Politics 2003Week of December 8


In Michigan’s 7th U.S. House District (Battle Creek), the lead story last week in most newspapers and on local radio and TV was the vote against the President’s $40-billion Medicare drug package by Republican Rep. Nick Smith, who is retiring in ’04 after a dozen years in Congress. Although he was just one of 25 stalwart House Republicans who defied the wishes of their President, the 69-year-old Smith’s case was particularly poignant: His son Brad Smith is one of five Republicans vying to succeed him in a district in which the Republican primary is tantamount to election. The younger Smith’s candidacy was the “talking point” used by GOP leaders in the House in an attempt to secure his father’s vote.

According to syndicated columnist Bob Novak, Nick Smith (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 89%) was told on the House floor that, if he voted yes on the Medicare package, his son would receive $100,000 for his congressional campaign from business interests. When the elder Smith voted no, Novak reported, colleagues taunted him by saying his candidate-son was now “dead meat.”

“Yes, Dad talked to me about this before he cast his vote,” lawyer-dairy farmer Brad Smith told me last week, “I told him that in no way should he do this on account of me.”

Asked the response to his father’s vote against the bill in the 7th District, the younger Smith said that “among the moderate Republican Southeast Michigan crowd, the party regulars, it has been quite cool. In fact, when I went out to see the President in Dearborn [on December 1], someone actually came up and said, ‘How could your father defy the President when he asked him for a vote?’ But among the common people and regular folks, there’s a lot of congratulations to Dad for standing firm for what he believes in.” As to how this vote will affect his own campaign, Brad Smith told me he couldn’t say at this time. But, he quickly added, “I would have voted the same way. This is just another case of government getting bigger and bigger!” In fact, across the board, 42-year-old Brad Smith takes the same, hard-line anti-government stance that typified his father Nick’s tenure in Congress. Just three years ago, Nick Smith campaigned for the chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee vowing support for the Freedom to Farm concept and ending farm subsidies. To no one’s surprise, he did not become chairman.

A graduate of Cornell University and the University of Michigan Law School and father of seven, Brad Smith campaigns for Congress these days taking stands increasingly uncommon to Republican office-holders: abolishing the Department of Education and the make-work Americorps program, both of which got fattened in the budget process this year. Quoting Paul Harvey, Brad Smith says, “Sending your money to Washington to fund education is like giving a transfusion from one arm to the other.”


For all the publicity Brad Smith’s campaign has received as a result of his father’s vote on the drug entitlement bill, the first time office-seeker right now is not considered the front-runner in the GOP primary against four former or current state legislators: State Rep. Gene DeRossett of Washtenaw, who has raised more than $400,000 and received considerable donations from labor unions; former State Rep. Tim Walberg of Lenawee, a favorite of evangelical conservatives; former State Rep. Paul DeWeese of Eaton County, a medical doctor; and State Rep. Clark Bisbee of Jackson. ( Another early contender, Calhoun County Clerk Anne Norlander, cited difficulties raising money and unexpectedly exited the campaign last month.) With the filing deadline next May 13 and the primary in August, other Republicans could still get into the race.

Because young Smith and Walberg are considered the most conservative candidates in the field, there has been concern on the right about a familiar dilemma in Republican primaries: Will the strongly conservative resources and votes be divided enough to permit the nomination with only a plurality of a more moderate contender-possibly DeRossett, whom, as Smith reminds conservative audiences, “voted with the unions against legislation to ban municipalities from enacting San Francisco-style living wage laws [laws that usually require city employees to be paid at least 50% more than the minimum wage].”

“I like Tim Walberg a lot and we have met to discuss what you’re talking about,” Smith said of the possible conservative vote split, but all Smith would say about their meetings, however, was that “we both want to be candidates for Congress.”


Louisiana Hayride: With the defeat of Republican Bobby Jindall for governor of Louisiana two weeks ago (see “Democrat Ran to Right in Louisiana”) and the failure of Pelican State Republicans to win more than one statewide office this year, there are increasing calls for the resignation of State Party Chairman Pat Brister. “It’s time to clean house,” former Lafayette Parish GOP Chairman Carl Tritschler said last week, “In the wake of yet another disastrous ear for Republicans in Louisiana, it is time once and for all for the Keystone Cops of Louisiana politics to step aside before even greater damage is done to the once-proud Louisiana GOP. In demanding Brister’s resignation, Tritschler also called for the exit of the three other statewide party officers and Republican National Committee members Kay Katz and John Musser, IV. . .

Harris Out, Martinez In: White House concerns that her candidacy would remind voters of the “long count” of Florida’s electoral votes in 2000 and reported skepticism on the part of Gov. Jeb Bush have convinced Rep. Katherine Harris not to seek the Republican nomination for the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Graham (D.-Fla.) next year, several well-placed Sunshine State sources tell me. First-termer Harris had indicated an interest in running statewide and the national media have been speculating about her possible Senate candidacy since Graham announced his retirement last month, there was even a recent front-page story on her in the New York Times. But the former Florida secretary of state-“Cruella DeVill” to Democrats for her strict overseeing of the counting of her state’s electoral votes that put George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000-has signaled to friends she will not do anything that might endanger the President’s carrying Florida again and thus won’t run for the Senate. At the same time, Administration sources say that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Jeb Bush intimate Mel Martinez will shortly resign from the Cabinet and return home to run for the Senate next year. Four other conservatives are already running for the GOP nomination to the Senate in the September primary: State Sen. Daniel Webster, former U.S. Rep. Bill Mccollum, House Speaker Johnny Byrd, and Judicial Watch head Larry Klayman and also expected to join the fray is former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith (R.-N.H.) now a Florida resident. . .

Ryun Runs Coalitions: With the decision of Republican National Coalitions head Timmy Teepull to become campaign manager for Webster‘s Senate bid, Drew Ryun has been tapped to succeed him at national party headquarters. Until taking the party post, Ryun, son of conservative Rep. and Olympic running legend Jim Ryun (R.-Kan.), was director of the political action committee for the Home School Legal Defense Association.