The Magazine

An Ordinary Guy

But not an ordinary congressman.

Mar 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 25 • By MARIA SANTOS
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It’s often hard to tell whether Bentivolio has been maligned. His records as a high school teacher, unearthed by the Detroit Free Press, include claims he exhibited abusive behavior. The records state he was reprimanded after students accused him of saying he wanted to make them cry and only taught them for the paycheck. Bentivolio says he was joking at the time. He says he never received any complaints until he announced his candidacy “with an R after my name.”

Yet Bentivolio’s account of at least one part of this controversy is inaccurate. The Free Press got his records with a FOIA request. He says that’s a lie, since he received no notice of such a request, as his teaching contract required. Instead he’s convinced union employees slipped things into his record while the school superintendent was away from his desk, and the Michigan Democratic party then gave those faulty records to reporter Kathleen Gray. He explains all this hurriedly, as his staff pulls him away to make his flight back to Michigan. “I’ll miss my flight for this,” he insists. Gray showed me the letter from his school responding to her FOIA request.

Other Bentivolio “scandals” are easier to dismiss. He drew mockery for promising to hold a hearing on “chemtrails”—a popular conspiracy theory. Advocates believe the condensation trails left by airplanes are actually laced with dastardly chemicals by the government. But the video of the town hall where he made this promise shows Bentivolio being badgered by a belligerent constituent. After resisting the constituent’s requests, he eventually gives in, appearing weary. He never held the hearing.

Last year Bentivolio was endorsed by several libertarian and Tea Party icons: Sen. Rand Paul, former congressman Ron Paul, and Rep. Justin Amash. The Tea Party Express, one of the more influential Tea Party organizations, backs him for reelection, calling him a “Mr. Smith goes to Washington story.” Bentivolio won’t identify himself as a Tea Partier or libertarian. But he says he thinks government should stop issuing marriage licenses, arguing that they are a product of Jim Crow laws and designed to regulate interracial marriages. He gleefully produces a four-foot pair of scissors from behind his desk, saying he brought them to cut spending.

But his first year was notable for the headlines he didn’t make. He hasn’t defied leadership or taken fringe positions. Instead, he’s voted with GOP leadership on key legislation, including the subsidy-rich farm bill, which was excoriated by Tea Party groups. He’s currently working on the uncontroversial Safe and Secure Federal Website Act, which would require the Government Accountability Office to review federal websites that store sensitive personal information.

Bentivolio doubled his fundraising this past quarter—$127,000 versus less than $60,000 in the third quarter. House speaker John Boehner, Rep. Eric Cantor, and Rep. Paul Ryan have all hosted fundraisers for his campaign. That still leaves him with only a quarter of challenger Trott’s cash on hand.

Trott is known to some as the “foreclosure king.” Bentivolio is often likened to Kris Kringle from Miracle on 34th Street, but he may try to cast Trott as Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. Trott’s company once evicted a 101-year-old woman, Texana Hollis, over $60 in unpaid taxes. Hollis’s story inspired so much outrage that the Department of Housing and Urban Development eventually let her move back in.

With a strong challenger and so much bad press, Bentivolio may be a one-term wonder. Why all the trouble with the media? When I asked, a member of his staff responded that it’s because he’s so often tongue in cheek, and he’s just “a regular guy.”

Maria Santos is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.

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