The Congressman Who Says ‘No’Submitted by fonzdrew on Sun, 12/15/2013 - 01:59
How many enemies does Rep. Justin Amash really have?
"Tables turn on the Michigan tea party”; “Business to tea party: Get out of our way”; “Donors Plot Against GOP Rebel”: Judging by the headlines, next year’s Republican primary in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District is shaping up as a referendum on the conservative incumbent’s dogged adherence to his limited-government principles—and a sign of gathering mainstream mobilization against the Tea Party.
But according to Brian Ellis, the business-backed financial consultant who is challenging two-term incumbent Justin Amash, the headlines have it all wrong: His campaign is not directed against the Tea Party. In fact, while he doesn’t go so far as to claim the label for himself, Ellis is trying to capture the Tea Party vote from Amash. “Let me put it this way,” he says, “I’ve talked to Tea Party folks in this district, and they’re not happy.”
Amash, the son of a wealthy Palestinian-American businessman of Christian background, is often likened to former congressman Ron Paul, another staunch House libertarian with national appeal among Tea Party voters. But, Ellis insists, the Grand Rapids area “is not a libertarian district, and I’m willing to stake my campaign on that.” Amash’s critics in the business community are also exasperated by his repeated defiance of the House GOP majority.
Born and raised in Michigan, Ellis once owned a Grand Rapids food processing company, and then founded an investment advisory firm. He was until recently a member of the East Grand Rapids Board of Education but has never run for national office. Influential Michigan business leaders donating to his candidacy include J.C. Huizenga and Mike Jandernoa—both former Amash donors. Seven such Amash defectors signed a letter supporting Ellis’s candidacy and denouncing Amash and his congressional allies for having “effectively nullified the Republican majority in the U.S. House.”
The role of these big-name Amash deserters has drawn media attention to Ellis’s campaign. At first the coverage suggested that the donors had conspired to replace Amash and had chosen Ellis for the job. But Ellis says that’s not quite right: He decided on his own to run and then went out seeking support. He seems surprised by the media’s misinterpretation of his campaign so far.
Bill Ballenger, a veteran political analyst who publishes “Inside Michigan Politics,” agrees that the coverage of Ellis is off base—but for a different reason. He’s skeptical of Ellis’s chances, because Ellis has had “no presence as a political entity” and hasn’t disclosed how much money he’s raising. He notes that Amash has crushed challengers in the past. He calls Ellis’s attempts to distance himself from the “establishment” label “ridiculous” and “clearly not true.” According to Ballenger, the media are wrong to make such a fuss about Ellis’s challenge. “Amash has always had his enemies, there’s always been this feeling that he’s out of step, that he’s a freak, but it’s just not proven to be true.”