Last week, I spoke to a candidate for statewide office who lamented that she hadn’t been able to get out much among the people or keep up on important policy issues because she had to spend all day, every day on the phone, raising money. I also saw a candidate in a hotly contested congressional primary who told me the same thing.
Both know they will have to raise millions to have even a chance of being competitive.
And then there is Martin Brook, who is running in the Democratic congressional primary in the Ninth District, which straddles southern Macomb and Oakland counties.
Brook, a youthful-looking 53, seems remarkably like a clone of a younger Governor Jim Blanchard, which is not surprising, because he’s his nephew. He’s an employment law attorney in Birmingham and still goes to work every day, which is what most guys do who have one son in college and another in high school and a wife who only recently started back to work.
He isn’t a professional politician, but did spend six years on the Bloomfield Hills school board, becoming its president. Brook isn’t spending a lot of time raising money for his race, because he doesn’t plan to spend much – maybe, he told me, a total of $25,000.
He’s running in a race where the other two candidates are Andy Levin, an entrepreneur with past experience in government, and Ellen Cogen Lipton, a highly regarded former legislator. Both are on course to spend more than a million dollars on their primary campaigns.
Every political expert in the state expects that one of the better-known two, probably Levin, will win the primary in what is a safe Democratic district. If they’ve noticed Brook at all, they assume he will get only a few percent of the vote.
Everything I know about politics tells me that’s probably right. Yet Martin Brook has a message that is worth thinking about. “I’m running to break the power of money in campaigns,” he told me. “That’s what is destroying our system. That’s what keeps congressmen from casting the tough votes needed to make real change. They are very good at winning reelection and bad at policy, at adopting policies the country needs.”
Brook thinks that if somehow he can win, it will send a signal that it is possible to break the power of money over our government. “That’s what keeps people like you and me out of the ‘political-industrial’ complex. It is time to return to politics that benefit the many, not the few,” he tells audiences at what he calls “friendraisers,” instead of fund-raisers.
Were he to get to Congress, he said he’d like to concentrate on the three Es—education, economy and the environment. He thinks that he would be able to reach across party lines and find it easier to craft bipartisan solutions, “grand ideas that move the country forward.”
He’d plan to serve no more than about a decade, saying, “By that time I’d have either moved my ideas forward or proven myself ineffective.”
What he is saying sounds hopelessly idealistic, and it probably is. And yet, I imagine he’s much closer to the type of person the founding fathers imagined going to Congress than most of those today who are actually there.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.