Jon Stryker Strikes Again in Michigan

In Michigan, the proverbial “October surprise” was the news last week that billionaire Jon Stryker has sunk $4.7 million of his own money into a committee working to overturn Republican control of the state legislature.

The Coalition for Progress political action committee, which the 48-year-old Stryker formed in August, has so far raised $5.17 million—most coming from the Kalamazoo tycoon, with the second-largest donation ($500,000) given by his sister Pat Stryker. The rest comes from dozens of under-$100 contributions. So far, the Stryker-fueled coalition has purchased more than $3 million in television advertising in competitive state senate and state house districts. According to Michigan Republican Chairman Saul Anuzis, “That means more than 55,000 commericials, along with thousands of ‘robo calls’ and thousands of pieces of literature above and beyond what the Democratic state party, the house and senate Democrats, the trial lawyers and the unions have planned.”

Are Water Wonderland Republicans worried about this assault from the left? You bet they are. According to the Detroit Free Press, reports of Sryker’s big spending have “put Republicans on the defensive—the house GOP took out a $900,000 loan about a week ago to help fund its candidates—and scrambling to counter.”

The Michigan legislature now has a 22-to-16 seat Republican advantage over Democrats in the senate and a 58-to-52 seat GOP edge in the House. A flood of dollars in selected districts could easily give Democrats the four additional senate seats and the four more house seats they need to control.

“Who’s the tycoon behind the campaign?” blared the Free Press headline, “He’s Jon Sryker, 48, of Kalamazoo, heir to his grandfather’s medical equipment fortune and a philanthropist for gay and transgender rights.” Forbes magazine recently rated Stryker Michigan’s fifth-wealthiest person.

Among the causes that have benefited from the Stryker family’s largess have been challenges to “abstinence until marriage” sex education, gay adoption rights, challenges to state laws defining marriage as a union between men and women, creation of diversity courses in public schools, domestic-partner benefits for gay and lesbian couples, and abortion rights.

The Strykers have struck before. Deploying their dollars in Colorado two years ago, they had a major impact on that state’s legislative elections. According to the Almanac of American Politics, “With a campaign financed by heiress Patricia Stryker and three high-tech multimillionaires, Democrats succeeded in winning one-vote majorities in both houses of the legislature.”

Republican jitters over the Michigan legislature’s falling into Democratic hands for the first time in more than a decade were mentioned in a front-page story in the New York Times reporting on the prospects for major Democratic gains among the 6,000 state legislative seats up for election this year and the significance of such elections. “Most significantly,” according to the Times, “the groundwork for redrawing congressional districts after the 2010 census will be done under the 50 capitol domes and the party in power will set the table for those discussions in ways favorable to its interests. Gains made this year, analysts say, will help give incumbents a leg up in the final elections leading up to the redistricting.”

Joel T. Broyhill, R.I.P.

Although Joel T. Broyhill could not accurately be called the father of the modern Republican Party in Virginia, the former 11-term congressman could easily be dubbed one of its midwives. Elected to the U.S. House from Northern Virginia in 1952 on Dwight Eisenhower’s coattails and then finally defeated in the so-called Watergate Year of 1974, conservative Broyhill’s career in Congress followed the pattern of his party in the South from the time of its early triumphs to its worst-ever political year.

When he died September 24 at age 86, Broyhill’s opposition to school integration and to home rule for the District of Columbia were the parts of his career that the Washington Post and other liberal media underscored. But to those who knew him well—among them more moderate House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R.-Va.), who represents parts of what was Broyhill’s district—the former congressman was a trailblazer for the GOP, a maestro at constituent service, and someone who was willing to risk spirted opposition and a less-than-safe district to do what he felt was right.

Born in Hopewell, Va., Joel Broyhill moved to Arlington at age 18 when his father relocated the family real estate business. After attending George Washington University from 1939-41, Broyhill enlisted in the U.S. Army and took part in the bombing of Germany (where explosions caused him hearing loss). Captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, Capt. Broyhill made a sensational escape from a prisoner-of-war camp six months later and returned to combat. He was later awarded the Bronze Star.

While working in the family real estate business and serving as president of the Arlington County Chamber of Commerce, he was a volunteer in the 1948 presidential campaign of Republican Thomas E. Dewey. Broyhill and fellow civic leader Lee Potter, according to The Dynamic Dominion, Frank Atkinson’s definitive book on the modern Virginia Republican Party, “were appalled to discover the lack of precinct-level Republican activity. [They] resolved to do something to energize the Arlington Republican Party ‘as soon as this fiasco’s over.’”

Four years after “this fiasco,” with help from old commanding officer Ike, Broyhill was elected to Congress by 322 votes and became one of the first three Republican House members from Virginia since Reconstruction. Along with one them, Rep. (1952-72) Richard Poff, Broyhill became one of two Republicans among the 81 U.S. Representatives to sign the Southern Manifesto vowing to oppose school integration “by every lawful means.” He also served on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and became a vigorous supporter of tough anti-crime measures and crackdowns on welfare chiselers. But he was well known for his opposition to home rule for the Nation’s Capital, arguing fervently that the Constitution placed ultimate responsibility for its governance with Congress.

“[T]he most controversial of Washington-area congressmen,” the Almanac of American Politics wrote of Broyhill, “hated by thousands, and loved, in the 10th District, by a few thousand more. . .The incumbent never wins by overwhelming margins.” In 1974, after Broyhill reversed an earlier intention to retire and ran again, he was unseated by Democrat Joseph Fisher and returned to real estate.

Why Snow Is a Star

As one who has made his share of errors with names and titles of candidates, my heart went out to President George Bush on October 26. In campaigning for Republican Jeff Lamberti in Iowa’s 3rd District, the President twice called him “Dave Lamberti.”

The following day, the White House press corps had a field day. After some serious questions about Vice President Dick Cheney’s remarks about the use of waterboarding in interrogating terrorist prisoners, Press Secretary Tony Snow was peppered with questions about the “Lamberti gaffe.”

“Has the President called to apologize to Lamberti,” asked NBC-TV’s White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell.

Without missing a beat, Snow replied: “I honestly don’t know, Kerry.”

The briefing room broke up. But Mark Knoller of CBS Radio had the last laugh, as he closed the early morning briefing with: “Thank you, Scott!” (a reference to Snow’s predecessor as press secretary, Scott McClellan).

What began as a tense and tumultuous session ended as reporters left the room laughing.