Say what? Is it possible that in some small way, were moving toward a spirit of bipartisanship? Sort of like a dog and cat snuggling up together when its too cold outside to bear their differences?
Theres been endless speculation in the press about undecided voters this year and who the independents will vote for in the national election.
But those undecideds are primarily Republicans who are thinking of jumping ship for the first time in their lives, the same way that many Democrats voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
This is why were seeing defections by the likes of Colin Powell, who served as Secretary of State under President Bush, and Christopher Buckley, the son of conservative icon William F. Buckley. Both are Republicans voting for Obama.
Call it the Reagan Effect.
Like Obama, Reagan was a charismatic leader who signaled an uplifting new direction for the country in the wake of a devastated economy and the lackluster leadership of Jimmy Carter. Reagan Democrats flocked to his standard in droves. Today, some of them are coming back to their roots, for the same reasons that resonated in 1980.
But a more pressing issue for those of us who live in Michigan is the mindset of our new State Legislature. Were on the ropes. Michigan has lost 400,000 jobs since mid-2000, according to economists at the University of Michigan. That includes 51,000 jobs in 2008.
Meanwhile, the recent drop in the stock market has hammered the endowments of hospitals, art organizations and schools across the state, with losses ranging into tens of millions of dollars. Consider an organization like Interlochen Center for the Arts, which has an endowment of some $50 million (or did, anyway). What does a 40 percent drop in investments mean to them? What does it mean to Munson Medical Center? Northern Michigan Hospital? Our colleges? All of these organizations rely on their endowments.
At the State level, Michigan began its fiscal year October 1 with projections that tax revenues will fall $550 million below what is needed to pay for services, according to a report in the Associated Press. And that was before the wheels fell off the economy.
Closer to home, its estimated that one in six homeowners are now paying back mortgages that total more than the worth of their homes. And of course, millions of people have seen their retirement funds swept away with no way of knowing if and when the tide will shift.
So, if ever there was a time for our state legislators to put aside party differences and start pulling the oars in the same direction, this is it.
Currently, our State House is divided into 58 Democratic reps and 52 Republicans. Our State Senate is made up of 21 Republicans and 17 Democrats.
How are they doing? Well, who can judge when the hurricane of globalization and automation is shivering corporations such as GM, Chrysler and Ford to splinters? Who can judge when titanic forces are sweeping the economies around the world?
But just a year ago, the Legislature was blasted as one of the worst in the history of the State, with gridlock and backbiting prompting front-page editorials in the Detroit newspapers. In a widely-circulated column, Phil Power, president of the Center for Michigan political think tank, had this to say: “The editorial pages in Michigans newspapers are uniformly and savagely contemptuous of our political leaders. Talk with long-time Lansing hands and business leaders, and they say in living memory theyve never seen things this bad.
Much of that savage contempt was due to the fact that legislators werent moving the State forward on the budget crisis and the meltdown in jobs. For some, sticking it to Gov. Granholm was a bigger concern than rescuing Michigan; others wrangled over the transition from the unloved Single Business Tax to the equally unpopular Michigan Business Tax.
So, it will be interesting to see how the upcoming election shakes out at the State House.
There is some good news for Michigan, however: Due to budget cuts approved in March, this year Michigan will spend $150 million less than the state spent in 2001. And U-Ms economists claim the state will gain 15,000 jobs in 2009, and that vehicle sales will stabilize, along with a rebound in home building.
But these predictions were made before the current financial massacre, so lets keep our fingers crossed.
One thing is clear: it‘s going to take more teamwork than weve seen in the past to get Michigan back on its feet.
Just as voters are crossing the lines to vote a split ticket this fall, so too must our new legislators look beyond party loyalty. Gov. Granholm is term-limited and cant run in the 2010 election, so theres no whipping boy (or girl) to blame if the legislature cant get it together.
Well be counting on the newcomers of 2009 to ‘hold their noses‘ and reach across the aisle for the greater good. We‘ll be counting on them to be more inclusive, more cooperative, and more productive in moving Michigan forward.