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Dillon challenges Bernero for Democratic gubernatorial nomination

Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon is challenging Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Courtesy www.andydillon.com.
Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon is challenging Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero for the Democratic nomination for governor.

By Laura Weber, Michigan Public Radio Network


Lansing, MI –

House Speaker Andy Dillon is seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for governor. That's despite the fact that he is not your typical politician, nor your typical Democrat. He is a moderate, pro-business Democrat, and some of his positions infuriate the party's liberal base. He's camera shy and does not usually seek the attention of the news media, at least not at the state Capitol. He speaks softly and not in sound bites. The Michigan Public Radio Network's Laura Weber reports on what it takes to get someone like that fired up.


(Announcer): "Speaker Andy Dillon."

(Dillon): "Good afternoon, and thanks for coming out here, because I feel betrayed."

Last year, House Speaker Andy Dillon took the Capitol steps to address hundreds of protesting construction workers. He was fired up about a broken coal-plant deal in the legislature. His face was tight and flushed.

"We have got to get the bureaucrats to live up to this deal so you can get back to work," Dillon said.

No one I talked to at the state Capitol could recall another time Dillon has been so publically impassioned.

"Even my wife says you need to be more like that," Dillon admits.

Dillon is generally soft-spoken, and often avoids speaking much with the media at the Capitol. When he does, he can come off as uncomfortable. Dillon says he shies away from the media because it doesn't help to have too many discussions play out in public.

"I think the public doesn't need all that partisan fighting," Dillon says. "I think it doesn't signal what the public wants to see, which is people focused on problems and solutions. And all that rhetoric that makes one look better in the eyes of the public on terms of an agenda, it doesn't help us get a solution. And it became most apparent in 2007..."

That's when state government shut down for four hours over a budget stalemate.

"And there was a lot of political rhetoric going back and forth," he continues. "And every time the media was used as a vehicle to move an agenda, I could see immediately a separation and it made it harder for us to get back to the table to really start working on a compromise that has to happen."

"If I've learned anything on this job it's that you have to make sure that you control your message," says Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop.

Dillon and Bishop have had a decent, if not complicated working relationship while in the legislature. Since becoming the leaders of their respective chambers, the legislature has approved a smoking ban and education reforms. But they've also been fiercely divided on budget issues, a split that has led to two government shutdowns.

"There have been moments in time where the Speaker has come to me and said you know let's just get this done," Bishop says. "Forget everybody else, let's you and I get this done. And when that happens, he has a louder voice."

Some Democrats think the working relationship between Dillon and Bishop is too cozy, that Dillon has handed Republicans too many legislative victories, and that he favors business over labor and other traditional elements of the Democratic base. Not so, says Bishop.

"I think he's got a bad wrap from his liberal base that he somehow doesn't represent them," he says.

"I haven't spoken with any students who support Andy Dillon," says Michigan State University College Democrats president Joe Duffy.

"The Speaker of the House was responsible for a lot of cuts to education, including the Promise Scholarship," Duffy says. "Either he didn't think it was a priority or he just rolled over to Republicans in the Senate, which either way is not something I think students would want in a governor."

Dillon says he would like to at least partially restore the Promise scholarship.

Duffy says students are an important part of the Democratic base, because they tend to be progressive and active campaigners for their candidate of choice.

"When we get involved with something we really like to go all the way in," Duffy says.

Dillon says he's not concerned about people who think he's too conservative.

"Well, I think there's a few narrow or special interests within the party that I'm not their favorite son, so they like to describe me in a way that may not accurately reflect my vision for the state," he says.

He is a Catholic who opposes abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, but many of his votes are more liberal than his personal beliefs. And as for criticism of some of the policy he has voted for, such as to cut the Promise scholarship, Dillon says it's all part of making hard decisions.

"I picked a pretty tough time to serve, but I would rather serve during the tough times than the easy times, because it's when the most change can happen and needs to happen," he explains.

Perhaps the biggest change Dillon will have to make to woo voters is to deviate from his typically stoic demeanor. The question is; can he tap back into that energy he had on the Capitol steps last year, and convince voters he's the right Democrat for the job.

(Dillon at rally): "Keep the heat on, because we want to build them."

Election 2010 - WKAR
For more election reporting, interviews and analysis from WKAR, visit WKAR.org/election2010

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