Another horse in our race?

Published May 5, 2002

The Democratic primary for Michigan's 15th Congressional District may have a new candidate: Law School student David Boyle is beginning a petition drive to secure a position on the ballot. The Aug. 6 primary (which has attracted national attention) between Reps. Lynn Rivers (D-Ann Arbor) and John Dingell (D-Dearborn) may include another option for Michigan Democrats.

Most likely Boyle will not mount a serious challenge to Dingell, the House of Representatives senior member and one of the most powerful congressmen on Capitol Hill, and Rivers, a four-term representative who has won the endorsement of the powerful fundraiser EMILY's List. However, the student's candidacy is sure to invigorate the campaign and raise issues that would have been absent from the emerging campaign dialogue.

One issue that could have escaped with little scrutiny is the role of students in the 15th District's future. With its abnormally large student population, students play a unique role in the economic development and daily life of the district. While Rivers has emerged as the ideal "student candidate" for many with her strong support of gun control and a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood, she has yet to articulate a clear vision of students' role in the District. Boyle's candidacy will force both Rivers and Dingell to compete for the important student vote and appeal to student interests. The Boyle campaign will serve to broaden the scope of the primary and incorporate students who often feel neglected and alienated from the political process.

While Boyle's platform is primarily focused on concerns unique to the University, his candidacy will require the incumbents to address philosophical issues of higher education. Boyle is advocating challenges to the University Board of Regents.

The February bylaw change that re-organized the regents into a committee system with a chair and vice-chair, have been criticized as a political power grab that hurts students. The reforms removed the power to set meeting agendas away from the University president and to the chair of the regents. The decision will hurt students as the position of the president is inherently more receptive to student pressures and has more contact with the student body than the statewide elected members of the Board of Regents.

Boyle has also criticized the absence of a University student on the Board of Regents and a lack of diversity in the University's presidents. Both Rivers and Dingell should adopt Boyle's vision of student empowerment and activism.

The primary has garnered the interest of Washington policy wonks and political observers as an example of money's role in politics. Dingell's ties to the automobile industry and River's links to EMILY's List have allowed each candidate access to millions of dollars in campaign contributions. Boyle's candidacy can move the campaign's focus from well-funded advocacy groups and toward matters that concern student interests.