Monday’s edition of the Lansing State Journal carried an excellent feature story on state Rep. Dianne Byrum, the leader of the Democrats in the House. Livingston County residents and residents in the 8th Congressional District certainly remember her from her spirited run at 8th U.S. Congressional seat in 2000 against Mike Rogers. She lost by a mere 111 votes among almost 300,000 votes cast. That’s less than 1 percent. It makes you wonder how much better off we would be now if she had prevailed in the former swing district.
If you wanted to meet Byrum during the campaign it was very easy to do. She was everywhere. The two candidates held something like 10 head-to-head debates all over the 8th District, including one that was televised by a Lansing commercial TV station. It makes you wonder why there were so few opportunities in the last election to hear the two candidates square off. The 8th district produced Sen. Debbie Stabenow, but more importantly it produced some accountability to voters. However, gerrymandering did away with that.
I met Dianne’s mother during the campaign. She was born in Livingston County, but I don’t remember exactly where.
House Minority Leader Dianne Byrum has had plenty of ups and downs in her 16 years as a state lawmaker.
Well, Byrum certainly is leaving on a high note, after leading a remarkable turnaround that puts the Michigan House under Democratic control for the first time since 1998.
And better still for her: She will turn her House seat over to her daughter, Barb, who was elected to the seat in November.
"I always believed we would elect a Democratic speaker. I thought it would take two years longer," Byrum said in an interview last week in her Capitol office. "The goal was always '08, and I set forth to build the caucus brick by brick."
And she etched her place as the savvy and disciplined leader who recruited candidates, raised money and designed the political strategy for House Democrats.
Having gone door-to-door for a successful House candidate in the last election, I can tell you the themes and issues she hammered home in the months leading up to the election really resonated with the voters.
Byrum's political star seemed to be ascending until 2000, when she ran for Congress against fellow state Sen. Mike Rogers, a rising Republican from Brighton.
The Republicans controlled the Senate, and bills sponsored by Rogers sailed through the Legislature while All Things Byrum stopped dead in their tracks.
"They were so nasty to me. I even got oinked at - like a pig - on the floor of the Senate," Byrum said "I felt like I was in a 'Star Wars' movie, and I had these bolts of lightning thrown at me constantly."
When the final votes were counted, and recounted, Byrum lost by 111 votes.
That was the last contested federal race at the time with the recount lasting almost to Christmas, and that was when Bush won the presidency in the U.S. Supreme Court. Targeting someone by refusing to even consider any law, resolution or motion made by the target is still a favorite tactic of Republicans, but thankfully that will go away, at least in the House. They did the same thing to Rep. Kathy Angerer, but voters were smarter than that. Rogers anti-student bill in 1999 that required citizens to vote in the district listed on their drivers' license was the deciding factor in the 2000 race. I’m sure that if Michigan State University students who lived in East Lansing would have been allowed to vote where they lived it would have accounted for well more than 111 votes.
Byrum isn't ready to announce what she'll do when her legislative term expires this month. Besides helping run the hardware stores, she says she expects to work in the private sector while remaining involved in public policy.
"I tell people I'm going to be a community activist and a term-limited legislator acting badly," she said, "because I can say anything I want to and not have to worry about what it's going to look like in print."
I know it’s not the same 8th Congressional District, but I would love to see a Rogers- Byrum rematch in 2008.