Gaffee of the year


TIMOTHY CROUSE writes about it in his literary ode to reporters on the tortuous campaign trail: It's the fear of missing the assasination or the major gaffe that finally rolls every member of the pack out of the sack at some ungodly hour day after day. But not even the most hard-assed editor would have legitimately expected his reporter to be there on October 21, when Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Headlee dropped the campaign's bombshell and dramatically dashed his fortunes.

In a seemingly harmless interview with an 18-year-old freshman at Central Michigan University's radio station. Headlee unbelievably said this when asked why he had opposed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA):

Those people that sponsor the ERA--and it doesn't mention women anywhere in the ERA, it doesn't mention women's rights anywhere in it, it talks about sex-they are proponents of lesbian marriage, homosexual marriage, things of that nature, which I categorically resist and categorically reject as part of a basis for a sound society.

Needless to say, the quotations quickly made their way from the college press to the Associated Press wire. And before they probably knew what had happened, the state's political reporters were scurrying after the most bizarre political story to hit the Great Lake State in years.

DICK HEADLEE, insurance salesman, former state Chamber of Commerce president, devout Mormon, had not necessarily been a front-runner prior to October 21; his chances were neither stunning nor slim. But his shocking statements, coupled with his clarification explaining that he was only referring to some ERA proponents, have made him something of a doormat in what should have been a hotly contested, vitally important race.


A beleagured three-term Gov. William Milliken announced more than a year ago that he would step down from the office occupied by a Republican for 20 years. Milliken is leaving his state in ruins, and an intense governor's race confronting the state's epidemic economic problems seemed like a potential bright spot in a social and political panorama of utter bleakness.

But suddenly the deciding issue has become a moor one, a nationwide amendment drive which failed five months ago. A campaign which had offered refreshingly concrete, but entirely different roads to prosperity has veered into left field. The race which pitted a fiscally and socially conservative Reaganite against a popular, traditional liberal has transformed into a fight between a Democrat and what one Detroit newspaper described as "an ogre."

Headlee, who gained his fame primarily in the private sector and as the author of a Prop 2 1/2-type tax amendment, came fron nowhere to snatch the Republican nomination from Milliken's hand-picked successor. And so, in the wake of his self-destruction, it is hardly with absolute confidence that Michigan's pundits have tapped Democratic candidate James Blanchard as the hands-down winner in today's election.

Blanchard's personality--or lack thereof--has a lot to do with the question marks. He too came from oblivion this summer. But instead of rising as Headlee did on the basis of a mesmerizing brand of politics, the four-term state congressman rode the wave of carefully arranged labor and business endorsements. Slightly unkempt and a failed public speaker, Blanchard is a 40-year-old throwback to Democrats of the past. With a crucial role in the federal government's Chrysler bailout as the single feather in his cap, Blanchard has promised massive public works projects, '60-style.

Calling the campaign's three issues "job, job and jobs," Blanchard seems assured of a new job for himself come January. And that is the way it undoubtedly should be. The economic emergency in Michigan prevents any "let-business-do-the-trick" Reaganomic shilly-shallying. But it is a shame that a 300-watt diverted attention away from economic issues. James Blanchard has enjoyed a cakewalk, instead of a race to the wire, which might have transformed him from a Democratic idealist into a much-needed leader.