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State House Candidate's TV Show Raises 'Equal-Time' Campaign Issue

Two rivals and editorial question County Commissioner Potts' co-hosting role.

The first campaign issue has flared in a three-way Republican primary campaign for the 40th State House District seat. Robert Lawrence and David Wolkinson say it's improper for their rival, David Potts, to continue as co-host of a local cable TV public affairs show.

Potts and state Rep. Chuck Moss host Eye on Oakland, a half-hour studio discussion that airs two to four times a month on Bloomfield Community Television. They and guests discuss issues such as the state budget, education, road maintenance, Michigan's gasoline tax and economic development.

"The show focuses on political decisions and their impact on local and state-level constituents," notes Lawrence in an email response to questions from Patch. "Setting aside his co-hosting duties would be the appropriate course of action for Mr. Potts."

Lawrence, a third-term Birmingham Board of Education member, has appeared on the show several times — most recently last September to discuss education finance.

Visibility boost from show

In Wolkinson's view, free TV exposure gives one candidate an edge and "is in conflict with general principles of equal time."

"When you're running for state House, a huge part of that campaign involves getting your name out," says the 31-year-old West Bloomfield attorney. "When you're on TV, there's no way to separate that from the campaign's (visibility) goal."

Wolkinson spoke Sunday night from Washington, where he attended a policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Potts, a third-term county commissioner, declined to comment because the issue first arose in the March issue of Downtown Birmingham/Bloomfield, where an editorial is headlined "If you're running for office, cancel cable show." 

"They should have the benefit of our reply on the question initially," Potts told Patch in a one-sentence email Monday, adding that he "will address it in a formal reply to them."

Potts, Lawrence and Wolkinson are competing for nomination Aug. 7 to run for Moss' seat. A 1992 term limit constitutional amendment bars the Republican from trying for a fourth term. The district is composed of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake and Orchard Lake Village.

The 70-year-old county commissioner . A month earlier, while bantering on the cable show with Moss and state Rep. Marty Knollenberg of Troy, Potts said with a laugh: "I think a lot about the 40th" House District. 

Lawrence, 51, . Wolkinson, mounting , displayed campaign signs at presidential primary polling sites Feb. 28 and will formally announce his candidacy on March 12 at the Bloomfield Township Public Library.

Editorial raises issue

The original call for Potts to step aside from the talk show reached Downtown readers Friday. The news magazine doesn't post editorials on its website.

"It is simply not acceptable for any elected official to host a show while they are running for office," says the 10-paragraph opinion piece. It cites the equal-time requirement of federal communication law, although that provision exempts news interviews and documentary-style programs — a gray zone that arguably includes Eye on Oakland.      

"In the spirit of the law," Downtown's publisher editorializes, "Potts should voluntarily suspend his hosting duties while the campaign goes on."

Lawrence agrees, suggesting a review by the public access channel's board. "I do feel that the equal-time provision is a valid consideration in this case," he says, "and should be reviewed by ."

Potts and Moss were hosts during 2010 while campaigning successfully to keep their county and state government seats.  

'Some interesting questions'

"The editorial in the Downtown publication raises some interesting questions," candidate Wolkinson says in an email follow-up to his phone conversation with Patch. "If I were in Mr. Potts' position, I would discontinue hosting the show while running."

Downtown's unsigned editorial also refers to fourth-term County Commissioner Marcia Gershenson of West Bloomfield, host of County Corner on the same public access cable channel. It should be suspended, the publication argues, "if she announces she is running for re-election or for another elected office."

Gershenson says she understands the point about higher visibility and adds: "One of my No. 1 jobs is educating the public. That (suspending the show) would restrict my ability to do that."

She planned to contact Downtown publisher David Hohendorf to discuss his concerns. While Moss could present Eye on Oakland alone, as he did originally, County Corner has just one host.

State representatives earn $71,650 per year. The county commission salary is $33,782, so Potts would get a $37,868 raise if he moves from the 25-member governing board based in Pontiac to the 110-member House in Lansing.

David Hohendorf March 06, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Editorials are posted on the Downtown's website. http://tinyurl.com/6sc75lj David Hohendorf, Publisher
Ron Dwyer March 06, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Its a cable access show, that Potts pays on his own dime for. These other two candidates could do the same. The playing field is level for all three candidates. If Lawrence and Wilkerson are complaining on this non-issue, how are they going to handle more complex issues in the State House?
Alan Stamm March 06, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Regret that oversight, Mr. Hohendorf. Glad you've provided link.
Rochelle Washington March 06, 2012 at 06:10 PM
It does not seem as if Wolkinson and Lawrence are complaining, merely answering Mr. Stamm's question. I doubt Governor Snyder would hire someone as his policy director if they were unable to handle complex issues.
Alan Stamm March 06, 2012 at 11:28 PM
UPDATE: Marcia Gershenson amplifies her initial comment, saying: "I've never used my show as a forum for my candidacy. I have not yet decided about my 2012 candidacy and will make a decision on this question at that time."
Linda P March 22, 2012 at 02:36 AM
I think you are incorrect Mr.Dwyer....if Potts show is on the community channel it is funded by the taxpayers through the PEG fees on their cable bill....IF Potts is hosting this show on the community channel...I believe the equal time argument is fair play.
Brian Blaesing July 20, 2012 at 04:17 PM
The article says it would be OK for Moss to continue the show on his own. But actually, he is running for the state Senate this year, right? So neither of them could host the show. On the other hand, if they are not using the show to promote their candidacy for office, then the show is not like a commercial or paid advertising for a candidate looking for votes, just two guys talking about events in the area. Under that scenario, I say, let them have their show as it is.
Alan Stamm July 20, 2012 at 05:32 PM
"Moss said he is considering running for the seat held by state Sen. John Pappageorge (R-Troy), who is also term-limited and must give up his Senate seat in 2014." -- Patch | Aug. 2, 2011 http://birmingham.patch.com/articles/rep-chuck-moss-looks-ahead-to-senate-seat-in-2014
Linda P July 21, 2012 at 10:54 AM
This show is on community television which is paid for via a tax called PEG fees that everyone with cable pays for....it is not his dime, it's our dime.
Linda P July 21, 2012 at 11:01 AM
Bloomfield Township Cable provides the vehicle to program these shows gives their permission for what cable shows are on TV.....so why are they allowing legally declared candidates , such as Potts, Savoie and soon Moss to gain an unfair edge with taxpayer PEG finder dollars to run their campaigns? By the time they decide the election will be over and the candidates will have their fait accompli.

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