Ed. Note: This is part of a series of articles profiling a limited number of political races where the archives of Michigan Capitol Confidential store significant information that may be of interest to free-market inclined voters. In each of these profiles, the article will cover only the candidates who have compiled a vote history or other record that has been covered by this news service since it began as a print publication in fall 2007.
This is not to slight the candidates whose public record has not yet appeared in MichCapCon. In some cases, voters may determine that these are the best possible candidates in a given race. All voters are strongly encouraged to give every candidate a serious look.
The purpose of this series is to tell the interesting stories that are known about those issues that have been examined by this page over the last several years. MichCapCon has always targeted free-market issues, not individual political personalities. As such, these profiles should be viewed as only a small part of the overall policy picture.
This is not a comprehensive voter guide, not a comprehensive picture of any candidate and certainly not an endorsement of any candidate.
For a larger list of votes written up by MichCapCon, please see: www.MichCapCon.com/12541, and use the search feature on the home page. Additionally, every roll call vote for every bill considered by the Michigan Legislature since 2001 is available at www.MichiganVotes.org.
Michigan's 3rd Congressional district includes the city of Grand Rapids, most of Kent County and all of Barry and Ionia counties. The current occupant of the office, U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, is retiring from Congress. The district's political profile and vote history makes it likely that the winner of the GOP primary in August will also win the general election in November.
The Republican primary has five candidates, two of them current state lawmakers that have compiled a public policy record that has appeared in MichCapCon: Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township and Sen. Bill Hardiman of Kentwood.
Also running on the GOP side are the Van Andel Institute's chief administrative officer and general counsel Steve Heacock of Grand Rapids, private practice attorney and small business owner Louise E. Johnson of Grand Rapids, and Bronze Star winner and Afghanistan combat veteran Bob Overbeek of Wyoming. The Democrat field consists of former Kent County Commissioner Paul Mayhue of Grand Rapids, and attorney Pat Miles of Grand Rapids.
Both Hardiman and Amash have figured into ongoing stories that have appeared in MichCapCon recently.
Hardiman is the chair of the Senate committee that has been investigating the state's highly controversial policy of forcing unionization on small business owners who run home-based child care services (see: www.MichCapCon.com/12645 and www.MichCapCon.com/12569). He has also sponsored legislation aimed at ending the practice (see: www.MichCapCon.com/12735).
Shortly after assuming office, Amash become one of the first two lawmakers in Michigan history to place the names and salaries of his legislative staff on the Internet (see: www.MichCapCon.com/10863). Several other lawmakers have since been persuaded by this example and done the same with their staffing information. (Due to a special protection carved out for politicians in the state's Freedom of Information Act, the state legislature and the governor are not required to reveal this information, and the current governor has refused to do so).
Another path-breaking step toward government transparency taken by Amash has been his decision to use his Facebook page to state the reason for every vote that he takes in the Michigan House (see: www.MichCapCon.com/12826).
Hardiman's voting record for those issues that have been written up in MichCapCon generally reveals a lawmaker who votes with the Republican caucus - though there have been exceptions. While this has been generally true of Amash as well, the legislator has also shown a stronger tendency to vote against the majority of GOP lawmakers when there is an issue where some of the Republicans have split away.
A recent example took place in June when a new law was approved that granted a special tax perk for the owners of a super speedway in Michigan (see: www.MichCapCon.com/12990). Amash and three other Republicans were amongst only a dozen legislators in the House to vote against the special favor for the racetrack.
"It's neither fair nor economically sound to tax working class and middle class people, and to impose the onerous Michigan Business Tax on small businesses, to pay for massive subsidies to special interests," wrote Amash on Facebook, explaining his opposition.
Two weeks later, the Michigan Senate overwhelmingly approved the same bill on a vote of 36-1 and sent it to the governor for her signature. The lone dissenting vote was a Republican, but Hardiman voted with the majority in favor of the special tax deal.
Earlier this spring, both Hardiman and Amash bucked their party and a majority of the legislature to oppose a bill that stripped away some ownership rights from stockholders of a publicly-traded insurance company in Michigan (see: www.MichCapCon.com/12780). The chief purpose of the new law is to deliberately make it harder for the owners of the insurance company to sell their shares to a willing buyer. Amash was one of just 15 Republicans to oppose the bill in the House, and Hardiman was one of just six Republicans to oppose the bill in the Senate. (Nine House Democrats and 2 Senate Democrats also opposed the bill).
Last year, another law passed to increase subsidies for batteries used in small electric vehicles. MichCapCon noted in April that this policy was very similar to a "free golf cart" program then being exposed by Fox Business Network correspondent John Stossel (see: www.MichCapCon.com/12632). Amash was one of just four Republicans in the Michigan House to vote against increasing the number of companies getting the battery subsidy (two Democrats also voted "no").
Hardiman voted with the majority in the Michigan Senate, in favor of increasing the number of companies getting the subsidy.
Two similar votes in 2009 regarding subsidies for electric cars produced largely identical results: the two lawmakers voting opposite one another with Amash siding with the small minority that opposed the subsidies (see: www.MichCapCon.com/10703).
During last year's state budget battle, a strange pair of votes took place regarding a proposed modest 3 percent reduction to K-12 public school funding (see: www.MichCapCon.com/11464). In the Michigan Senate, the entire Republican majority was willing to vote in favor of making the cut so as to balance the budget without a tax increase, and Hardiman voted with the majority to make the cut.
In the Michigan House, several attempts were made to approve the same cut. Each one failed, though many Republicans indicated a willingness to support the cut if a majority could be rounded up to do so. In the end, because this majority did not exist, nearly every Republican was unwilling to go on record casting a vote to make the 3 percent reduction.
But there were two exceptions: Amash and Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, each cast votes in favor of the cut so as to demonstrate their support for the decision of the Senate GOP to cast a tough vote to restrain the size of government.
The budget fight that took place at the end of 2007 resulted in a $1.4 billion tax hikes. Hardiman, like most GOP in the Legislature, voted against the tax hikes. When it came time to spend these tax hikes, Hardiman - like the vast majority of Senate Republicans - voted to support budgets that spent more than $1.4 billion above the previous year (see: www.MichCapCon.com/9270).
For comparison: A half-dozen GOP lawmakers in the House voted against many of those budgets, and kept their spending increases well under $100 million for that year, despite the projected large influx of new revenue following the tax increase. (Amash was not yet a member of the Legislature during this period in 2007).
For a complete list of profiles, please see the July 2010 heading for the Michigan Capitol Confidential Vote History page: www.MichCapCon.com/12541.