Ellis Boal for Congress
2010 US House Race
Summary of the campaign
Prompted by my friend LuAnne Kozma, I decided this summer on a fourth try for public office, this time the House seat being vacated by Democrat Bart Stupak. I had run for county prosecutor in 2004, for county commissioner in a vacancy election in 2006, and for regent of the University of Michigan in 2008. The 2008 run resulted in 102,158 Green votes statewide, or 1.2%.
In 2005 I had got to know Stupak a little, first in an in-print debate on the Iraq war, followed by discussions about US policy in Israel/Palestine and Sovereign Deed. After achieving some prominence/notoriety in the debate over the 2010 health care law in the spring, he had announced he was leaving office after nine terms.
Five other candidates also jumped in. Click for my comments on their campaigns and links to their websites: Republican Dan Benishek, US Taxpayer Patrick Lambert, Democrat Gary McDowell, Libertarian Keith Shelton, and independent conservative Glenn Wilson.
Benishek and Wilson both appealed to Tea Party sentiments. Their politics were very similar, except that Wilson said the two parties are bought and paid for. One of his ads ridiculed leaders of each of them as mafia dons, wanting to "whack the voters."
In the end, Benishek and Wilson got into quite a tussle. Even so, together they managed to secure 55% of the vote, an impressive number. Benishek had an absolute majority.
The percent two years ago was artifically high due to voters each having the right to vote for two candidates. Another part of the diminution since then can be chalked up to publicized polling expectations that the race would be close between Benishek and McDowell, and that Wilson might spoil Benishek's chances. Had their race not been close I would have done better. I am not disappointed with the drop.
The campaign coalesces
This was the most interesting of the four campaigns I have run. The issues were of national importance, and I got to articulate my views to a wide and varied audience.
I was nominated without opposition on July 31 at a Lansing meeting of the Michigan Green Party. For the first several weeks it was quiet as I pondered the campaign and began to re-tool the website from 2008. I write and code it myself.
It was a month after the nomination that I learned who my main opponents would be. The Democrat, Gary McDowell, who was unopposed in his party, at first did not seem to be running seriously. He declined to respond to questions for a late-July Petoskey News-Review voter guide.
On the Republican side, secretly I hoped Jason Allen would be the nominee, as that would have given me a fine campaign theme, opposition to the crackpot company Sovereign Deed. McDowell and Allen together had spearheaded legislation to enable a $5 million tax break for it; there was a famous picture of them smiling with Governor Granholm at the signing ceremony. Later the company collapsed amid exposure of the CEO's involvement in used-car fraud in Australia, and lies about his military record. "Bipartisan crony capitalism is the old way; a Green administration would never tolerate it," I expected to be saying to Allen and McDowell together at candidate forums.
(I say I "secretly" hoped Allen would win. I did nothing to advance this result. I don't believe in cross-party primary campaigning.)
(Well actually I did make one exception: Tim Boyko ran in the Republican primary this summer for the 105th state House seat. I didn't vote for him but I gave him $100. I could hardly do otherwise: he had given me like amounts -- not to mention frequent and invaluable nuts-and-bolts advice about campaign technique -- in my runs for county office. He lost.)
But the Republicans waged a fierce intramural battle. Benishek, a political newcomer, outflanked Allen from the right, and got him by 15 votes.
Into high gear
I had originally expected my campaign to consist of little more than posting positions on the website and attending the few and small candidate forums to which I would be invited.
But I was invited to many, some with the top contenders. I ended up logging 3300 car-miles, attending forums in Cheboygan, L'Anse, Kingsford, Alpena, Charlevoix, Petoskey, Petoskey, Mio, Escanaba, Escanaba, Iron Mountain, and Negaunee. Most were in the Upper Peninsula, 200+ miles from home. Articles in Michigan Messenger and Marquette Mining Journal featured my campaign. I had three radio interviews, one for an hour with Greg Marshall on WMKT. The same station broadcast a 2-hour candidates' forum in Petoskey. Channel 6 in Negaunee broadcast a one-hour candidates' forum. Channels 7 and 4 interviewed me at the house. I met with Rio Tinto's Matt Johnson for a detailed discussion of its subsidiary Kennecott's Eagle Minerals Project. And I was at the Labor Day Mackinac Bridge walk.
Then there were endless detailed questionnaires, from the League of Women Voters, the Detroit Free Press, the Associated Press, and several local media outlets. They were helpful. They helped get me started on learning the issues.
The high point was a radio-broadcast two-hour debate in Petoskey among five of the six candidates on October 18. Three hundred people attended, on a Monday afternoon. Channels 9 and 10 broadcast a short clip of it.
I did a great job, ending with a flourish by pouncing on Benishek for misquoting the Employee Free Choice bill on an important point, and for claiming that the Bush tax cuts should be continued in 2011 for people clearing over $200,000 annually. He had claimed the cuts would benefit small-business people like gas station owners. A gas station owner does not make that kind of money as everyone but Benishek knows. The median income in this district is $34,076. Many people complimented me after the debate, including McDowell.
(Actually, mentioning Benishek in my closing violated a debate rule that I had overlooked. Moderator Greg Marshall didn't call me on the violation, but later I apologized to him and to the Benishek campaign.)
The next day I got a loud, angry call. The caller had heard about the debate but didn't attend. She said I was a racist against white people. She was referring to my debate remarks about immigration. I had pointed to the reversal of this country's traditional welcoming attitude from the days when the immigrants were largely white. I had also highlighted racist content in The Social Contract, a local magazine about which I have written op-eds in the past, which is in the forefront of the US anti-immigrant movement. The caller interrupted angrily several times as I tried to explain, saying I was "finished" and should be "punished."
I didn't consider it a specific threat and did not notify the police. But I did alert Marshall and the other candidates.
Developing the issues
What were the cutting-edge issues?
At an early debate in L'Anse two audience members asked me about Social Security. I didn't know too much about it, except for some recent articles on the subject in Labor Notes, a union-oriented publication with which I have long worked. (I am the music editor.) I came home and, using the Labor Notes articles, spent a couple of hours developing and writing a position paper. I put it on the website. I notified one of the questioners by email, and asked him to pass it on to the other.
Again, a questionnaire asked what I thought about global warming and the cap-and-trade legislation which passed the House in 2009. I had actually never heard of cap-and-trade. I was on deadline, with no time to call anyone for advice. So I did some quick research. I found that Labor Notes seemed to support cap-and-trade, as does the Blue Green Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental players. That was enough to convince me. I endorsed it in the questionnaire response. Relating this later to Green Party comrades, they were horrified. The party had discussed it at some length, and instead supported a different plan, fee-and-dividend, endorsed by NASA scientist James Hansen. I explained all this, including my flip-flop, in a website white paper.
Being a Green, I also wanted to take up a specific environmental issue somewhere in the district. I had been hearing about Kennecott's proposed Eagle Minerals Project, a nickel sulfide mine 10 miles from Lake Superior at a sacred Keweenaw Bay Indian site near Marquette. Outgoing Congressman Stupak has denounced it. Every sulfide mine has polluted water resources which are nearby. I decided to highlight the Kennecott mine.
I got in touch with Save The Wild UP, one of the organizations which has been fighting the mine permits. On September 28 I attended the sentencing of Charlotte Loonsfoot, a native activist recently arrested voluntarily for trespassing at the mine site. Later, Cynthia Pryor, of the allied Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, who was previously sentenced for the same act, took me to the mine entrance near the Salmon Trout River, far out in pristine woods. I asked the guards for a tour. They directed me to Rio Tinto spokesperson Matt Johnson, in Ishpeming, for permission.
On October 25 I met for an hour with Johnson in his office, to hear out the company's position. That evening, the six candidates had a one-hour televised debate with moderator Greg Trick on Channel 6, broadcast the next day. A question came in by email about the Kennecott mine. The other candidates were wishy-washy, saying it should be permitted provided it is closely regulated. For my part, I rattled off the safety and environmental data from SWUP, which by then I had posted on my site.
The debate format then permitted each candidate to ask any other candidate a question of his choosing. I chose Benishek. He is a surgeon. I reminded him of a September 19 ad in the Marquette Mining Journal, signed by 210 medical professionals including 71 MD's like him and 11 DO's. The ad objected to construction of sulfide mines in the UP, among other reasons, because of their record of water contamination, and because of concerns about their impact on the health of mine workers and surrounding communities. I asked Benishek, as a doctor not a candidate, whether he would go up against all these professionals, and recommend it was ok for his patients to work in the mine or live near it. Yes, he said; he would have no problem with his patients going in or living near the mine.
So these were issues I was learning. What did I think of the other candidates?
I can't comment on their financial disclosure filings. I didn't check them.
In terms of their relations to the mass media I also don't have a handle. I don't watch TV or listen to radio. The only local paper I get is the weekly Charlevoix Courier. My source for national and world news is the New York Times, which comes by mail (except Sunday), usually several days late.
So I can't comment on the candidates' TV, radio, and print ads.
But I can about the mailings. I received several colorful cards telling me to vote against McDowell. Most were from the Michigan Republican Party. One from the MRP depicted McDowell as a puppet in the hands of House speaker Nancy Pelosi. (McDowell says he doesn't know Pelosi and has never spoken to her.) Another one showing him as a puppet came from Americans for Limited Government.
These mailings said nothing about whom to vote for, only whom to vote against. No candidate other than McDowell was the subject of attack mailings. Nor did any mailing come recommending a vote for anyone in my race.
What did I see of the other candidates on the ground?
Interestingly, all six of us, from left to right, favored ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From all the "Benishek" lawn signs on the roads it seemed like he was the one to beat. I hadn't known anything about him at first. I had attended a Tea Party Express rally in Petoskey in April where he spoke. As a speaker he wasn't good, often reading from notes for his basic speeches, as I noticed at the forums later on.
Looking over his program, the issues page on his website did not acknowledge global warming. The closest he came to it was this:
ENERGY INDEPENDENCE. Radical environmentalism has rendered energy development next to impossible. Although we must be good stewards of the earth, God gave us this planet and all its resources to meet our needs. America has expansive coal, natural gas, and oil reserves. We need to responsibly tap into these reserves and stop relying on other nations to supply our energy. The expanded use of nuclear power as a safe, clean, and efficient source of energy must be explored to ensure our energy needs are fulfilled.
Other than that, he was for job creation via lower taxes and deregulation of business, reduction of non-military spending, secure borders, repeal of health care reform/Obamacare, partial privatization of Social Security, aggressive support of the war on terror, strengthening of veterans' benefits, and right to life.
Quickly he became the most interesting campaign figure, starting with his in-print position on guns in a late-July Petoskey News-Review voter guide. He emphasized that they enable citizens to overthrow tyrannical governments, and without them people would not be able to do that.
In Dallas, Texas, another Tea Party-backed Republican made a similar pitch in a House race. Candidate Stephen Broden suggested that violent overthrow of the government was a possibility that could not be dismissed. "The option is on the table," he said. He ended up with 22% of the vote.
Unlike Broden, Benishek was doing well. I decided to make guns and revolution an issue on the website.
For myself, I don't have strong opinions about guns. I had a couple when I was married. Years ago I brought down a duck from a blind with a shotgun. And as detailed elsewhere, while a law student 40 years ago I authored a Michigan gun-owners' legal rights manual. I supported the Black Panther Party, and armed struggle against the US.
Those instincts are still in me today. I've been a member of a socialist grouping since 1977. Some day gun issues will come back to the fore. For now they are relegated to lesser priority. But not for Benishek. His supporters are better armed and organized than the Panthers ever were. For him this is a front-and-center campaign issue.
I didn't challenge him on this in the debates, but I decided to in my final appearance, a one-hour interview on October 30 with Greg Marshall on WMKT in Petoskey. By email two days in advance I alerted Benishek's campaign, with copies to the other candidates.
I invited him to call in to the show to outline his strategy for taking down the government. I speculated that large munitions would be needed, to counter the mobile rockets and other devices with which the government was likely to answer. I invited him to give his thoughts on which targets to hit first, and whether corporations -- as persons with newly expanded first and second amendment rights -- could be an aid.
On the show, I explained all this, and awaited his call. It didn't come.
The other candidates thought to be significant factors in the final count were Democrat McDowell and independent Wilson. According to an October 25 poll, Benishek led McDowell by just 2%, with a 5% margin of error, and with Wilson drawing 8%. The issues-candidates (Libertarian Shelton, US Taxpayer Lambert, and I) didn't register in the poll.
That McDowell had a good chance hadn't come across to me. In my conversations with voters around the district, Benishek seemed strong. Wilson had a following. Lambert had a few signs, but Shelton and I had none.
(I never have had signs in my races. I consider them blight. In my 2005-06 race for county commissioner, I tried to get the other candidates to agree with me not to use them.)
As I note elsewhere, McDowell, like Benishek, Stupak, and all the other candidates (except possibly Shelton), is pro-gun and anti-choice. McDowell is also anti-contraception and pro-English-only, and he supported the big tax break for Sovereign Deed. At podiums, he seemed to mumble. But he was pleasant, and as near as I can tell he does his homework.
As to Wilson, his message was identical to Benishek's except for his view on party corruption. My own view is different. To me a party is corrupt if party leaders are putting someone else's money in their own pockets or consciously lying to the voters. I don't think they do that. Rather, my critique is ideological. The major parties' policies favor the ruling class.
Tea party problems
A peculiar dynamic emerged between the Benishek and Wilson campaigns in the last few weeks. I learned of it only after the election, when a friend sent me a link to an episode of the popular NPR documentary This American Life. Episode 417, This Party Sucks, which is downloadable, had been aired on October 29, four days before the election.
Knowing nothing of the upcoming TAL piece, I had read on October 6 that Wilson's campaign manager Rich Carlson of Petoskey had quit the campaign because Wilson had violated an agreement between them. The article quoted a press release which explained:
Carlson went on to say that the handshake agreement he had with Wilson to suspend the campaign in the event it looked as though votes would be taken away from the GOP candidate and the Dems would have a chance to keep the seat, was paramount to his coming on board.
I took Carlson's departure at face value. After the election I wondered if his attack on Wilson's integrity, and implicit endorsement of Benishek, might have been a factor in Benishek pulling so far ahead at the end.
But the TAL piece, produced by Ben Calhoun, shows in detail what really happened. Carlson did not quit Wilson. Tape recordings show Wilson fired him for poor organization and management.
Right after learning of his discharge, Carlson told the TAL producer, on tape, that he still supported Wilson.
A few days later Carlson got a phone call from Tony Cutler, a staffer in the Benishek campaign. TAL broadcast it with the permission of both men.
In the call Cutler recommended that Carlson issue a lying press release, saying that he had quit Wilson and now opposes his campaign. Cutler told Carlson he should decide whether to go along with the plan "right this second." Cutler explained that he had people writing two stories, one that Carlson was fired and the other that Wilson had abandoned principle and we need to elect Benishek.
Carlson acceded. He told Cutler that he could craft a release saying Wilson was a spoiler and should drop out.
Within ten hours the Benishek campaign forwarded a release to TAL. It said Carlson stepped down because of a difference of opinions with Wilson.
I am astonished. The Benishek campaign orchestrated and distributed a press release it knew to be false.
Frequently during the forums I had told the other candidates and the audiences how I disapproved of negative campaigning. Even so, having got to know the other five, I had said I believed we were all running in good faith.
My standard speech
Hello, I'm Ellis Boal. I'm with the Green Party.
This is my fourth run for public office. Last time in 2008 I ran for regent of the university of Michigan and got 102,158 votes, a little over 1%.
I'm an attorney. I have litigated in several states and Puerto Rico, including four federal courts of appeal.
I specialize in labor law, on the labor side. Two of my cases have established important legal precedents, studied by students in law schools around the country today. Before law school I was a defendant in a free-speech case arising from the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention, which went to the Illinois supreme court and almost to the US supreme court. Five years ago I was quoted on page one of the Wall Street Journal about one of my UAW cases. I have written legal rights books for rank-and-file Teamsters and UAW members.
I am an athlete. I run or ski 40 miles a week. I have over 71,000 lifetime miles.
I'm a musician. You can hear me playing here.
I am divorced, with no children or grandchildren.
What does the Green Party stand for?
Money and volunteers
Expenses for this campaign totaled $603.47, of which $166.55 was for buttons and a trifold, $407.87 for gas and trip expenses, $1.05 for a PayPal service fee, and $28.00 for the victory party. This being below the $5000 minimum for federal offices under the ethics in government act, I didn't file campaign financial reports. But prompted by one of the questionnaires, I did report my property holdings and adjusted gross income for the last two years on my website, and offered to mail recent tax returns to requesters. No one requested. The campaign being a month over at this writing, I am withdrawing the offer.
Robin Oye, Bruce and Char Sanderson, and John Porter made cash contributions totalling $81.03. In-kind donations summing to $105.33 came from LuAnne Kozma (campaign buttons) and Richard Sloat (motel for John LaPietra and myself in Iron Mountain one night). Contributions thus summed to $186.36. In terms of work, Greg Kozma designed the campaign buttons. LuAnne Kozma made them. John LaPietra laid out my campaign trifold, and Lynn Meadows repaired my grungy Green Party hat. Friends put me up three nights when I was traveling.
Along the way I gradually picked up a kitchen cabinet. Honorable mention goes to JoAnne and Rick Beemon, Noah Fowle, LuAnne Kozma, John LaPietra, Charlotte Loonsfoot, Tom Mair, Lynn Meadows, Art Myatt, Greg Peterson, Cynthia Pryor, Richard Sloat, Fred Vitale, and Save The Wild UP.
As noted, this was the most interesting of the Green races I have run. There were also adventures.
Unpaved Marquette County Road Aaa, which I drove from the Kennecott Mine entrance at Eagle Rock to L'Anse on September 28, goes through rough forest wilderness, over sand, gravel, and streambeds for miles and miles and miles. Alone in my all-wheel drive sedan, I was begged at first by my sulfide-mine mentor Cynthia Pryor not to attempt it. Finally she relented on condition that I first gas up. She said if I made it through I would have bragging rights over all the other candidates. I did get briefly lost at one point, but a friendly local who happened by pointed me in the right direction. I made it to L'Anse and the candidate forum in plenty of time.
Later I was in Escanaba and Iron Mountain for forums on October 20-21. I got a tent site for two nights at Pioneer Trail Campground near Escanaba. I hadn't packed my winter sleeping bag, and it got quite chilly the first night.
In the morning, a tire was flat. I changed it and found a tire shop. The mechanic said it was punctured and I needed a new one. I got a little paranoid, thinking back to the caller after the Petoskey radio debate who said I needed to be punished for my racist views. The mechanic didn't think much of my politics, but assured me the hole was not human-caused. Asked about getting a shower somewhere, he directed me to a truck stop in nearby Rapid River. The owner there, a friendly guy named Pete, had seen me speak at the forum the night before. An adamant Benishek supporter, he and I talked for a bit as he cordially poured me coffee. I frightened him, he said, adding that I was probably frightened of him. He was immensely relieved that the too-liberal Jason Allen had lost the Republican primary. He was thrilled to learn of the picture of Allen, Gary McDowell, and Governor Granholm on my website, celebrating Sovereign Deed.
He directed me to a trailhead near the town cemetery, where I got in a 9-mile wilderness run. I talked of it that evening at a forum in Iron Mountain. Returning to the campground and tent around midnight, it was still cold and I wasn't looking forward to another chattering sleep. I decided to strike the tent and do a night drive home.
In the dark, the car lights helped me get everything packed and into the trunk. I turned the key. The engine whined a little and quit. Thinking about the punctured tire, I started getting paranoid again. But I figured the lights had run down the battery. Anyway, it would be too much trouble to re-stake the tent, I thought. The only option was to sit tight, and go looking for help in the morning. Reclining back in the driver's seat, I spread the sleeping bag over me, and covered it with a wool blanket I keep in the trunk. Around 4:00 am I woke. I tried the key again. The engine roared to life. Smiling, I turned out into the road. Night driving is the best, I have always thought. Crossing the Mackinac Bridge after first light, I was soon home.
As mentioned, I did not learn of Benishek's false press release till after the election.
It was also not till later that I connected the dots about his funding. Americans for Limited Government produced one of the anti-McDowell mailings. As is apparent, the sarcastic style and content of mailings from ALG and the Michigan Republican Party are identical. The same agency must have produced them.
ALG is a libertarian think tank and a tax-exempt charity. In 2005, 99% of its $5.4 million in total contributions came from three big donors whose names it will not disclose. It has been criticized for representing wealthy out-of-state interests under the guise of local grassroots activism.
The post-election information is giving me second thoughts about my repeated assertions during the campaign that everyone ran in good faith.
But set that aside. The newly-formed Tea Party movement did very well this year. After the election, Labor Notes began its summary this way:
Will the Green Party buck the free-market trend? We can only keep trying, and only hope we succeed. We believe in mass organization. This year the Tea Party took a page from our book, with terrific street-side organizing. It's up to us to try to get it back.
I was the only candidate at the forums to say don't just vote for me, vote for my party. Now we must show the wisdom of that advice. Here is a summary of the Green Party's results nationally.
A final personal note: Shortly after the election I got a call from an old friend, Ken Allen. He called to say he had just been elected chair of the Charlevoix County Democrats. Ken and I have worked together on a variety of peace-related causes over the years, most notably riding a bus together to Washington with 50 high-schoolers in the spring of 2003 in a final bid to try to prevent the start of the Iraq war.
In 2008 another friend, Tim Boyko, was elected chair of the Charlevoix Republicans. Tim and I have also worked together, politically, and in the successful effort to stop Sovereign Deed, and in anti-racism agitation against the local magazine Social Contract. I kid with Tim, saying he rode into office two years ago on Obama's coattails.
Anyway, it pleases me to see allies rising in the other camps. It gives me hope that we may yet find common ground together, at least in the politics around Charlevoix. If only we can spread that through the region and the country.