(With a Nod to Christopher Wren), if You Seek the Establishment, Look Around You...

From the diaries…

We had a smallish political brush-fire here in Michigan in 1982.

The grizzled old William Milliken had finally decided that 124 terms was enough as Governor, and he was hanging up the cleats.


Jim Blanchard, a weirdo Democrat downriver Detroit Big Labor congressman decided he would run, as did a few other miscreants from the Democrat party. Even the benighted John Conyers toyed with the idea, until someone pointed it out to the congressman that if he were elected Governor, he’d actually have to LIVE in Michigan, and to heck with that.

On the Republican side, all the usual suspect lined up: Jim Brickley, Bill Milliken’s lieutenant governor, filed early. Robert Tisch (a proto-Tea Partier if there ever was one, and a bit of a strangenheimer in his own right), the Shiawasee County Drain Commissioner– jumped into the race , as did several earnest, yet stilted, go-along republican state legislators. And finally, Richard Headlee, the founder of the Alexander Hamilton Life Insurance company, threw his hat in the ring.

Howard Jarvis in California ignited a property tax revolt in the Golden State  that eventually swept into Michigan, and for many of the same reasons: The lion’s share of school funding was derived from the local property tax, and, schools then as now, were completely unable to control costs, and they were constantly begging for more millage. In 1978, only three months after Proposition 13 passed in California, Michigan passed Proposal B, called The Headlee Amendment, which essentially capped property tax increases only to the rate of inflation. There were other tax-limitation initiatives on the ballot that year, but Richard Headlee’s drive to reign in the natural increases resulting from inflation was the most far-reaching and sober, and it passed overwhelmingly, despite the Michigan Education Association’s pouring huge amounts of money into defeating it.


It also made Dick Headlee’s a house-hold name in Michigan.

Richard Headlee was an outstanding Michigander, and he would have made a superb governor. He was a monumentally successful businessman, a standout gentleman in his Stake (yes, all my RedState friends that like to paint us conservatives as anti-Mormon) within the LDS church, and a father, grandfather, and, in later years, a great-grandfather. Headlee (who passed away in 2004) had the sort of quiet spirit I wish I had, that bespoke an inner peace, but that also gave rise to a passionate love for his country, and his home state.

To this day, we in Michigan owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Headlee for his tax limitation fights. They are still on the books, and working as designed.

Sadly (-very sadly), Headlee never became Governor of Michigan. He was opposed in the primaries quite early on by James Brickley, the early GOP favorite and Milliken bootlicker. Brickley was the well-groomed “electable” candidate, his moderation in politics was matched only by the sonorous quality of his gaseous orations. He had the requisite coif of executive-style hair, and he had the marvelously wide wire-frame glasses that predated George HW Bush’s by some six years. He was the very picture of executive competence. But, Jim Brickley was a carbon-copy of Bill Milliken, a governor that never met a principle he couldn’t subjugate. Brickley, like Milliken before him, and Romney before HIM, had no political core.


And everyone knew it. Including Richard Headlee.

At the time, Michigan was teetering on the brink of fiscal disaster in the depths of the ’82 recession. Milliken’s name had lost most of whatever cache it might have had, and discontent was rife in the land. Brickley couldn’t articulate a strong case for his candidacy, except that he seemed to be the next in line.

Headlee, on the other hand, made a very articulate case: He was going to slash the size of state government, sell off unneeded assets, decapitate the Michigan Education Association union, and run the place more or less as he had done in the insurance business he had created from the ground up. Headlee was a fighter, he was passionate, and he was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.

And he was absolutely HATED by the Michigan GOP establishment. Brickley was their guy.

Who, exactly, was this “establishment”?

Well, they were the same folks back then that they are today. Two illustrative examples come to mind from that 1982 campaign…

Example the First: I had a good friend whose father was a higher muckety-muck in the Michigan Department of Corrections. He designed prisons, their physical and mechanical plants, their security systems and so on. He worked for the State of Michigan for so many years that, by the time he “retired” in the late 1980’s, he was able to take off nearly SIX MONTHS of un-collected “sick and personal” leave (of course, getting paid the whole time) while he searched for employment in Florida in preparation for his eventual REAL retirement some years later.


When I think of a Republican “moderate” I think of this man, my good friend’s father. He wore a toupee, except when it was hot –in which case, he wore a baseball cap. His favorite cologne was “Hi Karate”.  He was (is, actually) a very nice man, but completely conflicted by so many circumstances in his life. Chief among them was his innate love of freedom and liberty, but he was constrained by the fact that the State of Michigan was paying his bills. Of course, the man’s candidate in the 1982 contest was Jim Brickley. I will never forget what he said about Richard Headlee: “Oh, that guy is an embarrassment to the Republican Party”.

Oh, really: An “embarrassment“. Talk about “projection”.

As I say, Richard Headlee was enormously successful by any person’s definition, let alone the Republican Party’s. Meanwhile, my friend’s dad was on the road to being a simple government pensioner, with a double-wide in Florida. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a double-wide in Florida– unless you run around calling people that have eclipsed this sort of thing on nearly every thoughtful and aesthetic measure an “embarrassment”… It rather opens one up for derision.

Of course, Richard Headlee was no embarrassment. He was, however, a threat: Not only to the MEA, but also to the entrenched bureaucracy, of which my friend’s father was a part. THAT is a major component of the GOP Establishment, however much we might deny it. They are the politically expedient, the feather-bedders.


Which brings us to Example the Second: A good friend of my mother’s, whose husband worked for a company called “Stauder-Barch”.

Stauder-Barch was a consulting, management and public debt counseling firm that consulted with Michigan school districts when they were seeking to sell revenue bonds. This firm was, at the time, probably the largest Bond Counselor in the state. They collected data about financial health of a district, created enrollment and asset projections, and lined up banking firms to underwrite the issuance.

This lady’s husband was a pretty wealthy guy, having been with this firm from it’s founding. The state (small “S”), of course, was their biggest –their only— customer. And making the payment on their 3,500 square foot home on Lansing’s Cambridge Road was dependent in perpetuity on Stauder Barch convincing school districts in Michigan to continually go into further bonded debt.

Her quote about Richard Headlee? “Oh, I hate that man. He’s already cost my husband a commission or two”.

And, there you have it. The GOP “Establishment” are the hangers-on at the periphery of the entrenched bureaucracy; they are the retained architects and lawyers of school districts, counties, and various other municipalities. They are the local banks that underwrite the sale of local revenue bonds. They are the school bus drivers, the jail cooks, the salesmen that sell the offices supplies to the bureaucrats.


They all derive their livelihoods from the state, in whatever permutation. And, they are conflicted:

On the one hand, they are sympathetic to the arguments of liberty, and personal responsibility, and of faith and family. On the other, they know who writes the check, and where the money comes from.

Make no mistake: The ‘Establishment” and the crony capitalists aren’t just in Washington. They are down the street, around the corner, and in the coffee shop. They are, indeed, in the country-club locker room– but they are also in the hardware store, and at the movies on Friday night.

And the hell of it is? The “establishment” isn’t to blame for the likes of Jim Brickley, or Mitt Romney. WE, the conservatives, are. The “Establishment”  only has power if we ALLOW them to have power. As I say, most of them are conflicted  -at once getting a government paycheck, and hating themselves for it–, and oftentimes embarrassed by this conflict. And, in this is a seed of hope: The vast majority of these folks (like my friend’s Dad, and my mother’s dear friend) are good and decent people. They are open to persuasion.

And that persuasion is up to US.

If you seek the Establishment, look about you…



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