July 1, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Sparring between McMillin, Bishop heating up in race for Rogers' seat

Bishop, left, and McMillin )

Lansing— The two Republicans vying for the nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers in Congress are making biting attacks on each other’s legislative voting records with a little more than a month to go until the Aug. 5 primary.

State Rep. Tom McMillin is going after former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop’s passage of the former Michigan Business Tax during the Democratic tenure of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, renaming the reviled MBT the “Mike Bishop Tax.”

Bishop is returning fire, criticizing McMillin for voting to impose the income tax on public pension income, eliminating popular tax deductions and halting a reduction of the income tax — which Bishop voted for.

The attacks and counterattacks on state legislative issues have tended to overshadow the candidates’ positions on congressional issues — where they overwhelmingly agree.

Both men are trying to grab the conservative mantle on taxes in a race to woo GOP primary voters in the 8th Congressional District. Retiring Rogers, R-Howell, has endorsed Bishop to replace him in the district that stretches from Lansing to Rochester Hills through Ingham, Livingston and Oakland counties.

Bishop, R-Rochester, defends shepherding the MBT through the Legislature to replace a predecessor tax hated by the manufacturing sector. Bishop did so when Republicans ran the Senate and Democrats controlled the House and governor’s office.

“Under the circumstances working with Jennifer Granholm, there was not much ability for me to do anything other than to trim back the tax so it ended up being less of a revenue generator,” said Bishop, arguing the MBT reduced revenue by $500 million annually.

McMillin, a term-limited state representative from Rochester Hills, defends his votes to raise income taxes in 2011 by blaming Bishop for giving him no choice.

“It was what we had to vote on in order to repeal the job-killing MBT,” McMillin said.

The 2011 repeal of the MBT and creation of a new 6 percent corporate income tax reduced state revenue by an estimated $1.8 billion annually.

Lawmakers partially filled the budget hole by reducing the homestead property and earned income tax credits for lower-income families and seniors and making all forms of pension income subject to the income tax for individuals born after 1945.

“I didn’t vote on a pension tax increase — he did,” Bishop said.

The more subdued Democratic primary features Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing, former state demographer Ken Darga, Central Michigan University professor Susan Grettenberger and attorney Jeffrey Hank.

Bishop, an attorney, left the Senate after 2010 because constitutional term limits barred him from seeking re-election. He served two terms in the state House.

After a failed bid for the state GOP nomination for attorney general, he returned to practicing law and then lost the 2012 race for Oakland County prosecutor to incumbent Jessica Cooper, a Democrat.

His tenure as Senate majority leader came during the tumultuous second term of Granholm, when the state’s economy was in the midst of a deep recession and tax revenues were plummeting.

Bishop argues his budgetary standoffs with Granholm and a “very liberal state House” helped position Republicans in 2010 to expand their control over the Senate to a super majority for the first time since 1948 and capture the House and governor’s office.

“I believe all of our efforts were vindicated.... People were so sick and tired of the Granholm administration,” Bishop said. “I like to take a little of credit for having started that revolution.”

McMillin, an accountant and former Oakland County commissioner, was elected to the state House in 2008. Known to sometimes be a maverick, McMillin’s votes can be unpredictable at times as he often veers away from the GOP caucus when he says a bill doesn’t solve a problem or is being rushed through the Legislature.

Bishop’s campaign has pointed to a December 2010 vote from McMillin against background checks for nursing home workers.

McMillin defends the vote, saying the bill “didn’t add any new background checks” and was being rushed through by Democrats, who were still the majority party at the time.

Earlier this month, McMillin was one of two representatives in the entire 148-member Legislature to vote against a new law giving women the right to breastfeed a child in public places. The new law prohibits restaurant owners and mall managers from kicking nursing mothers out or asking them to feed their child in a restroom.

McMillin said he’s “all for breastfeeding,” but the bill was government overreach.

“The bill said they couldn’t even go up to them and say ‘excuse me, my patrons are being offended by the manner in which you’re doing this’ and it would be the basis for a lawsuit,” he said.

Bishop’s campaign also takes McMillin to task for voting for $731 million in new debt for state and university buildings.

McMillin said he was just voting to pay the bills Bishop racked up through the state’s capital outlay program. “That was the vote to finance the buildings he voted for years before I got to the Legislature,” he said.

McMillin and Bishop both have lobbed accusations of desperation as they cherry pick their voting records.

“When you gotta deal with the fact you’re standing side by side with Granholm, you will try to come up with a lot of misinformation,” McMillin said about Bishop.

Bishop said it’s McMillin who is peddling misinformation.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this kind of overt intellectual dishonesty from anybody,” Bishop said.

Bishop has been especially irked at how quickly the race has devolved into mudslinging after McMillin sang his praises in the past.

“This is all about desperation and political opportunity,” Bishop said. “And when those two meet, you never know what’s going to come out of his mouth.”

Bishop’s campaign has launched a campaign website called McMillinForBishop.com highlighting all of the nice things McMillin said about him before the two became primary rivals.

McMillin said it’s all an effort to distract voters from Bishop’s record.

“I don’t blame him from trying to keep people away from remembering the MBT and all of the times he was in favor of corporate welfare and the doubling of the debt ceiling for Detroit,” McMillin retorted.