If you haven’t heard of the wacky antics in the Michigan 11th congressional district, you’re in for a sweet story. Our story starts just over a decade ago. It starts in 2001 with a little known Michigan state Representative named Thaddeus McCotter. It was just after the 2000 census which means it was time to draw new congressional districts. Thaddeus, who was involved with creating the districts, drew the 11th district to be a nice, safe district for any Republican Congressman. And, as luck would have it, he LIVED in this new district. He ran for congress and won in 2002. That was the end of our story for about 9 years.
In 2011, an older and wiser Thaddeus McCotter decided to run for President. If you didn’t know that, don’t feel bad. Neither did anybody else. He didn’t get into any of the debates and he dropped out of the race before a single vote was cast. He returned to his district. The 11th district had been trending slightly Democractic. Well, after the 2010 censuse, it was redrawn to be safe again forever for Thaddeus. The Democrats put up a token candidate that most knew didn’t stand a chance. All that Thaddeus McCotter had to do was just coast to another uneventful victory. Then, something strange happened…
There was something strange about the nominating ballots for McCotter’s campaign. You see, in Michigan, to get your name on the ballot, one must put up a small fee and collect several thousand signatures from supporters to prove your “seriousness” as a candidate. Normally, this is an easy, and routine procedure for a campaign. For whatever reason, McCotter’s staff went the even EASIER route of photocopying last election’s ballots and changing the dates. As misfortune would have it, this is quite illegal and is taken very serious by Michigan’s Attorney General.
At first McCotter denied everything and blamed a partisan witch hunt. But when you’re a republican congressman being investigated by a Republican Attorney General, that’s a hard argument to make(I guess one could say the Attorney General was trying to make a name for himself). After the scandal kept growing and his campaign staff started getting arrested, McCotter not only announced that he wouldn’t run for re-election, but he immediately resigned from congress.
In some ways, the timing of McCotter’s resignation was a giant F.U. to both Michigan and the Republican party. By the time he retired, it was too late to change the voting ballots for the August primary elections. This meant two things. One, Michigan couldn’t add a “special” election to the August primary election. So there had to be a costly stand-alone special primary election to fill his seat. This was his giant F.U. to the state of Michigan. More on this “special” election in another post.
The timing of his announcement he wouldn’t run for re-election was a giant F.U. to Republicans too. Since he waited until a couple days after the deadline to get on the primary ballot, it meant that no new Republican could easily jump into the primary. This left only those who had already filed with the intent of challenging McCotter. The only person crazy enough to do this was a completely unknown novice, with limited tea party backing, named Kerry Bentivolio.
The Republican establishment freaked. They started worrying about their “safe” district. Fortunately, for the establishment, they still had time to run a write-in candidate. They picked Nancy Cassis who was a little more seasoned and had establishment backing. Unfortunately, for the establishment, this created a bit of a backlash and Bentivolio easily won the primary.
Meanwhile, our bumbling establishment democrats decided not to get involved and stuck with the original token candidate so they wouldn’t risk the same backlash in a still long shot election. Bentivolio’s democratic opponent wasn’t necessarily that bad. It’s just that Taj had the same inexperience and unknown problem as Bentivolio. So the 11th district came down to a fight between two completely unknown and inexperienced candidates. In the end, the safe republican map carried Bentivolio to victory. Despite some of the crazier allegations that came out against Bentivolio(more on those in another post, as well). And that’s how a reindeer farmer gets to congress.