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Democrats target the wrong Rep. Upton

The Detroit News

No Republicans have publicly declared their intent to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, but U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, the senior Republican in Michigan’s congressional delegation, is considering a run.

This has put him in the cross-hairs of national Democrats. As part of a six-figure digital ad buy, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sponsored advertisements on Google search pages this month targeting Michigan voters to highlight Upton’s support for the GOP health care overhaul legislation.

The ads link to a video of Upton discussing the bill on the House floor and says “Upton’s health care plan raises costs and cuts coverage in MI.”

But the DSCC page refers to him as “Congressman Frank Upton.” There’s no one in the House of Representatives by that name.

Sanctions for Johnson weighed

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Alan Meekhof’s legal team is reviewing the status of state Sen. Bert Johnson and considering whether he should be stripped of committee assignments of face other sanctions, he confirmed Wednesday.

Johnson missed session Tuesday as he appeared in federal court in Detroit. The Highland Park Democrat was arraigned on federal theft and conspiracy charges for allegedly hiring a “ghost employee” to pay off a personal loan, an accusation his attorney said is not true.

Meekhof, R-West Olive, said he is working with Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich to determine “the best course of action” on Johnson, but he declined to speculate what steps, if any, may be taken.

“I reminded folks in caucus yesterday that another senator was indicted years ago – Sen. (Jim) Barcia – and then the charges were dropped,” Meekhof said. “So let’s not rush right out there and be crazy about it.”

Barcia was indicted in 2004 for allegedly making false statements to federal agencies and exceeding campaign contribution limits. He maintained his innocence, and federal prosecutors dropped the charges in 2005.

Ananich, D-Flint, acknowledged Wednesday that Meekhof has approached him to discuss Johnson, but he also expressed caution about leaping to conclusions.

“This is an ongoing investigation, an ongoing trial, and to me I think it’s appropriate to look at it when there’s a reason to look at it,” Ananich said. “Right now, I think we need to look at how things unfold.”

Campaign events on tap

Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow ended the first quarter with a healthy $4.3 million cash in the bank, according to campaign finance reports.

Stabenow, who is running for a fourth term next year, raised nearly $1.3 million in the first three months of the year.

The fundraising for the 66-year-old Lansing area resident continues this week with a joint event Sunday at Cobo Center in Detroit with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, who will be in town to speak at the Detroit NAACP’s annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner.

The afternoon reception, with a suggested donation of $25, benefits the Stabenow Warren Victory Fund, according to the invitation.

Warren is expected to attend a fundraiser earlier Sunday at Café Muse in Royal Oak, an event that will be co-hosted by owner Gregory Reyner and others, including University of Michigan law professor John Pottow, a former student of Warren’s when she taught at Harvard Law School.

Tickets for the luncheon run between $250 and $500, while access to a host reception costs $1,000 or $2,700. Contributions will benefit the Elizabeth Warren Action Fund committee.

A Democrat, Craig Allen Smith, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission in February declaring his intent to challenge Stabenow. Smith could not be reached for comment Tuesday but, according to his campaign’s Facebook page, he hails from Gaylord.

Smith’s FEC paperwork lists an address in Washington, D.C. Smith’s biography says he served in the U.S. Army for nearly 10 years, worked as a field representative for the U.S. House, and is now the president of About Face 4 Media LLC and About Face 4 Vets Inc., a nonprofit for veterans of the Sept. 11 era.

Term limits targeted

Legislative term limits are a “failed social experiment” in Michigan, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said Monday, arguing the state can “do better” than a policy that forces turnover in the Legislature.

The West Olive Republican blasted Michigan term limits during a Lansing summit on fiscal stability, suggesting the rules discourage long-term planning and prudent decision making at the state Capitol.

“Giving people a longer term limit I think says that when you make the decision, you'll be there long enough to see the effects of that decision,” Meekhof told reporters after the event. “Now, most people aren't here long enough... so they can kind of wipe their hands of it.”

Term limits, as approved by Michigan voters in 1992, are baked into the state Constitution. Legislators are allowed to serve three two-year terms in the House for a total of six years and two four-year terms in the Senate. Combined, they can serve up to 14 years if elected to both chambers.

Meekhof is bumping up against that cap and will be forced out of office at the end of 2018, but he said he is not interested in changing the rules for himself, suggesting any policy change he may pursue would only affect future legislators.

His predecessor, former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, also sharply criticized term limits during his final term in Lansing and introduced a resolution for a constitutional amendment to extend them.

Three years later, Meekhof said he just wants to “start the discussion” about potential changes. He isn’t proposing any legislation, noting term limit reforms would require voter approval or a legally binding court decision.

“If you had a $55 billion company and told investors every six years you're going to bring in new people that haven’t done this very much, how likely are people to invest in that business?” Meekhof said, comparing state government to the private sector. “It's very uncertain.”

State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-Meridian Township, agreed with Meekhof that term limits “don't work” and suggested they may be contributing to what he called “dysfunctional government” in Lansing.

But he acknowledged that lifting or extending term limits would be a tough sell with the public. Roughly 59 percent of voters approved the limits in 1992.

“It’s a difficult argument,” Hertel said. “I think the hardest part of the argument, to be honest with you, is the idea that this Legislature is so bad we need to give them longer time to actually learn how to be a legislator.”

Contributors: Melissa Nann Burke and Jonathan Oosting