Local TV and The Grand Rapids Press report that Grand Rapids Comptroller Stan Milanowski is thinking he has a political future. The late Friday news has Milanowski contemplating entering the 29th State Senate or running for the Third Congressional seat now held by Vern Ehlers.
Milanowski’s moderate profile would fit both prospective runs, so the bigger questions must be those of which does he pick. And why?
While many aspire to go to Washington, that doesn’t seem to be in his future. With both Steve Heacock and Bill Hardiman already declared for the seat, it is difficult to see what another moderate would bring to the table, except perhaps an Amash win. The state senate run seems more practical. Milanowski has some obvious governmental creds, plus he brings a clear Grand Rapids connection. The two current candidates lack one or both of these, especially Lori Wiersma beloved of the old Dutch network (but backed by the folks in Wyoming).
The obvious weakness to a Milanowski campaign is that he lacks the core electioneering experience. The learning curve is huge for a race like this. Of course, at this time, things are still in the “exploratory stage” as they should be. That he’s even talking about the campaign suggests that others have been speaking with him already.
Milanowski’s proposed campaign may also be the sign of something more: is the tide ebbing? What else does it tell us?
Reading the tea leaves.
Independent of his chances, Milanowski’s consideration of a run is another sign that the Republican center — the adults — may in fact be entering the political arena. Clearly, he is no fan of the values side. His profile at the least suggests that a less-ideological conservative wing wants more of a voice (candidates inevitably reflecting communities or at least networks of friends). Given the run-ins on financial matters with the City, it is not clear whether one should think of Milanowski as one of those fabled pragmatists; his will likely be the customary Midwest conservatism of tight money and an appreciation for the role of government — an idea that has often gone missing in the age of Tea Party foolishness.
A Milanowski candidacy may also be a sign that the conservatives have decided not to abandon the city. This would be a change from the Bush-era style of playing to the burbs, driven by social conservatives. There was also in it the vague stench of racism, ill-masked by its polarization. But this was a style of politics that worked at cross-purposes for a region that seeks to propel itself into the global economy. And that’s good. The City and region needs its engaged conservatives no less than it needs its liberals.