Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, January 11, 2010
So after the attempted bombing of the Christmas day Northwest flight to Detroit, Pete Hoekstra — a US congressperson from West Michigan — had an error in judgment. And I’m going to call it an error in judgment because, given the circumstances, I think — I hope — that that was all it was.
Circumstance #1: Pete Hoekstra is the ranking member (leader of the minority party) of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which means he is privy to all sorts of information on international terrorism and what is going on behind the scenes. That makes him something of a go-to guy when it comes to these issues. For intelligence matters, Pete Hoekstra is somebody. For other matters, Pete Hoekstra is a congressy something or other from one of those states nobody cares about. So “terrorism-related” is right in Hoekstra’s wheelhouse, and when it happens, he’s gonna be swinging.
Circumstance #2: Pete Hoekstra is running as a Republican candidate for Michigan this year. There are lots of Republican candidates, and they all profess their strong dissatisfaction with the current governor (a Democrat) and president who either have already ruined everything or are in the process of. It’s a good strategy. Really good. (Think of how well “I’m not George W. Bush” worked in 2008.) So it’s difficult to tell the candidates apart. Hoekstra is in big need of an issue to differentiate himself.
Interesting Side Note: Why is Pete Hoekstra running for Governor when he could have easily gotten himself re-elected to the US House in a prestigious committee position? I don’t know. Guilt I think. In 1992 Hoekstra got himself elected largely on the populist promise of self-imposed term limits. A fellow Republican, Guy Vander Jagt, had held that particular West Michigan seat for 26 years and fully intended to hold it for life. Hoekstra said that if he won, he would serve for no more than six terms. But when 2004 rolled around, he ran. It was fine with me. I think term limits for congress folks are stupid, short-sighted, and liable to either be ignored or broken if at all possible. So I hold no animosity toward Hoekstra for that.
Error in Judgment: Hoekstra (or more likely, his people) saw the Christmas underpants bomber as a golden opportunity — an issue very clearly his own that would set him apart (and raise money!). Soon after the event, the Hoekstra campaign sent out a fundraising letter saying, essentially, “if you hate terrorists like I do and are afraid of the Obama administration allowing them to fly to your house willy-nilly, then you should elect me governor (no, wait!, first send money, then elect me governor) because I know whole bunches of stuff about these things that you wouldn’t understand and they hate you, so, um, yeah, I should be governor. Don’t forget about the money thing.”
Kind of hard to follow the logic, huh? Ahh, I’ll let this one pass. But no money for you, Mr. Hoekstra.