Last Updated: October 21. 2010
The Detroit News
Raczkowski touts free market, big budget cuts
Nathan Hurst Detroit News Washington Bureau / Detroit News Washington Bureau
Washington— When his father first held him up to click levers in a voting booth in the early 1970s, a political mantra was imbedded in little Andrew Raczkowski: Vote Democrat.
Forty years later, the 9th District challenger to U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is a tea party-backed Republican with a tough-guy nickname — Rocky — and a tough-guy image — he served two tours of duty in Operation Enduring Freedom — who wants to slash taxes, ease business regulation and "defeat the Obama-Pelosi machine."
To convince Oakland County voters to hitch a ride to the right with him, Raczkowski is touting his adherence to many of the same free market, small government ideals espoused by former President Ronald Reagan, the man he says transformed his Polish immigrant family from Democrats to GOP lifers.
"My father was ecstatic to be an American. The country embodied the deep work ethic my parents held," Raczkowski said. "They wanted to add to the country, not take away from it, and Reagan embodied that."
How Raczkowski's pitch will play out to voters Nov. 2 won't just answer the question of whether he has what it takes to topple Peters, the freshman who was swept into office as part of the 2008 Obama wave.
The results of the race in Oakland County — once a Republican stronghold — will also be viewed as a microcosm of political theater playing across the country: Can a conservative, tea party-backed candidate who ran far to the right in a primary boost enough appeal to beat a Democrat who's running as a middle-of-the-road guy?
It might not be as easy for him as it would've been 10 years ago, when he last ran for the state Legislature.
"This is a different Oakland County," said Bill Ballenger, editor of the nonpartisan Inside Michigan Politics newsletter.
But in this year of anti-incumbent fervor, Raczkowski's conservative chops helped him to defeat Paul Welday, a former staffer for Rep. Joe Knollenberg, the more moderate Republican whom Peters ousted in 2008.
Wants cuts at Pentagon
Raczkowski was slammed for comments made in June questioning President Barack Obama's citizenship, which caused a post-primary firestorm. He subsequently withdrew the comments. He's also taken hits for comments he's made in support of privatizing Social Security, though his campaign says Raczkowski wants to protect benefits for those who've paid into the system with guarantees for future beneficiaries.
He questions the need for a federal Department of Education, responding to a Detroit News editorial board survey that it's an "unnecessary … no-value-added middleman."
Yet bucking conventional conservative wisdom, Raczkowski also wants to see budgets slashed at the Pentagon, which he says is spending "way too much time and money" on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "in place of things we could be doing back at home."
He's also had to fight off accusations of fraud and theft in a lawsuit against a firm he used to head, Star Tickets of Grand Rapids. Welday used the suit against him in the primary and Peters has raised the issue as well.
The suit alleges Raczkowski and his company knowingly misreported ticket sales for a series of concerts featuring the '70s rock band KISS, singer John Fogerty, country singer Kenny Chesney and comedian Larry the Cable Guy at a motorcycle rally in 2008, and that Raczkowski himself hid ticket stubs to support sales receipts representing tens of thousands fewer customers than paid to show up.
The promoter is seeking more than $6 million in damages.
Raczkowski denies the accusations and has circulated court documents showing the Texas man suing him was recently charged with cocaine possession and is in dire financial straits. He's also suing Peters and Michigan Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer over ads they've aired about the lawsuit.
A fan of Reagan
On the campaign trail, Raczkowski hasn't hesitated to talk about his role in the Army, where he served for 24 years after enlisting at age 17. His military experience, he said, gave him two important things: a deeper love of country and his nickname, which became his middle name.
His latest tour of duty came as he was hoping to challenge Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, for a second time in 2008 (he lost badly to the popular Democrat in 2002).
Raczkowski entered politics in 1994 with a losing primary bid to unseat former state Rep. Jan Dolan. He decided to run, he said, after unsuccessfully trying to contact Dolan for help starting his printing business. Raczkowski ultimately agreed to take the post in 1996 at age 27 following Dolan's retirement.
State Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop worked with Raczkowski for two terms in the lower chamber and credited the candidate with "really kick-starting the venture capital push in Michigan," a push Bishop extended after Raczkowski was term-limited from another run in 2002.
Raczkowski tries to deflect the hits he's taken by channeling Reagan.
"He had an incredible sense of humor," Raczkowski said of the former president. "In politics, without that, what else do you have?"
From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20101021/POLITICS02/10210393/0/METRO/Raczkowski-touts-free-market--big-budget-cuts#ixzz1301VTFS6