DETROIT - It is the most asked question of the day in Michigan political circles: why?
Here you are a sitting congressman in an exceptionally safe district, you rise to chairman of the House intelligence committee, you can stay as long as your heart desires, you get lobbied hard to run for Carl Levin's soon-to-be-vacant senate seat -- a politician's dream race -- and you say no, making it look like you are comfortable keeping the extraordinary power you have now.
The cynics, of course, wonder if there is something dark and nefarious behind this. Others think "well it is a grind flying back and forth to Washington, D.C. all the time where you spend most of your term in the air," but John Dingell and John Conyers have done it for nearly a half century and flying today is a whole lot better than a generation ago!
Others think that maybe watching Vladimir Putin consolidate Russian power in the Crimea with virtual impunity and Al-Qaeda's unabated rebirth is too much for him. This scenario sounds more likely.
Mike Rogers is a tough guy to talk with. Not that when you get his attention he's not listening. No. Whenever Local 4 has tried to get him in front of a camera for the past several terms he's usually been unavailable. He preferred the Sunday morning talk circuit with its national audience of policy wonks carefully turning on his every word. He was playing and basking in the national spotlight.
Rogers is a good friend and ally of House Speaker John Boehner's, which is how he wound up with the supremely powerful committee chairmanship. This made him sound more moderate than he really is. He wants to see American power projected more in the world than it is.
Everything I've ever read about the Presidency says getting that intelligence briefing every morning will curl your hair with the revelation of the clear and present global dangers that are lurking under the surface. Clearly Rogers didn't see everything the President does but he had to have been in the neighborhood.
This will put your stomach in knots for certain. The tougher job is remembering what you can't say as opposed to what you want to considering what the life and death problems publicity can mean in the intelligence community. Clearly Rogers knows more than he's telling, feels strongly that the President is not operating in a fashion he can live with and wants to talk about it more candidly than he can now with the national audience he's grown used to speaking to.
If you have not heard his radio interview with Paul W. Smith this morning you should take the nearly 9 minutes and do so. A couple of things become apparent. Paul W. gave even more than his usual warm welcome to one of his noteworthy guests. He was positively effusive. The reason: Paul W.'s radio company Cumulus is the one that will be putting Rogers and his program on the air. They claim the first discussions about this career possibility started at an induction ceremony for Paul W. into the national radio hall of fame in Chicago. Paul wasn't speaking with the local congressman anymore; he was introducing a new co-worker. Rogers, for his part, sounded like he is happy and ready for the change and the challenge. He becomes pundit instead of lock box for intelligence data. How liberating!
But herein lies what is perhaps more likely the "why" at play here. It's probably the possibility of a run for President someday -- 2016 maybe 2020 or beyond. Let's face it; he is young at age 50. He can stand to wait a while and try and become a household name in the meantime. And more than that he can get paid! Congressmen and women make $174,000 a year, need to keep two homes, spend a lot of time travelling and in Congress you spend whatever time you are not in the air or in session raising money for the next campaign. Rogers appears to be eyeing an infinitely larger salary, less hassle and the possibility of a bigger piece of power down the line. Sounds like a winner no matter how you slice it.
This of course means Michigan is about to become an also ran state politically for a while. With Dingell and Levin gone on the Democrat side and Rogers out and Dave Camp and Fred Upton term limited on their ways and means and energy and commerce committees respectively. Michigan won't have the cachet or the pull it has enjoyed in recent years. Governor Rick Snyder today said it's the political circle of life so to speak and he's right. Rogers was important to us here in Michigan but Washington won't miss a beat in his absence.
While Rogers didn't enjoy the same status Barry Sanders' did in the NFL when it comes to reputation, he is going out in roughly the same fashion Barry did. Quitting was an unmitigated stunner, he's giving up a lot yet realizing he has his health and his sanity and won't be used as a punching bag any longer.
Frankly, who can blame him?
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