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Don't forget the other races


Don’t know if you saw the one and only televised so-called debate between the major-party candidates for governor last week. Naturally, having no friends and a broken eight-track tape player, I watched it all. Afterward, a cantankerous old liberal told me, “He seems like a kinda nice guy, not too bright, who represents a party that stands for everything I despise. And he’s running against a hairdo.”

Anyway, while we the people have been paying attention to that race, sorta kinda, some other very important contests have been almost invisible, and you might want to be thinking hard about at least a couple of those.

First of all, if you are a normal person, you might be able to live your entire life without having any interaction with the governor’s office, unless you need to try and get a pardon for Uncle Floyd. However, you have to deal with the secretary of state.

You can’t get a driver’s license without visiting a branch office, which also regulates pretty much any motor-vehicle transaction. In addition, the secretary of state supervises and oversees everything having to do with elections.

So who runs that show really matters. The candidates here are Democrat Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, a Detroit lawyer, and Terri Lynn Land, a former clerk from Kent County who lives in a small town south of Grand Rapids. The contrast between their résumés couldn’t be more stark. Land, 44, who tried unsuccessfully to be elected to the state board of education two years ago, has a bachelor’s degree from tiny Hope College.

Hollowell, 42, is a high-powered lawyer (Butzel Long) whose talents were thought sufficiently brilliant that he was asked to join the team trying to get a fair count for Al Gore in Florida. Land lists on her résumé that while in high school she was a “scatter blitzer” for Gerald Ford’s presidential campaign.

Résumés aren’t everything, however; what really separates the candidates is the issues. Hollowell, who likes to say “voting rights are in my DNA,” wants to move the entire state to uniform, optical-scanning technology as soon as possible. Even Candice Miller, the outgoing Republican secretary of state, agrees that would be highly desirable. Optical scanning is the best and most error-free method.

But Land thinks otherwise. “I do believe in local control,” she tells me, adding that she has “some concern” about relying on a uniform method for the whole state. A uniform method — the one that works best — is exactly what every state needs. Michigan still has something like a million people who use punch cards, and more who actually have to use 19th-century paper ballots or those old clunky voting machines.

We need no Floridas here. Incidentally, if you are one of the many people upset because you are now required to vote from the address on your driver’s license, Hollowell would change that back, so that you could go to school in Ann Arbor, say, and vote there.

Incredibly, the only poll I’ve seen shows Land leading. That may be because Miller has recorded an effective ad touting her fellow Republican. There are some worries that race might be a hidden factor (Hollowell is African-American), but Michigan voters, who elected Richard Austin to the job six times, shouldn’t have any difficulty voting for Hollowell.

The attorney general’s race is more complex. The last time Michigan elected a Republican to its top law-enforcement job, it was because Dwight D. Eisenhower was sweeping the state, exactly half a century ago. Ike isn’t on the ballot this year, but there is a chance that Mike Cox, an assistant Wayne County prosecutor, could reclaim the spot for the GOP. Cox, a 40-year-old former Marine whose parents were working-class Irish immigrants, is ambitious and full of energy.

Running under the slogan “one tough prosecutor,” he vows to give the office a far more activist, crime-fighting role than it has had in recent years, and says he’ll concentrate particularly on catching those CEOs and others who loot pension funds. Additionally, he wants to launch an aggressive, nationwide effort to track down deadbeat parents (no longer just dads) and go after missing child-support money.

That’s not to say that the Democratic nominee, state Sen. Gary Peters, is a slouch. He has both a law degree (though he has apparently never practiced) and a master’s of business administration in finance. Other than politics, he’s spent his career largely as a securities dealer. As attorney general, he vows he’d go after insurance firms and redlining practices. Peters was also an effective state legislator whose talents increased the longer he was there.

Politically, Peters is usually on the side of the angels, and were these two men running for governor, the Democrat would clearly have an edge. This race is, however, a tougher call. All things considered, one party should not control the same office for half a century.

Odds are that further questions about Wayne County practices will surface after Ed McNamara waddles out next year for the last time, and with Jennifer Granholm the likely governor, it could make sense to have someone from the other party in what could be viewed as a watchdog role.

Oddly enough, however, Cox now works for the ultimate Wayne County machine politician, prosecutor Mike Duggan, and the two men have nothing but good to say of each other. Go figure.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail

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