Some Republicans in Traverse City say State Representative Wayne Schmidt isn’t conservative enough. They’re supporting a challenger in next week’s Republican primary. Schmidt easily fended off a challenge from within his own party last election and it looks like a tall order to unseat the incumbent this year too.
Tea Party challenger
Instead of red and blue, Jason Gillman colors his campaigns yellow and black. That’s yellow like the Gadsden flag often flown at Tea Party events with a coiled rattlesnake on it. Even if people miss that connection, Gillman says his supporters stand out at Friday Night Live in Traverse City.
“We definitely get our attention.”
Jason Gillman is a commissioner in Grand Traverse County and publishes the blog Right Michigan. He’d like to see a more conservative agenda in Lansing that reduces the size and scope of government. Eliminating state funding for economic development programs like the travel campaign Pure Michigan is a top item on his agenda. And he’d like to see Michigan become a right-to-work state because he thinks it’s morally wrong to force someone to pay union dues. He says right-to-work legislation could have come through the commerce committee chaired by his opponent, Wayne Schmidt.
“But our representative is saying that, even with all branches of state government in Republican or presumably conservative control, it’s not the right time.”
Gillman is not alone in his frustrations.
Randy McClure wants to see Republicans do all they can to block President Obama’s healthcare law from being implemented. And McClure doesn’t think Wayne Schmidt is up for the fight.
"I don’t get the feeling that there’s any passion there for the conservative causes,” says the Old Mission resident. “I mean the things that are going to make a difference for this nation and this state.”
Incumbent stands by job performance
Wayne Schmidt has no apologies for people who think he’s not sufficiently conservative. He’s proud of his record in Lansing.
Schmidt thinks the unemployment reforms worked out in his commerce committee this past session are a model for other states. He says the legislature has cut taxes, dealt with structural deficits and improved the state’s bond rating.
“We’re doing the right things.”
Schmidt says it makes no sense to adopt an ideological stance when making public policy. When asked about his opponent’s criticism of state funded economic development programs like Pure Michigan he gets a big grin on his face.
“Pure Michigan is the best thing for the state… It’s a home run”
And Schmidt says he fought for other economic development programs that were cut back by Governor Snyder, like brownfield redevelopment programs. That’s state support for companies that redevelop abandoned, and often polluted, sites like the state hospital in Traverse City. He says he’d like to see more money go to brownfield redevelopment.
Does the Tea Party have traction in Traverse City?
Jason Gillman and his supporters appear to have an uphill fight against the two-term incumbent. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network reports Wayne Schmidt has raised eight-times as much money as the challenger.
The 104th State House District now covers only Grand Traverse County. And if 2010 results mean anything, the county might have less appetite for Tea Party politics than other parts of northern Michigan.
In the last general election Randy Bishop ran a similar campaign against Howard Walker for the open senate seat. Bishop tried to position himself as the true conservative and Walker as a status quo, GOP insider. But Bishop had his weakest showing in Grand Traverse County drawing just 25 percent of the primary vote.
As a county commissioner, Gillman has much better name recognition going in and he thinks the vote will be close. Either way he figures its good for the party to have a primary race so conservative issues stay in discussion rather than having an incumbent on the sidelines waiting for the fall.