Letters

Letters 8-18-2014

The Climate Clarified

Climate change isn’t an easy subject. A class I’m taking compared it to medicine in a way that was helpful for me: Climate scientists are like planetary physicians. Our understanding of medicine is incomplete, but what we know is useful...

Beware Non-Locally Grown

The article “Farm Fresh?” couldn’t be any more true than exactly stated. As an avid shopper at the local farm markets I want to know “exactly” what I am buying, from GMO free to organic or not organic, sprayed or not sprayed and with what...

Media Bias Must End

I wish to thank Joel Weberman for his letter “Seeking Balanced Israel Coverage.” The pro-Palestinian bias includes TV news coverage...

Proud of My President

The world is a mess. According to many conservative voices, it would not be in such a mess if Obama was not the president. I am finally understanding that the problem with our president is that he is too thoughtful, too rational, too realistic, too inclined to see things differently and change his mind, too compassionate to be the leader of a free world...

Home · Articles · News · Features · Street Fighter Virg Bernero...
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Street Fighter Virg Bernero aims for a knock-out with populist message

By Robert Downes - October 11th, 2010
In August, Bernero ripped Fox newscaster Neil Cavuto a new one in a “Fighting for Michigan Jobs” clip that’s become a legendary piece of political theater on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bya81icEK3s
In the interview Bernero takes issue with Cavuto’s claim that union workers haven’t made enough sacrifices to get the Big 3 auto companies back on track.
“I gotta’ tell you, I am so sick and tired of the double standard,” Bernero says in the interview. “One standard for Washington and Wall Street and another standard for the working people in this country. It’s always… ‘Hey, to be more competitive we gotta’ take it out of the hide of the working person’ … cut their pay, cut their benefits. How much is enough?”
The clip is such a crowd-pleaser that Bernero uses it on the stump in his appearances around the state in his quest to become Michigan’s governor in the November 2 election. The image of a feisty mayor defending Michigan workers also resonates with the theme of Bernero’s campaign: “It’s time to fight for Main Street -- not Wall Street.”

POPULIST MESSAGE
On that score, Bernero draws a sharp distinction between himself and Republican candidate Rick Snyder, the former CEO of Gateway and current frontrunner in the polls. Bernero hammers Snyder as being part of the business culture that outsourced Michigan’s jobs in the first place.
In a recent campaign stop in Traverse City, Bernero cast himself as an experienced mayor and former state rep and senator who’s been neck-deep in fighting Michigan’s bad economy and budget woes while his opponent has profited from the state’s misfortune during the move of Gateway computers to China.
“I’ve balanced Lansing’s budget five times with no layoffs,” Bernero says. “These have been tough times in Lansing and I’ve gone to the city workers and we’ve all pulled together without raising taxes. We sacrificed together.
“How does that compare at Gateway when things got tough? Snyder exercised his stock options and that’s how he became a millionaire. What options did the 20,000 workers have who stood in the unemployment line?”

HOME DEFENSE
Bernero would like to see a populist groundswell in defense of American workers and manufacturing, which have taken a hit over the past 20 years through so-called “free trade” agreements such as NAFTA, CAFTA, and World Trade Organization deals that make it easy for corporations to move their operations overseas.
“I haven’t given up on manufacturing in Michigan,” he says. “The corporations are paying $2 an hour to workers in Malaysia with the idea that we’ll get by on a ‘service economy’ here in America. There are people at the top in our country who believe that Mexico and China can become our manufacturing sector. These are people high up who make millions when our jobs go overseas, but not the people who punch a time clock… What will we do when we make nothing in Michigan? We’ll all be in the ‘service economy,’ selling each other hamburgers.”
Bernero sees hope in Michigan’s homegrown companies which are getting a jump on the ‘green’ revolution, producing wind generators, solar equipment and batteries for hybrid and electric cars. He’s enthusiastic about the Chevy Volt, an electric car that begins production in Detroit in November. The Volt and a corresponding battery plant are brining hundreds of new jobs back to GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant.
“I want Michigan to make the cleaner, greener cars of the future -- the wind turbines and solar panels Why should we give up on manufacturing?”

ANGER MANAGEMENT
Bernero, 46, who grew up in the Pontiac area and was on the debate team at Adrian College, could give Michael Moore a run for his money when it comes to whipping up a crowd’s enthusiasm with fiery rhetoric. He’s a mesmerizing speaker, as fast on his feet with a comeback as any pro boxer.
But talk’s cheap: What has he done for Lansing?
In his campaign literature, Bernero says he’s attracted $500 million in new investment to Lansing during his tenure has mayor, and has retained or created 6,000 full-time jobs. He says he’s erased more than $30 million in city budget deficits and has tried to streamline the city’s permitting process to make it easier for companies to do business in Lansing.
As governor, Bernero would put Michigan’s budget online for every citizen to review at will. He would also require every bill proposed by the State Legislature to be put online. Additionally, he would create a “one stop shopping” system for permits in Michigan, in an attempt to cut some of the bureaucratic red tape that stifles new business.
While union-bashing is almost a mantra for Republican candidates, Bernero is highly supportive of labor unions, noting that it was the labor movement that created America’s middle class by demanding higher pay and benefits for workers over decades of struggle. Today, Bernero says, that American dream of home ownership and a living wage is disintegrating through the collusion of Washington and Wall Street.
“I’ve been called the angry mayor and it’s true,” he says. “I get angry when people sell the Michigan worker short. When people throw the American worker under the bus or sell our workers short, I get angry.”

COMING FROM BEHIND
Even though he was elected mayor last year with 63% of the vote, Bernero’s biggest challenge in the coming election seems to be raising his profile in a state that’s already had nearly a year of TV commercials touting his opponent Rick Snyder. To get there, he’s turned loose his inner attack dog:
“Michigan doesn’t need a CEO in charge who has no experience with governing,” he says of Snyder. “We don’t need a chief executive outsourcer. Snyder has a 10-point plan for jobs on TC, but what is the plan? I’ve studied it and there’s no ‘there’ there.”

NE: You’ve talked about the need to stop the outsourcing of jobs in Michigan, but what can you do to stop it when there are all of these free trade agreements and the titanic forces of multi-national corporations against you?
Bernero: First of all, I’d do everything I can to create a fair tax policy in the state and encourage investment in Michigan. We can compete, but first we have to be united in our approach.
But after that we still need to amend the free trade agreements that encourage the outsourcing of jobs and move toward ‘fair trade’ where our workers have a level playing field. As governor, I’d fight to create an organization made up of mayors and governors from across the country who understand this problem. We will take this issue to Washington and fight for fair trade policies.

NE: How much of your campaign is getting past the stigma of Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who -- right or wrong -- has been blamed by many for Michigan’s economic problems?
Bernero: People are looking for someone to blame. People who are hurting tend to have short memories -- they don’t have much patience with government when they’re losing their jobs, their homes, their hope. Politically, Americans don’t have very long memories.
But I’m on the front lines as a mayor who’s been getting results and people get that. I’m different -- I ruffle feathers. I’ve been fighting to reform the system (in Lansing) and I’ve done it. It’s popular to be an outsider in politics, but I’ve always been one.

NE: What do you think of the Tea Party? Is that having an effect on your campaign one way or the other?
Bernero: I believe that part of the Tea Party was designed to suck some of the populist energy out of movements like the Main Street majority sentiment that was on the rise against Wall Street. Americans are angry over losing their jobs and their homes and the Republicans saw that. So people like Dick Armey (former Republican House Majority Leader) started up the Tea Party thing and turned that anger toward the government. It’s a massive diversion which splits up the body politic -- it split up what would have been a populist majority against Wall Street.”

NE: Do you think the Democrats have done a bad job of tooting their own horn on successes such as health care reform, saving the auto companies, and preventing another Great Depression?
Bernero: Exactly. The thing that President Obama is most guilty of is bad PR and not getting the word out on the successes of the Democrats. Where would Michigan be without the auto rescue? And then there are billions in stimulus funds that came our way to create new manufacturing for energy, wind turbines and batteries. We have hope for bringing manufacturing back to Michigan, thanks to the Obama administration.

Next in the Express: An interview with Rick Snyder, Republican candidate for governor.
 
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