With the stunning news Thursday afternoon that House Administration Committee Chairman Candice Miller (R.-Mich) had decided not to seek re-election in 2016, most speculation among Republicans in and out of Michigan’s 10th District (Macomb County) focused immediately on Republican State Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, 28, as the veteran congresswoman’s heiress apparent.
National GOP interest in three-term legislator LaFontaine is based on the historic nature of her possible election: if elected, the self-styled "moderate-to-conservative" would become, at age 29, the youngest woman of either party ever elected to Congress. That "title" current belongs to Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, elected to her upstate New York seat last fall at age 30.
"I’m not ruling [running for Congress] in or out right now — I haven’t even talked to my family yet," LaFontaine told Newsmax less than an hour after Miller’s surprise announcement, "I just heard the news myself. Anyone who runs will have some giant shoes to fill by succeeding Candice Miller, someone for whom I have the most respect."
A one-time Harrison Township supervisor, Miller — who bears a resemblance to German Chancellor Angela Merkel — made a valiant-but-losing bid for Congress in 1986 against then-Democratic Rep. David Bonior. She later won two terms as Michigan’s secretary of State and, when Bonior retired in 2002, Miller captured the 10th District.
Long mentioned as a candidate for governor or U.S. Senator, Miller’s actual goal was the chairmanship of the House Homeland Security Committee. After the 2012 elections, however, House GOP leaders instead gave the gavel to Texas Rep. Mike McCaul. The reason most often cited Miller’s not getting the chairmanship was that there were already four major committee chairmen from Michigan.
The Michiganian did get the chairmanship of the Administration Committee, making her the lone woman at the helm of a House Committee.
"And I felt Mike McCaul was a great, great choice for Homeland Security and I’m proud of the work we’ve done at Administration," Miller told Newsmax on Thursday, "But it was also time for me to go home."
LaFontaine also is a political trailblazer. In 2010, while studying for her master’s degree in Public Administration, LaFontaine defeated three opponents to win the Republican nomination for a state House seat. That fall, she won a dramatic upset over Democratic Rep. Jennifer Haase and thus became, at 23, the second youngest woman state legislator in Michigan history.
Now in her final term permitted under state law, LaFontaine is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
"On issues such as the right to life and right to keep and bear arms, you can call me a die-hard social conservative," LaFontaine told us, but quickly added that on other issues she has taken stands different from most conservatives. She supported the state package for revival of economically moribund Detroit and also backed the state’s Medicaid expansion.
In a district in which Miller won last fall with 70% of the vote, there are sure to be other Republican candidates. Pete Lund, educator and former three term state representative from Shelby Township, is mentioned. So are State Sens. Phil Pavlov of St. Clair and Jack Brandenburg of Macomb. All are considered conservatives.
The lone Democrat mentioned is Macomb County Executive and former sheriff Mark Hackel. But Hackel is also mentioned as a candidate for governor in 2018, when Republican Gov. Rick Snyder must step down.
"I think about the safest thing you can say now is there won’t be a shortage of qualified candidates in the 10th," said LaFontaine.
(BY WAY OF DISCLOSURE: The only other woman elected to the Michigan legislature who was younger than Andrea LaFontaine was Colleen House, elected to the House of Representatives at 22; she is the wife of this reporter).
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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