June 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Dave Camp: Retiring congressman races the clock in effort to push comprehensive tax reform

Michiganian of the Year: Rep. Dave Camp
Michiganian of the Year: Rep. Dave Camp:

Washington

As Congress struggles with the basic work of passing budgets, U.S. Rep. Dave Camp dared to take on serious, large-scale reform.

Standing alone at the U.S. Capitol TV studio, the Midland Republican announced Feb. 26 his 979-page proposal to reform the complicated tax code into a simpler, fairer system. It arguably marked the most complex legislative effort introduced in the U.S. House this term.

Though Camp’s tax reform plan sputtered because of the early retirement of his Senate counterpart and election-year politics, Camp pushes forward. He’ll retire in January after more than 20 years — ever the optimist that Congress can still overhaul the tax code so more Americans can file taxes without the help of software and preparers.

“It’s something I’m going to continue to push on until the last day,” said Camp, 60. “I’m going to run through the tape at the end.”

Camp’s policy smarts, personality and determination allowed the one-time Capitol Hill staffer to rise to one of the most powerful positions in Washington: chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. From there, he has combed through the tax code while successfully beating cancer.

“Dave Camp is the same guy as he was when he came in as a staff member,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph. “He treats people with style and grace. ... He’s had a meteoritic rise to be chairman.”

Camp was born and raised in Midland, the son of a car dealer. He got his start in politics as a volunteer helping nonprofits rewrite their bylaws. He campaigned for his childhood friend Bill Schuette and became his chief of staff when Schuette entered Congress in 1985.

Camp later returned to his law practice in Midland, was elected a state legislator for a term and then won Schuette’s mid-Michigan open seat in 1990. He started in Congress when Democrats were in control and made a pledge.

“You really want to make sure no matter where you are on that totem pole that you are treating people the way you want to be treated,” Camp said.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, can attest that Camp has kept the promise. They found a legislative fix to exempt a Bay City long-term care facility in Kildee’s district from closing under the health care law.

“As a freshman member of the opposite party, he was willing to work with me on that,” Kildee said. “That’s not the norm here right now.”

Camp’s retirement announcement earlier this year stunned many. He’s unsure yet what he’ll do, but colleagues say Michigan will feel his absence.

“People respect him,” Upton said. “... Dave is a big loss for us.”

Marisa Schultz

U.S. Cong. Dave Camp / Dale G. Young / The Detroit News