July 17, 2014 at 1:00 am

In Michigan Democratic primary, candidate's GOP donation raises controversy

Smith (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)

In fiercely competitive state legislative primaries, nothing stings more than suggesting one’s opponent has helped the enemy.

In the 4th Senate District Democratic primary, state Sen. Virgil Smith’s campaign is trying to make hay about a $1,000 contribution state Rep. Rashida Tlaib made in August 2006 to then-U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Township.

“The question that comes with that is: Why are you giving $1,000 to a Republican congressman?” Smith said in a recent interview. “Was it a fundraiser? Were you a pass through (donor)? Especially if you’re a Democrat and you espouse all of these Democratic principles, why are you even there?”

At the time, Tlaib was an immigrant rights organizer at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services. Tlaib said she scrounged together $1,000 to get into a Knollenberg fundraiser to ask the veteran congressman a question about immigration reform.

“I’m absolutely not a Republican,” Tlaib told the Insider. “I’ve never voted for a Republican.”

Smith said the issue of Tlaib’s GOP donation is playing to his advantage in the heavily Democratic district, which stretches from Detroit’s northside to the Downriver communities of Allen Park, Lincoln Park and Southgate.

“That issue has proven to be more controversial than I thought,” he said. I didn’t think it would resonate to the degree that it has.”

Endorsement of campaign, as good as funding

The 4th Congressional District GOP primary to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, has turned into a TV advertising war of words between Saginaw-area retired businessman Paul Mitchell and state Sen. John Moolenaar of Midland.

While Mitchell poured $1.9 million of his own money into the campaign to help fuel his TV ad blitz, according to a campaign finance filing, Moolenaar recently scored a significant intellectual endorsement: Mecosta resident Annette Kirk, wife of “The Conservative Mind” author Russell Kirk — who died 20 years ago, but helped mold the conservative movement after World War II.

In a July 9 piece written for a conservative blog, Annette Kirk praised Moolenaar for — among other things — standing against Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and some other GOP senators in the close 2013 Senate vote approving Michigan’s expansion of the Medicaid health care program for low-income residents.

Grand bargain was signed on a $5 bargain desk

When Gov. Rick Snyder on June 20 signed legislation that adds $195 million in state aid to a pool of $466 million in private funds to help Detroit emerge from bankruptcy, he boasted that he did so on an old metal desk that was bought for only $5.

It turns out, gubernatorial spokesman Dave Murray confirmed, the desk was purchased during the auction at the Pontiac Silverdome, the mothballed stadium and former home of the Detroit Lions, monster truck shows and mega-concerts.

The nine-bill legislative package signed at the desk, known as the grand bargain, is intended to limit cuts to city pensions and protect Detroit Institute of Arts masterworks from being sold. An unidentified person donated the desk for the legislation-signing ceremony, Murray said.

Howze organizes fundraiser to erase campaign debt

There are two kinds of rebuilding being done in Detroit. One focuses on reviving structures and the economy. The other involves erasing campaign debt.

Detroit’s chief lobbyist, Chief Government Affairs Officer Lisa Howze, is holding a July 29 fund-raising event at Hotel St. Regis in Detroit — to help erase the IOUs she accumulated in her unsuccessful 2013 mayoral campaign.

She later became a part of Mayor Mike Duggan’s campaign and transition teams, and he is returning the favor by helping to co-host the event with real estate developer Herbert Strather and funeral home director O’Neil Swanson, according to a copy of the fundraiser invitation.

Patrons must pay $250 for themselves and $100 for guests for what the invitation calls “an enchanted evening” with Howze. In a city that is trying to unload up to $18 billion in bankruptcy court, any elimination of debt would certainly be considered charming.

Sheriff's drone disaffection for state representative

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard isn’t a fan of state Rep. Tom McMillin, the fellow Republican from Rochester Hills who’s hoping to defeat former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop of Rochester and succeed U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers in Congress next year.

That’s clear from a letter dated July 1 that Bouchard fired off, turning down McMillan’s invitation to an event earlier this month.

“You have spent a great deal of time and taxpayer dollars demonizing the police in this state with little or no knowledge of the existing oversight and regulation,” the letter read in part. It went on, in considerable detail, to accuse McMillin of being on an “anti-policing mission.”

While the sheriff’s disaffection has simmered mostly behind the scenes, he’s known to be unhappy with certain aspects of McMillin’s passion for protecting citizens against government snooping.

Specifically, he was irked by a complex bill McMillin introduced last year to closely regulate the use of drones — unmanned aerial vehicles. At the time, Bouchard complained that law enforcement officials weren’t consulted about the bill, which he also described as over the top.

The legislation, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, mandates search warrants for drone use, plus regular reports to the Legislature and attorney general. Police couldn’t use drone-gathered information without written consent from those subjected to the aerial spying.

In 2012, Bouchard used a drone to assist a SWAT team in a situation involving a barricaded gunman who had killed a West Bloomfield police officer, according to press accounts of the incident.

Contributors: Chad Livengood, Gary Heinlein, Richard Burr

Tlaib (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
Lisa Howze's invitation to an 'enchanted evening.'
Bouchard (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)
McMillin (Mark Bialek / Special to the Detroit News)