Attorney Geoffrey Fieger’s announcement Sunday that he would not make a run for governor overshadowed Saturday’s Republican debate in Clarkston, which featured an appearance by former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Fieger revealed his decision on WDIV-TV’s Flashpoint program.
Fieger, who won the Michigan Democrat nomination for governor in 1998 but was crushed by incumbent John Engler in the general election, said in a prepared statement on the show, "I’m honored by the support of those who believe I would be a good governor.
“I have a day job. I’m a trial lawyer. I say what I mean and mean what I say and, in politics, that's dangerous. Because I'm outspoken and beholden to no one except my conscience, it'd be very easy for professional politicians to make me the issue. But I'm not the issue. The issue is resurrecting Michigan."
Fieger’s candidacy was highly anticipated among state Democrats, and for good reason. The flamboyant and controversial attorney has the name recognition lacking among the current field of Democrat candidates.
An April 21 poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing found that 28 percent of 400 likely Democratic primary voters would vote for Fieger, putting the Southfield attorney well ahead of Democrat candidates already in the race.
House Speaker Andy Dillon of Redford Township tallied 20 percent, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero had 13 percent and state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith of Salem Township received 8 percent. Nearly a third of voters remained undecided.
Those numbers reflected a change from an EPIC-MRA poll earlier in the month, which revealed that nearly half of likely Democrat voters were unsure who they would support in the August primary. Forty-two percent of voters were undecided, 22 percent supported House Speaker Andy Dillon and 15 percent backed Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. Eleven percent favored State Representative Alma Wheeler Smith.
Although Fieger, who spent a reported $5 million of his own money in his 1998 gubernatorial bid, told Flashpoint host Devin Scillian that he chose not to run after talking the matter over with his wife, the current political atmosphere in Michigan clearly was a factor.
Confident of primary win, wary of general election
Fieger denied accusations that he pondered a second run at governor because of his affection for the media limelight or to simply garner publicity for his law practice. He told Scillian that he had already filmed eight campaign commercials, but didn’t feel confident about a general-election victory.
“I believe that, although I’d win the Democratic primary, it’d be a heck of time winning in the fall,” Fieger said. “. . . Winds of politics change dramatically, and if the economy dramatically improves, something could change. But you’re right -- right now, if one was making prognostications, I would say the Democrats are in a rough position in Michigan, which is unfortunate.”
The lawyer, who gained national prominence by defending assisted-suicide physician Jack Kevorkian in a series of high-profile cases, said the current candidate field is comprised of a “bunch of men who make their living running for office. Why are we not outraged?”
Fieger reiterated a common mantra of his, namely that he will continue to be a champion of the “little guy.”
"I will not run at this time for public office,” he said. “Rather, I will continue to stand up for the ordinary folks of Michigan and be a voice in this wilderness for change and for truth.”
According to a recent Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in Michigan, opposition to the recently passed national health care plan provided an up tick for Republicans in Michigan, which has trended Democrat in recent years. Fifty-four percent of Michigan voters favor a repeal of the plan, while 40 percent oppose a roll-back. Forty-five percent strongly favor repeal and 31 percent are strongly opposed.
Nationally, 58 percent of voters are in favor of repealing the health care plan, while 38 percent oppose it.
Coupled with Michigan’s flagging economy and unemployment numbers, Fieger is understandably dubious about a Democrat victory in the fall, regardless of the candidate.
According to the same Rasmussen poll, an unnamed generic Republican candidate for governor would receive 41 percent of a general-election vote for governor, while an unnamed generic Democratic candidate would earn 36 percent support. Five percent preferred another candidate in the race, with 18 percent of likely voters undecided.
High profile brings baggage
Fieger discussed the political pros and cons of being a highly recognizable figure.
“I’ve been in the public eye for over 32 years now and I think people can tell by my -- not only experience -- but my relative success and the positions that I’ve taken (what I stand for),” Fieger said. “Remember, I’ve taken real positions. Therefore, ultimately . . . that promotes what they call ‘unfavorables.’ because people know where I stand. So when you list my unfavorables, they’re relatively high vis-a-vie people who aren’t well known -- because I’ve taken a stand. People know where I stand, I’ve taken a position, and I say what I mean, and that’s very unusual in politics.
“The less people know of you when you run for political office, the more favorable it is in terms of your prospects for being elected.”
Despite the gloomy outlook for Democrat hopefuls, Fieger remained supportive of the field, saying that any Democrat would be better than a Republican governor.
Fieger also criticized Michigan’s two-party election system, claiming that he would have a much better chance of winning as an independent, but that, in reality, Michigan doesn’t truly allow independents to run.
“The problem is we have straight-party balloting in Michigan,” Fieger said. “Because of that, people can vote straight Democratic and straight Republican, and that is to the advantage of both political parties. It excludes independents, therefore, and therefore an independent like Jesse Ventura in Minnesota could never win in Michigan.”
Fieger took the opportunity to take shots at Republican candidates, particularly Attorney General Mike Cox. Scillian mentioned the animosity that exists between Fieger and Cox, noting that the two “don’t particularly care for one another.”
“I don’t think that Mike will win,” Fieger said of Cox’s campaign. “Mr. Cox is ill-suited to be the governor. People believe he was the attorney general for the past -- what?-- eight years. He really is an administrator. He was a rather mediocre if undistinguished assistant prosecutor. He’s a lawyer, but he never really practiced.”
Fieger went on to accuse Cox of being funded by the same money machine that propelled Jennifer Granholm to the Governor’s mansion.
“The money goes both ways,” Fieger said of the backing provided by the political “machine” of Detroit Medical Center CEO and ex-Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan.
Weighing in on the Republican side of the race, Fieger predicted that the three eastern Michigan candidates -- Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder and Cox -- would “cancel each other out” and hand the nomination to U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland.
“No one knows Mr. Hoekstra in the East,” Fieger said, re-emphasizing his point that unknowns enjoy some advantages in political races. “I think Hoekstra will take it by default if they all stay in (the race).”
Democrat governor is vital to secure federal funds
Asked whom he supported for governor, Fieger insisted that, because of the Democrat domination nationally in the White House and Congress, it would be “ignominious” for Michiganders to support anyone other than a Democrat for governor.
“I like any of the Democrats,” Fieger said. “. . . In the state that Michigan is in -- we’re going to have a Democratic president, we’re going to have e Democratic Senate, and we’re probably going to have a Democratic House. Why would Michigan now become Republican?”
Fieger thinks that a Republican Michigan administration would hamstring the state’s ability to secure federal funding. He pointed to a recent trip to Florida as an example of a state swimming in federal stimulus monies.
“Why we would want to turn that money away is beyond me,” Fieger said.
Fieger didn’t explain why he thinks that Michigan would suffer any type of fiscal discrimination simply because a Republican was in charge. Florida currently has a Republican governor, Charlie Crist, although Crist is mulling a switch to independent in his floundering bid for re-election.
Fieger ran into legal problems over political contributions that led to criminal charges in 2007. He was acquitted in June 2008 of charges that he illegally funneled campaign contributions for U.S. Sen. John Edwards' in the 2004 presidential race.
Fieger has always maintained he did nothing wrong in reimbursing his employees for their campaign contributions, although his law firm agreed in 2009 to pay a $131,000 fine to resolve an investigation into the matter.
Fieger spoke in detail about Edwards’ political downfall and other aspects of politics (click here for more).