During his 48 years on Capitol Hill, Michigan Rep. John Conyers hasn’t had to worry much about competitive elections. For decades, the Democratic lawmaker whom the Detroit News has called “part showman, part junkyard dog, part evangelist” has cruised to victory after victory in a succession of Detroit-area districts.
But a series of scandals and family problems have taken their toll on the 83-year-old Conyers, the second-longest-serving member of the House of Representatives. The congressman’s wife, Monica, the disgraced former president of the Detroit City Council, is serving a 37-month federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to bribery conspiracy charges.
The suggestion that John Conyers was implicated in his wife’s scandal has hurt him politically, even though he has not been charged or accused of criminal wrongdoing. And potential voters probably won’t be happy about the fact that despite his salary of almost $175,000 a year, taxpayers picked up the tab for Mrs. Conyers’ legal defense.
A new congressional redistricting plan signed into law last year by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder may have put the 24-term congressman’s political future in jeopardy. Conyers opted to run in the new 13th Congressional District, where the winner of the Aug. 7 primary will be the overwhelming favorite in November.
A liberal’s political odyssey
Conyers has long been one of Capitol Hill’s foremost left-wing ideologues, even boasting about his quixotic efforts to win reparations for descendants of slaves. In 1972, a month before the Watergate break-in, he called for impeaching President Richard Nixon because of how he conducted the Vietnam War. Thirty-three years later, he urged Congress to censure President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney for misleading Congress over their justifications for invading Iraq.
Conyers is also a longtime advocate of slashing the defense budget in order to finance higher levels of domestic spending. In an October 2010 speech to the Democratic Socialists of America, he suggested America is on the road to nuclear annihilation, denounced the war in Afghanistan, and called for the implementation of a “one-world concept” in which nations are beholden to multinational organizations and international regimes.
Until recently, that hard-left approach didn’t seem to hurt Conyers; in fact, it probably helped him coast to re-election in his ultra-liberal district.
Realistically, he could quit Congress tomorrow and be guaranteed a positive political epitaph. A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, he served as House Judiciary Committee chairman from 2007 to 2011. One of his first actions in Congress was working to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Civil-rights heroine Rosa Parks worked on Conyers’ 1964 campaign — he won that Democratic primary by roughly 100 votes out of 60,000 cast — and then worked in his Detroit office for more than two decades. He sponsored the original Martin Luther King holiday bill shortly after the civil-rights leader’s 1968 assassination, and fought for it until it became law in 1983.
Today, Conyers is an energetic Obamacare supporter who criticized tea party members in 2010 for opposing the legislation, calling them “tea baggers.”
In July 2009, Conyers admitted he had not read the Obamacare bill before voting for it. In February 2012 he made a similar admission about legislation he supported that cut the Social Security payroll tax and expanded unemployment compensation benefits.
Just four weeks after delivering his Democratic Socialists of America stemwinder, Conyers racked up 77 percent of the vote in the general election. He ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. But the 2010 Republican tsunami cost Conyers his Judiciary Committee chairmanship. And now congressional redistricting may take away the seat he has held since Lyndon Baines Johnson was president.