Finley: Welday was establishment, and proud of it
Flipping through my notes from this campaign season, I keep coming across the name Paul Welday.
Paul was my go-to guy for political insights. The longtime Republican strategist, who died Tuesday at his Oakland County home, walked me through political what-ifs and why-nots for much of the past 20 years, drawing his answers from a career spent helping get Republicans elected to office in Michigan.
He had one of the best strategic minds in the state. I valued his views because I trusted him — he never shilled for a client during interviews, and always disclosed conflicts.
He wasn’t afraid to offend — his comments about the GOP could be harsh, even though he was a loyalist. He didn’t defend the indefensible.
Paul, 57, had a great sense of humor, a calm presence and an admirable habit of listening before responding. And over the years he became my good friend.
He was also something else — a member in good standing of the Republican establishment, the whipping boy of this election cycle.
Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and the conservative radio chorus have made establishment an ugly word, the symbol of Washington’s ineptitude, lost values and failure to give the people what they want.
Qualified, experienced candidates who should have had broad appeal as presidential candidates fell by the wayside in the Republican balloting because they wore the establishment label. Welday backed one of them, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is still hanging in the race.
The two have a lot in common. Like Kasich, Welday spent years learning his craft. He helped Joe Knollenberg get elected to Congress out of Oakland County, and then went to Washington as his top operative.
After that he held a variety of party jobs, and ran for office a time or two himself; in fact, he’d just filed papers to stand for Oakland County drain commissioner.
As a consultant, he managed campaigns and helped hone the messages of candidates across the state, working hard to put Republicans in office and Republican values in government policy.
He believed in those principles, but he wasn’t an ideologue. There is a time to stand firm, he understood, and a time to bend. That’s how the political process in America is supposed to work, and when politicians reject compromise as an option, the process stops working.
Before most of today’s GOP activists could find their tea pots, Paul was upholding for conservatives in a state that tends to lean the other way.
Paul was unfailingly polite and even-tempered. Political discourse today is carried out in vicious emails and texts and nasty Twitter and Facebook posts, even by people who hold responsible positions in our community. That was never Paul. He built relationships across the partisan divide and didn’t lose his mind over politics.
“He was a gentleman,” says Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat who did a weekly radio spot with Paul.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson stood side-by-side with Paul across decades of contentious Oakland County political battles, most of which they won.
“Paul was a true believer,” Patterson says. “He was a real, solid establishment guy.”
While to some that might be faint praise, I think Paul Welday would have taken it as the highest of compliments.
Nolan Finley’s “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.