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Jase Bolger admits scandal focused too much on winning

8:14 AM, Aug 13, 2013   |    comments
From left to right: Roy Schmidt who formerly represented District 76 in Grand Rapids and James "Jase" Bolger, Michigan Speaker of the House, representing District 63, Marshall.
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LANSING, Mich. (Lansing State Journal)-- Three days after being cleared of any wrongdoing, House Speaker Jase Bolger stood by a public apology he issued last year - and what investigators found in his role in a controversial party-switch scandal.

"I'm certainly relieved to see that, once again, a review has found that I followed the rules," the Republican from Marshall said while in downtown Battle Creek Monday. "However, that is not to say that I didn't make a mistake. Roy Schmidt switching parties was not a mistake. I would do that again. We took it one step too far in worrying about his opponent."

He added, "I certainly think it was a mistake to focus on winning and to focus on defeating your competition. This isn't a game; I grew up a football player, but this is not a game. This is very real and serious work."

In a joint interview with the Enquirer, WMUK Radio's Gordon Evans and the Kalamazoo Gazette's Alex Mitchell, Bolger said the investigations into the scandal have been a learning process that has steered him to focus on delivering results "instead of the infatuation with the negative."

Bolger, who cannot run for his House seat again because of term limits, kept mum on his plans after 2014 but weighed in on some issues currently being discussed by state lawmakers.

A grand jury investigation by an Ingham County judge found last week that Bolger and former Grand Rapids state Rep. Roy Schmidt did not break the law when they helped recruit a fake Democratic candidate to enter the Grand Rapids race and run against Schmidt, who switched parties just before the filing deadline.

Schmidt was not re-elected, and Bolger barely survived his race.

On Monday, Bolger said he was not worried about the impact the incident would have on the public's opinion of him.

"Frankly, I couldn't be less worried about my political future," he said. "I'm going to continue to be focused on the people of the state. I gave them my word back in July when I issued that apology. I have sought to learn my lessons and I think what this does above all is, it validates that I've always told the truth. I've always followed the rules. I've never viewed myself as above the rules.

"I've always said, I'm not perfect. I've never been perfect."

Bolger also expressed optimism in getting Medicaid expansion passed in time to receive federal waivers by the beginning of next year, and said lawmakers will also focus on job creation, no-fault insurance reform and road funding.

He said the House is currently working on a package that would dedicate sales tax revenue generated at the pump directly to road funding and redirect other dollars to fill the holes that would be left in schools and local government funding.

"We are being very responsible to make sure while we solve problems, we don't allow those solutions to create other problems that we don't answer," he said.

The state lawmaker also said he was open to discussing decriminalization of marijuana use and having a "full conversation" on the state's medical use laws.

Bolger also weighed in on recent pushes around the state for anti-discrimination ordinances on employment and housing for the LGBT community, saying a proposal that would "respect both" sides of the debate is needed.

"I don't think anybody should be discriminated against because they're gay," he said. "I certainly don't think they should be demonized because they're gay. Likewise, I don't think anybody should be forced to violate their religious beliefs, and I don't think anybody with deeply held religious beliefs should be demonized."

Bolger also made clear his choice for Michigan's next governor, praising Gov. Rick Snyder's first-term performance for tackling the challenges "that were left behind from our last lost decade."

Snyder is expected to seek re-election and would likely face former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer.

"As I look at Mark Schauer, I think he was very much a part of the last lost decade," he said. "He was there. At the time, he was working with Gov. (Jennifer) Granholm when they made decisions that were the wrong decisions for Michigan. We don't have to wonder what his policies would do - we saw them in action in Michigan."

Bolger said he was keeping his focus on his current job as House speaker but said he would not rule out another run for public office after his term ends.

The full interview with Bolger will air on "WestSouthwest" at 9:20 a.m. Wednesday on WMUK 102.1 FM, Western Michigan University's public radio station.

Jennifer Bowman is a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer

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