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.