How image won a state Senate seat

You’ve got a registered lobbyist and a combat war veteran running for a state Senate seat. For whom would you vote?

Dollars to donuts, you picked the vet and not the crook … excuse me … the lobbyist.

When you frame the question as an either-or, you probably did what most voters do, you made a snap decision based on the image of both professions. But, in reality, your answer should have been, “I need more information to make that decision.”

In reality you could make a strong case for selecting the lobbyist. He or she has hands-on experience in the legislative process and probably knows more ins and outs of the game than somebody who served on the battlefield. Lobbyists also know all of the players in town, from the governor on down. And, since a lobbyist is paid to know this stuff, they are probably up to speed on all of the issues, too.

Registered lobbyist and small business entrepreneur Kelly Rossman McKinney was sort of hoping the voters in her Eaton County district would think long enough to reach the conclusion that she was preferable to the veteran helicopter jockey she was running against.

To be fair, Tom Barrett had his own credentials beyond his service to country. He was serving in the Michigan House, had a record of accomplishment and he, too, knew all the players. When it came time for him to pitch himself to the electorate, he talked about all that, but he also ran a commercial, with a sinister-looking photograph of his opponent in black and white, and reminded the audience from whence she came … the ranks of the lobby corps.

Ms. Rossman McKinney reports that was all very frustrating, in that she was really a public relations expert with a strong resume of helping this group or that navigate the sometimes shark-infested waters of the state Capitol. She says she never lobbied for issues, but she and her partner decided that they should register as lobbyists, anyway, just in case someone out there accused them of being an unregistered lobbyist, which is a huge no-no in Lansing. It was the ethical thing to do, they felt.

She now files all that under the heading, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Because her name was on the list of the 4,000 lobbyists, and, even though she says she never lobbied, her opponent was able to truthfully “accuse” her of being one.

And, of course, it worked. He won. She lost. To be sure, there were a host of other factors involved. For one thing, she was a Democrat in a conservative district, where plenty of Donald Trump voters resided, and she could never crack that nut. She did try including being bitten by a pit-bull, falling down the stairs twice — including a tumble from two stories up — and walking around for six weeks in a foot-boot due to a stress factor.

“All is fair in love and war and politcis,” she philosophically reflects at a coffee shot days after her defeat in her first bid for office.

“He was Teflon Tom,” she observes and, even though she hit him on a number of issues, the voters weren’t swayed by issues. She reflects they were swayed by image and, when you counted all the marbles, his veteran image prevailed over her registered lobbyist tag — which, in some voters’ minds, is akin to being just a tad shady, or even worse.