bill Back-“Parsky’s Poodle,” to his critics. Fearing that Steel might not be able to beat Back, another conservative, State Party Secretary Shannon Reeves, might get in the race. Reeves, a black who is past head of the Oakland NAACP, is a good friend of former party Chairman John McGraw. Another candidate who could enter what is sure to be a memorable chairmanship race is businessman and more moderate Republican George Sundheim III.