Politics 2004Week of November 22

Death of a Crusader

To his enemies in and outside the Republican Party, Dick Headlee was “the mouth that roared”–a Michigan version of fellow Mormon Evan Mecham, who was impeached as governor of Arizona in 1988 in part for rough-edged remarks the media considered impolite. Had he won the close (53% to 47%) 1982 race for governor of Michigan over Democrat James Blanchard, Headlee, critics said, his tendency to say precisely what was on his mind would have led him down the same path as Mecham.

Admirers of Headlee had a different view of him, and it was evident in the outpouring of praise and sympathy that followed the news that the former candidate and conservative leader had died November 9 at age 74 after a long illness. “Dick was never governor, but he nonetheless governed,” Larry Reed, head of the conservative Mackinac Center in Michigan, told me during the Atlas Foundation dinner in Washington the evening of Headlee’s death. “His crusades against taxes and his campaign for governor moved the state Republican Party away from a moderate mode to one of conservatism and opposition to big government.” Had he become governor, Reed felt, Headlee would have quickly emerged as a national conservative political leader not unlike Ronald Reagan.

A graduate of Utah State University and a U.S. Army veteran, Headlee started in business with the Burroughs Corp. and then went to work for the Alexander Hamilton Life Insurance Co. He rose to become chief executive officer of the Farmington Hills, Mich., insurance firm, whose sale to Beneficial Finance he oversaw before retiring. Headlee also served as national president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce.

As a young man in business, Headlee became a Mormon “a conversion that lowered the price of gin,” he often joked, noting that his conversion ended years of three-martini lunches. He became active in state Republican politics through friend and fellow Mormon, Michigan Gov. (1962-69) George Romney. But Headlee said his conservatism and opposition to high taxes came from reading and private study, notably the works of economist Milton Friedman.

In 1978, the insurance man marched onto the state political scene with the Headlee Amendment, a successful initiative that limits all state taxes and revenues to the percentage of Michigonians’ personal income taken in taxes by the state in 1979. Passed resoundingly by voters, the measure also barred local governments from raising taxes or creating new ones without voter approval.

Fueled by the anti-tax movement around his amendment and backed by Michigan Right to Life, first-time candidate Headlee won the 1982 GOP primary for governor over three opponents. His win was particularly stunning since he had to overcome two fellow conservatives and Lt. Gov. James Brickley, the choice of retiring liberal Gov. (1969-82) William Milliken. With his silver hair and a nasal voice that reminded listeners of the narrator of radio’s “Inner Sanctum” (“Dick never had to introduce himself on the phone,” said GOP National Committeeman Chuck Yob.), the GOP hopeful scored increasingly in televised confrontations with opponent Blanchard. But cutting comments about him from Milliken (“he puts me in mind of an ass”) and Headlee’s own shoot-from-the-hip style (he once called supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment “proponents of lesbian marriage”) hurt him badly and the firebrand Republican lost narrowly.

Although longtime HUMAN EVENTS subscriber Headlee never sought office again, he remained active in conservative politics. In 1993, he broke with longtime friend John Engler by opposing the then-Republican governor’s proposal to shift funding for public schools from county property taxes to statewide taxes. (The measure was defeated at the polls, but passed the following year when the only alternative to it on the ballot was an increase in the state income tax.) In 1996, Headlee endorsed and donated $1000 to Pat Buchanan’s presidential bid.

Headlee, who received a heart transplant in 1987, leaves his wife Mary, eight children, 51 grandchildren, and 19 great grandchildren.

Short Takes

Fall and Rise of the House of Hutchinson: Although Republican Tim Hutchinson was defeated in his bid for re-election as U.S. senator from Arkansas two years ago and remained in Washington, his name still packs a political wallop back home. Last week, the former congressman (1992-96) and senator (1996-2002) had some political good news, as son Timothy, Jr. won a seat in the state house of representatives. By overcoming a court challenge to his residency and winning the Benton County seat by a 2-to-1-margin, Timothy joins twin brother Jeremy Hutchinson of Pulaski County in the Razorback State House.

Will Power: Older HUMAN EVENTS readers may recall Will T. Scott as the two-fisted Republican nominee for Congress from Kentucky’s 7th District in 1988. Running in a district historically unfriendly to Republicans, the Pike County circuit judge and onetime Vietnam paratrooper who bore a strong resemblance to Sheriff Buford Pusser of Walking Tall fame came close to unseating Democratic Rep. (1984-92) Chris Perkins, son of late long-time House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Carl Perkins (D.-Ky.). Last week, at 56, Scott returned to Bluegrass State politics in a dramatic way by unseating State Supreme Court Justice Janet Stumbo. In one of the hardest-fought contests in the state, Scott slammed Stumbo for liberal decisions on what he called fetal infanticide. The GOP candidate narrowly unseated Democrat Stumbo by a 51%-to-49% margin.

“Space Cadet” Beats Ike-Kin: Although Democrats managed to deliver Pennsylvania’s electoral votes to John Kerry, they nonetheless also lost the statewide campaign that they made their biggest push. In a tight race, former U.S. Attorney Tom Corbett won the office of state attorney general over Democrat James Eisenhower, a distant relative of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and former chairman of the state Crime Commission. Moderate GOPer Corbett, who shares the same name as the legendary space cadet of the early television series, had to overcome a divisive GOP primary and charges he had gone easy on former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and major Corbett contributor Drew Lewis after a second Lewis drunken-driving arrest. In another much-watched race for statewide office, pro-life Democrat Bob Casey, Jr., former state auditor general and namesake-son of the late governor (1986-94), was easily elected state treasurer. Casey succeeds termed-out Treasurer and Republican-turned-Democrat Barbara Hafer, who is expected to challenge Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.) in ’06.

Evergreen Indecision: At press time, the tightest statewide race anywhere had not yet been decided. By only 261 votes out of more than 2.8 million cast, conservative Republican State Sen. Dino Rossi was leading three-term Democratic Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire to succeed retiring Washington State Democratic Gov. Gary Locke and become the first GOP governor of the Evergreen State in 20 years. Whatever the final outcome of the pending recount, Rossi’s strong candidacy was particularly dramatic because it came in a state where Republicans have traditionally been moderate. Rossi made no bones about being pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, and anti-tax. In addition, King County (Seattle) Councilman Rob McKenna picked up the office of attorney general for the GOP, handily defeating Democratic State Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn.

Among notable Republican wins in open legislative districts was the victory of stalwart conservative Republican Chris Strow in the open 10th District. Strow for many years was campaign manager and top aide to former Rep. (1994-2000) Jack Metcalf, a revered figure among Evergreen State conservatives.

Noting that voters were electing Rossi as they were giving Washington’s electoral votes to John Kerry, Republican State Sen. Mark Schoesler told me: “This was a clear sign that even many liberal Democrats had enough of one party in charge here for 20 years. You might say they were ‘Dino-crats.'”