JONATHAN CHAIT APRIL 27, 2010
A poll of Michigan Democrats shows Geoffrey Fieger, who is considering a run for governor, currently leads for the nomination. Granted, he's only taking 28% of the vote and probably getting that based off name recognition. But it's still an alarming fact for Michigan Democrats.
If you know Fieger, you probably know him as Jack Kevorkian's personal attorney. Fieger is also a demagogic personal injury lawyer who captured the gubernatorial nomination in 1998. I profiled him at the time. He ran a campaign based on extreme personal abuse (his opponent's babies, Fieger suggested, have corkscrew tails) and accusing the governor of embezzling billions from the state budget, a charge that turned out to be rooted in Fieger's grotesque ignorance of basic budget facts:
Fieger has conducted his campaign as if he were waging a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the entire population. He accuses Engler of racism, poor economic management, neglect of social spending, and many other evil things. He promises, as redress, the protection of every existing job, plus more spending on infrastructure, the environment, and education--and huge tax cuts, too.
It's a breathtaking series of promises, and they make sense only if you grasp Fieger's core political belief: Governor Engler is massively looting the state budget. Fieger clings to this notion with the feverish certainty of a conspiracy theorist. But, while most other conspiracy buffs immerse themselves in endless minutiae--the make of Oswald's gun, the weather conditions at Roswell--Fieger lacks even rudimentary facts. In a meeting with the Detroit News editorial board, he explained: "The money is there. ... The federal government says we have thirty-five billion dollars. Mr. Engler's budget shows revenues of 21.5 billion dollars. That's a difference of 14.5 billion dollars. Maybe it's going out the back door."
Fieger's facts are almost right. The state spends $31 billion and takes in only $23 billion in revenue. But there is an innocent, none-too-secret explanation for the $8 billion gap--that's the amount of money the federal government contributes to the state budget. And, even if that were not the case, the $8 billion discrepancy would prove the opposite of what Fieger intends; it is usually an indication of embezzlement if the state is spending less than it brings in, not more. Yet Fieger revels in his ignorance. When the News asked him how much revenue the state income tax brought in, he answered, "I have no idea." He then put a transcript of the interview on his campaign website.
Fieger lost to Engler 62-38. He might not be the best choice for governor.