September 12, 2007
I first got involved in politics about 40 years ago when a friend named Harry Gast called me and asked to take me to lunch to talk. We went to lunch and he asked me to run his campaign for State Representative. I told him I couldn’t because I was a Democrat. He convinced me at lunch that I was really a Republican, and I switched parties and became his campaign manager. Harry Gast spent decades in the state legislature – much of it as Senate Appropriations Chairman.
Over the next decade I moved around the state and served as finance chairman in half a dozen counties, county chairman, district chairman, and national committeeman.
In 1980, I was Kent County Chairman and I supported John Connally for President. He raised millions of dollars and looked good on paper but couldn’t seem to catch on with voters. When he dropped out of the race Ronald Reagan called me and I took a role with his campaign. Most of my friends supported George Bush instead because they were bitter that Reagan challenged Ford in 1976. Reagan won in 1980, and I was the political contact for West Michigan for President Reagan throughout the 1980’s.
In 1982, I was District Chairman and I encouraged Betsy and Dick DeVos to become active in the Kent County Republican Party.
In 1988, I supported Vice-President Bush for President. Lee Atwater was considering pulling out of Michigan after Robertson won Iowa and I convinced him that I could be elected Chairman of the convention and then win the convention. With the support of John Engler and Peter Secchia I was elected Chairman of the Michigan convention in 1988 and upon my election the Robertson people walked out in protest and held their own rump convention. Bush stopped the Robertson momentum in Michigan and later won the Presidency.
In 1990, I was a very strong supporter of Governor Engler and was certainly a key member of his team. I spent a great deal of financial and time resources in 1990 and I am proud of our success. John Engler later sent me a card saying that he would not have won without my support. It might be cliché for a thank you card, but I believe he meant it when he wrote it.
In 1992, President Bush appointed me Chairman of Credentials for the 1992 Republican National Convention. We fought like mad with the Buchanan delegates. Ross Perot was running for President. It turned out to be a year where Republicans were fractured, rather than united, and were unable to win.
In 1994, I was an early and strong supporter of Spence Abraham for U.S. Senate and worked hard for his successful campaign. I was also campaign manager for Candice Miller’s successful convention nomination.
In 1996, I supported Phil Gramm for President. I thought Bob Dole was not conservative enough for my ideological beliefs. I am not sure anyone could have defeated Clinton in 1996 but I am convinced that Phil Gramm would have made an excellent President.
In 1997, I ran for Chairman of the Republican National Committee and lost to Jim Nicholson of Colorado by 6 votes out of 165 on the first ballot. After the fourth ballot I endorsed him and he went on to win.
In 1998, I supported John Smietanka for Attorney General instead of Scott Romney. I still believe Smietanka was a far better candidate because voters in a race for Attorney General appreciate electing a crime fighter over a corporate lawyer. Smietanka was unable to win that election because our party was not united behind him and various party leaders were unwilling to offer their unconditional and wholehearted financial and political support. Our party lost because we were not united.
In 2000, I supported George W Bush for President. I supported him largely out of loyalty to his father, and partially out of hope that we could unite Michigan behind Governor Engler after a bruising nomination for Attorney General in the previous cycle. By the time the Michigan Primary came around I realized that John McCain was also a solid candidate. John Engler asked me to run for Congress and I agreed.
In 2002, I wanted to support Candice Miller for Governor because I thought she was the candidate most capable of defeating Jennifer Granholm. After a few months I assumed she was not running and endorsed Dick Posthumus. I strongly supported Terri Lynn Land for Secretary of State and Mike Cox for Attorney General early in their campaigns. At the time I endorsed Terri she was in third place in the race and at the time I endorsed Mike Cox most people had never heard of him. In fact, Governor Engler claimed on television to not know who he was. The party eventually united behind them because Dick Posthumus had the good sense to put together a united ticket prior to convention. I say with considerable ego that neither of them would be statewide elected officials without our support.
In 2004 and 2006 our party was fractured and never really had a chance of victory. Party leaders didn’t communicate, most were competitive with each other, and too often they were working to undermine, rather than support, each other. It is unfortunate, and it led to a defeated party. I did not support Saul Anuzis for election as Chairman because he was part of the regime that had run almost every unsuccessful campaign in recent memory. Their group lost Dole 1996, Smietanka 1998 General Election, Abraham 2000, Posthumus 2002, and they had never won a major election in the state of Michigan. I thought it made little sense to put them in charge of the party. They still haven’t won to this day and our party continues to suffer for it.
Saul has proven to be excellent at internal politics and communications, and is clearly a national leader in the use of technology in our party. But he still hasn’t won, and I think that is partially because he spends too much time manipulating internal Republican politics and not enough time beating up Democrats. If he focused his energy on Democrats he has the potential to be a good Chairman. But time is running out – eventually the state party needs to be successful and finally win an election.
In 2008, in my view the most important thing in politics is for John McCain to be elected President of the United States. John McCain is by far the most prepared candidate to handle the most important issue of our time – the fight against radical Islamist extremism. He is the most conservative candidate in the race. It might not be the Bush brand of conservatism – but the Bush brand has proven to be faulty on important issues such as government spending. John McCain is pro-life, anti-government spending, and clearly the most prepared to be Commander-in-Chief. He can also attract the independents and yes, Democrats, necessary to defeat Hillary Clinton. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are the only candidates who can credibly say that.
Recently I announced my campaign for re-election in order to end the race quickly and focus my energies on helping McCain win Michigan. I quickly received the support of most of the people that were needed to win re-election including unanimous support from West Michigan – a special thanks to Congressman Ehlers, Congressman Hoekstra, and Congressman Upton.
Shortly after announcing for re-election I spoke with Attorney General Mike Cox and realized we were not in agreement regarding the future of our party. He made it clear that he could not support Holly Hughes for national committeewoman. In my opinion, and with all due respect to the other three national committee members I served with, she is the hardest worker of them all and I support her strongly for re-election. The conversation with Mike ended rather abruptly and soon after negative emails were sent out about me – most of which were not factual.
I also feel like our party needs to unite in order to have any chance of victory in 2008. Michigan performed terribly in the 2006 elections and I strongly believe we need a united party in order to have any hope to take back the house and win as we did in previous cycles. My long history in Republican politics has taught me that when we are united we win – divided we lose.
I am very confident that I can win re-election as national committeeman by taking the campaign to the precinct delegates as we did successfully, without failure, many times before despite big name endorsements being on the other side. The recent rule changes in favor of Precinct Delegates over District Chairs and County Chairs make that task somewhat easier.
It is also clear that waging such a campaign would tear the party apart at a time when we are weak and have upcoming campaigns to retake the State House and win Michigan for the Presidential nominee next year; and regain the Governor’s office while holding the Attorney General and Secretary of State in 2010.
Therefore, I am announcing that I am no longer a candidate for re-election as Republican National Committeeman. I am nothing if not loyal, some would say to a fault, and I greatly appreciate every ounce of support that you have given me, and more importantly given our successful Republican candidates over the last 40 years. It is appreciated and will not be forgotten.
I like Keith Butler and supported him for U.S. Senate despite Mike Bouchard being a friend of mine and my son working for Jerry Zandstra. Keith has the potential to be a tremendous advocate for our party – assuming he is willing to do the work necessary of a successful national committeeman.
My predecessor, Peter Secchia, and I treated the national committee position as a fulltime job working for our party at our own expense. It would be best for our party if we found someone who was willing to do the same.
It will be an interesting test to see whether Anuzis and Cox choose to continue to attack other party leaders now that I am no longer a candidate for re-election or whether they choose to attempt to bring the party together. That decision might be determinative of whether we are successful as a party in 2008. I urge you to hold them accountable for their ultimate decision.
If we are not successful in 2008 I encourage our party activists to take a long and hard look at electing a party chairman who is focused on defeating the Democrats rather than defeating incumbent national committee members, Republican state legislators, and other party leaders. If we are lucky enough to reverse the losses of 2006 then I encourage the party to stick with a winning formula.
My service as national committeeman will conclude at the closing of the 2008 Republican National Convention. I had major role in the election of President Ronald Reagan, President George Bush, Governor John Engler, Senator Spence Abraham, Secretary of State Candice Miller, Congressman Vern Ehlers, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, Attorney General Mike Cox, and too many legislators to list. It is the candidates who deserve the praise, but the rest of us can also be proud of our efforts.
The fact that I am not a candidate for re-election does not mean I will not be active in our party and advocating for the best Republican candidates in future statewide elections. In fact, just the opposite is on the horizon. I will be very active.
I will no longer have the restraint of serving in party leadership and instead will speak my mind plainly, and clearly, to all those who inquire – and some who don’t. When those of you in the media need a colorful quote, I encourage you to give me a call.
With that, I look forward to seeing you at Mackinac. I am still bringing volunteers. If you would like to join us please send an email to email@example.com.
Republican National Committeeman for Michigan