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Recalling A Forgotten Representative

By John Lindstrom
Posted: December 3, 2015 12:11 PM

Some politicians cast big shadows and are remembered long past the times they served. Most strut and fret for their time on the political stage and then are resigned to being answers to trivia questions long after. And some are forgotten altogether.

The House on Tuesday remembered one member who was so forgotten no one noticed, and that includes reporters, when he died.

Clem Bykowski, Clemens Bykowski formerly, was honored in HR 189* adopted on Tuesday.

He was elected to succeed a scandal-ridden lawmaker, made a very bad tactical mistake within days of his taking office and then left after one of the shortest terms in legislative history.

Mr. Bykowski was such a small presence in the Legislature his name doesn’t even show up in the indexes of the Michigan Manual (though he does have a small reference in lists of past legislators as a footnote, he doesn’t even get his own listing as a former representative).

Mr. Bykowski died in October. He was 91. He and his wife, Ruth, were together for 70 years. The couple had three children, 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He was living in Canton when he died.

He was a veteran of World War II. He had been a Detroit cop until injuries forced him to retire. He did get elected to the Wayne County Commission, where he served until fate intervened.

Fate being former Rep. Casmer Ogonowski. “Cas,” was a Detroit Democrat, very personable, the kind of guy you loved having a drink with at the bar and he always gave the impression of being a real operator. Though from the more conservative sections of Detroit, he was aligned in many ways with former Mayor Coleman Young. Mr. Ogonowski, like the then mayor, was a major backer of bringing casino gambling to Detroit.

Mr. Ogonowski got into huge trouble when he was convicted of federal charges of bribery for accepting money to help someone get a liquor license and lottery license. He faced expulsion, but in March 1982 handed in a letter of resignation, sparring himself that indignity.

Governors and legislators didn’t wait around on scheduling special elections in those days, and fewer than three months after Mr. Ogonowski was gone Mr. Bykowski was elected to the House, defeating his Republican opponent by a margin of almost five to one.

Mr. Bykowski was thin with a prominent mustache. He frankly looked older than his 58 years. He smoked a cigar, this reporter recalls. He was put at a desk near the front of the House chamber and just a few seats over from then-freshman Rep. Burton Leland.

And he worked his House desk phone a lot, calling allies and friends. As he did, he was often eyed by Mr. Leland.

Because it was 1982, legislative districts had just been redrawn following the 1980 census. Detroit had lost a couple seats and Mr. Bykowski’s district and Mr. Leland’s were now thrown together.

Then Mr. Bykowski made his mistake. It happened just a couple days after he had been sworn in. The House was going long that day, well past midnight, as it worked on budget and budget cutting and a host of other issues.

It was never made clear why, but Mr. Bykowski got an excuse and left the session early to return home. Directly after he left the chamber, the House prepared to vote on some procedural issue. Mr. Leland’s hand shot up and he called for a record-roll call vote.

And that continued the rest of the night. No matter how insignificant the issue, on every procedural step taken, Mr. Leland called for a record roll-call vote. People knew what Mr. Leland was doing, but were powerless to stop him.

Mr. Leland was, after all, creating Mr. Bykowski’s voting record, or rather his non-voting record. When he went door to door during the primary election, he intended to show that Mr. Bykowski had a pretty poor record of voting for being in office for such a short time.

There wasn’t enough time for Mr. Bykowski to recover from his error. Session ended early that June so lawmakers could campaign in the new districts.

That August, in a five-person Democratic primary, Mr. Leland bested Mr. Bykowski by better than 2,300 votes.

Mr. Bykowski served out the rest of his short term – which with elections meant he was not in session much – left Lansing, and until Tuesday was really not heard from again in the chamber in which he once had served.

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