Friday, June 3, 2011

Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner--oh the possibilities!

I was cruising through the Detroit Free Press yesterday for sustainability stories (there are quite a few worthy of note, including gas prices above $4.00/gallon again and Asian Carp potentially invading Lake Erie) and stumbled across one that made me stop in my tracks.

Oakland Co. water official weighs run against Stabenow
MACKINAC ISLAND -- Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch is seriously considering a run against U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

The 55-year-old Republican and Royal Oak resident said today that he’s met with representatives from the national Republican Senatorial committee in Washington and is close to making a decision to jump into the race.
McCulloch, a CPA, lawyer and county commissioner for 10 years before he was elected water commissioner in 2000, is a proven fund-raiser and reported $551,126 in his county campaign account. While he can’t directly transfer that money to a federal race, he said, the amount shows he’s an effective fund-raiser.

Others considering a run for the Senate include: Dr. Rob Steele, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, in 2010, former judge Randy Hekman and businessman Peter Konetchy.
You're probably saying, "Water Resources Commissioner? You mean Drain Commissioner. How boring. What about that story would make you stop in your tracks?" Several things, actually.

Despite the rather prosaic title and low profile, the Water Resources Commissioner is a very powerful office. It happens to be the chief elected official in charge of environmental policy for the county. Not only is the Commissioner in charge of the drains, the office is in charge of maintaining lake levels, water quality, sewers, and sewage treatment plants. Considering that water is a major part of Michigan's environment, anyone charged with maintaining its quality will have a lot of power and influence over the environment. As someone interested in both politics and the environment, I would naturally be interested in this office and what it does. More about that later.

The above is just background. My first thought upon reading this was to look at the roster of potential Republican candidates for Stabenow's seat and silently sneer, "Oh, look, The Attack of the Killer B Team." Seriously, look at that list. McCulloch is the most qualified person there. He's at least held elected office in the second most populous county in the state for 8 years and is a competent fund raiser. The other two are a losing candidate for Congress and a businessman. That's it. All of the A-list Michigan Republicans that were said to be considering the race have bowed out--Hoekstra, Land, and McCotter have all declined to run against Stabenow. If I was more sure that I'd still have my current car this November, I'd affix my Stabenow bumper sticker to it in celebration right now. Instead, I'll wait until closer to the election to decorate my vehicle.

The second thought was, if McCulloch runs, that means that he'll be leaving an open seat. That induced me to look at the previous election to see how that panned out (I was not living in Oakland County at the time, so I didn't have reason to know). I found the following article from the Daily Tribune.

Democrats look to break GOP county stranglehold
This year, Democrat Brett Nicholson seeks to unseat Republican incumbent John McCulloch.

McCulloch, 52, has been the drain commissioner since 2000 and is a former county commissioner.

The Royal Oak resident is married with three children.

Water quality is such a high priority for McCulloch that he successfully lobbied the county commission to change the name of the office to Water Resources Commissioner. The change takes effect after the election.

The county has all or parts of five watersheds running through it.

"I want to ensure that drinking water is available for the future and that it is safe and reliable," McCulloch said. "I intend to continue to find innovative ways to maximize our resources and pool our efforts to address ever-increasing water and wastewater rates.

"I have developed a multifaceted approach to ensure that the waters of the state remain free of contaminants. Through educational materials and programs, I will continue to build and improve upon those very successful efforts.

"Additionally, I intend to expand upon the important work to partner cooperatively with other agencies in the region to preserve and protect our most precious natural resource — clean, fresh water," McCulloch said.
Nicholson of Rochester Hills did not respond to a survey.
That last sentence is not very auspicious. I checked out Nicholson's LinkedIn profile, and saw something even less auspicious. That profile lists no elected political experience, although it does cite involvement in the Oakland County Conservation District, which would be relevant to Water Resources Commissioner, the Birmingham-Bloomfield Symphony, and the Oakland County Democratic Party. It also shows that Nicholson had just graduated from Oakland University in 2008. Also, his work experience makes him look like a go-getter and a young success in business. Just the same, he was running against an incumbent in a Republican-leaning county. How did that work out for him?

Pretty well, actually.
John P. McCulloch (REP) 49.97% 285,867
Brett Nicholson (DEM) 49.61% 283,793
He lost by slightly more than 2,000 votes, 0.26% of the tally. All things considered, that's very close, and much better than one would have expected given all the factors I listed above. A more qualified candidate running for an open seat might just have won.

Speaking of "more qualified candidates," there weren't any. Nicholson ran unopposed. Here are the results from the primary.
Vote for not more than 1
Brett Nicholson . . . . . . . . 63,171 100.00
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 0
Total . . . . . . . . . 63,171
Since there might be an open seat, and 2012 is shaping up to be a year that favors Democrats, if for no other reason than Obama being up for re-election, I'm now wondering who might run for this office. Is Brett Nicholson planning on running again? I have no idea, but his LinkedIn profile shows that he has a very good job right now.

Who else? The first person I'd think of would be Aaron Bailey, who ran for State Senate last year and has a strong environmental reputation. He's currently a member of the Royal Oak Environmental Advisory Board. I'd support him in a heartbeat, if he were interested.

After that, I have no idea who I'd support. Take that back, I do. Let me tell you a story.

When I was living out in the Irish Hills, I started poking around local goverment. That's when I found out the power of the Drain Commissioner. I couldn't help it, as I paid my sewer bill to Lenawee County's Drain Commissioner every month. I toyed with the idea of running for the office, so I checked out the web page for it. Among the list of employees was a woman who shared the name of my son's drum teacher, who lived in Adrian, the county seat. I thought this couldn't be a coincidence. It wasn't. She was his aunt. So I asked him what he thought of the Drain Commissioner. He said that every loved him so much, he ran unopposed in the last election. Well, so much for that idea. An unknown like me would have no chance, so I didn't even try.

Now, another opportunity presents itself. In case you're wondering what you're hearing as you read the post, it's the sound of the wheels turning in my head.


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