And theyre off. Sort of.
The state of Michigan is in deep economic doo-doo. Very deep.
Unemployment continues to hover around 15% and in some areas,
including Northern Michigan, it has reached 20% or more. The state
budget is $1.5 billion in the red and the legislature continues to
fiddle as the state slowly burns. Our public schools are at risk,
feverishly hacking away at budgets, increasing classroom size and
trying to find ways to chase off our most experienced and expensive
teachers. As a bonus, were also one of a handful of states leaking
population with accompanying consequences in federal funding and
representation in Washington, D.C. The Pew Research Center includes
Michigan on its list of the ten states in the worst economic shape.
Incumbent politicians would like us all to believe these nightmares
dropped out of the sky unexpectedly when the various economic bubbles
burst and the auto industrys economic engine sputtered and died. The
truth is Michigan has been on a downward slide for well more than a
decade and our fearless leaders have done precious little to either
acknowledge that reality or do anything about it.
Into this environment comes the 2010 gubernatorial race. At some point
every politician with any name recognition beyond their own family
members has at least considered running. Many have decided theyd
rather do something more fun, like undergoing repeated root canals.
That list of no thank you decisions includes Lt. Governor John
Cherry, the putative favorite, leading in both the polls and
fundraising at the time of his departure. Mr. Cherry determined the
leaden albatross of Governor Jennifer Granholm super-glued around his
neck was too heavy a burden to bear.
As of this writing there are three announced Democrat candidates and
a whopping seven Republicans. Thats 10 folks eager to become captain
of the Titanic after it has already struck the ice berg.
On the more limited Democrat side we have Alma Wheeler Smith, a
veteran of the state legislature and a member of a prominent political
family who has yet to break out of single digits in the polls or
demonstrate the kind of fundraising capability shell need. Speaker of
the House Andy Dillon is a recent official entry and immediately
stepped to the head of the class. He has the contacts needed to raise
a bundle of cash and is leading in the early polls though his numbers
have recently declined. That may be because of the entrance of the
third announced candidate. Virg Bernero, the mayor of Lansing.
Bernero is by far the most interesting of the three Democrats, a man
once called the angriest mayor in America and, some think a ticking
time bomb awaiting the smallest spark required for a classic Bernero
explosion. In his announcement speech he warned us to get out of the
way or get run over, though he wasnt clear as to exactly what might
flatten us. His early poll numbers have been on the upswing since his
The Republican side of the draw is like an old-fashioned land rush.
The thinking must be that since Governor Granholm has become
increasingly unpopular that all Democrats will be tainted and any and
every Republican has a chance to waltz into the governors seat. It
wont be anywhere near that easy, of course, but hope springs eternal
within all politicians.
Congressman Peter Hoekstra is the current leader of the pack with
plenty of name recognition, decent fundraising and a lead in the early
polls. Also on the list of wannabes is Attorney General Mike Cox,
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and a slate of lesser lights.
One of those is venture capitalist Rick Snyder who has emerged as
Hoekstras chief challenger by way of a series of early, clever
television commercials touting him as one tough nerd.
Unfortunately, the spots also imply Snyder was a guiding force behind
Gateway Computers. In fact, Gateway was founded in 1985 and Snyder
didnt come on board until 1991 and he was a chief executive for two
brief periods and was at the helm when Gateway was acquired by
Taiwan-based Acer in 2007. His role in growing Gateway is not that
clear despite his ads implications. Nevertheless, Snyders early
television buy has paid dividends and he has risen from a statistical
blip on the polling radar to a solid second behind Hoekstra and hes
One interesting aside in the Republican field was the departure of
Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and her subsequent decision to run
for Lt. Governor as the running mate of Mike Bouchard. It is not the
normal course of things for a statewide office holder to decide to run
as second fiddle to a county sheriff but there you have it.
Waiting in the wings on the Republican side but still undecided is
rocker/hunter Ted Nugent who is apparently intent on taking a journey
to the center of his political mind.
This is an interesting and diverse group of folks who want to lead us.
One of the few things they have in common is their determination to
grow jobs. Listening to the field youd think jobs grow like
asparagus. Despite their assurances that they will be excellent job
farmers none has offered much in the way of specifics as to how that
crop will flourish. But they certainly are spreading plenty of
Stephen Tuttle is a political consultant who formerly wrote for the