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Michigan still looking for a leader

Robert Downes - June 15th, 2009
Michigan still looking for a leader
Robert Downes 6/15/09
Each spring in Michigan, you know that the season has finally turned when you see the first crocus flowers starting to bloom, often while there is still snow on the ground.
And so it is with state politics, where some of the hardier specimens of Michigan’s long, dark night are starting to blossom with the hope of being elected governor in 2010, after eight years of Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Love her or hate her, you‘ve got to admit Gov. Granholm was dealt a dead man‘s hand when she became Michigan‘s first female governor in 2003. She inherited a $1.7 billion budget deficit from Gov. John Engler, and it’s been downhill ever since with the meltdown of the auto industry, the loss of 140,000 manufacturing jobs, and budget deficits of $1-$2 billion each year. One can only imagine that Gov. Granholm will be happy to say “Take this job and shove it” on her way out the door.
But who will replace her? And who is up to the task? Michigan now occupies ‘last place’ in the nation for job opportunities. Michigan is also the only state in the nation to have experienced negative economic growth for 10 years in a row.
So far, we have a collection of “Great Unknowns” at the gate -- and untested, to boot.
Some might even say uninspiring.
Take Lt. Governor John Cherry, Jr., who is the presumptive Democratic frontrunner. Recently, an Express reader (and a Democrat) wrote in to note that Cherry has been pretty much missing in action these past eight years. Most of us know a lot more about Jon & Kate Plus Eight than we do John Cherry, and he’s had eight years to get his game on.
“I’d really like to see a story on what Lt. Governor Cherry has been doing for the past decade,” he wrote. “He’s had a marvelous pulpit from which to improve the lives of his constituents (and his name and face recognition) and as far as I can tell, he has done nothing.”
It makes you wonder, what does a lieutenant governor do?
Not much. If you go to Lt. Gov. Cherry’s web page at, you’ll find that he’s taken on a few ho-hum duties, such as investigating Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk. He is also a member of commissions on higher education, the Great Lakes and such, so perhaps he should be lauded for sitting through what must be some very dull meetings.
And recently, Cherry announced that a workgroup under his leadership “identified seven core functions of government,” such as public safety and education, which may be helpful to know in Lansing.
Cherry and his workgroup could have asked a junior high school civics class to come up with this report, saving the taxpayers the cost of bothering to write it down, but that’s what Lt. Govs do to earn their $123,900 salary per year, plus $20,000 expense account. Perhaps he could run on the platform of eliminating the lieutenant governor’s position, if elected.
On the other side of the aisle, Congressman Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland is the lead candidate for the Republicans.
Sad to say, most of the news releases Rep. Hoekstra issues involve a lot of carping and complaining about the Obama administration, with few constructive ideas for Michigan.
Even his complaints seem simplistic.
“Washington should not be in the business of running companies,” Hoekstra says in a release regarding the GM bankruptcy, adding that if we don’t watch out, GM and Chrysler could end up turning into another Amtrak, heavily-subsidized by the taxpayers.
Maybe. But what’s the alternative to trying a last-ditch effort to save America’s auto industry? Let the remaining 55,000 GM workers in Michigan go bust, along with all of the car parts suppliers? Let the empty factories stand there and rot? Under the latest plan, the American people will have a temporary, 60 percent ownership of GM until the company can get back on its feet.
Hoekstra also complains that the Obama administration is forcing automakers to improve the fuel efficiency of their cars: up to 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for light trucks by 2016. Like that‘s a bad thing.
In Hoekstra’s view, forcing carmakers to improve mileage could result in more job losses hemorrhaging in Michigan. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed all of the people buying those high-mileage JAPANESE cars.
At times, Hoekstra even gets simple-minded, as in a June 2 news release when he claims that moving prisoners from Guantanamo to Supermax prisons in the U.S. would be bringing terrorists into the “neighborhoods” of America.
The last I heard, few of us live in Supermax prisons where (barring an asteroid strike) there’s not a ghost of a chance of escaping from the “neighborhood.“ Try it and see.
And so it goes. At a recent debate between gubernatorial candidates on Mackinac Island, Crain’s Business News reported that the exchange of ideas was “long on civility and sometimes short on specifics.”
What Michigan needs is our own Barack Obama. A go-getter with superior intelligence, bold ideas, charisma and a steady hand working both sides of the political aisle. Someone who takes action with the verve of a jackhammer each day, instead of the partisan complaining that is the bone and gristle of politics in Lansing. Someone who has ideas beyond just tax cuts as an all-purpose cure-all (the Republicans) or pandering to state unions (the Democrats). Someone who can save us from ourselves.
President Obama, do you have any cousins out there you could send our way? Because those flowers we thought were crocuses are starting to look like skunk cabbages.

Cash for Clunkers
Calling all clunker owners: You‘ve got a year to trade in your old wreck of a car or truck to receive up to $4,500 on the purchase of a new fuel-efficient vehicle.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed “Cash for Clunkers“ legislation, hoping to spur U.S. auto sales and reduce air pollution to boot. A similar idea worked well in Germany, where auto sales shot up 40 percent.
For the next year, Uncle Sam will make $4 billion available for the trade-in program, hoping to generate sales of one million vehicles while saving 250,000 gallons of gas.
If you have a car or light truck that gets less than 18 mpg, or a large pickup that gets less than 15 mpg, you can receive a voucher worth $4,500 towards a new vehicle that gets at least four miles per gallon better mileage.
One problem: because of U.S. entanglements with world trade agreements, apparently, you can use that voucher to purchase a foreign vehicle, which means that taxpayers will be subsidizing some purchases from Toyota, Honda or Subaru. Even the new Ford Fusion is 100 percent made-in-Mexico, and other U.S. cars have drivetrains made in Japan, etc.
Here, Rep. Pete Hoekstra comes through with a better idea: he has proposed legislation that would provide a nonrefundable $3,000 tax credit for the purchase of any American-made vehicle in 2009. That would boost our auto industry and keep our dollars at home.

Check out Bob Downes unplugged with Jim Moore and Acoustic Dynamite at Left Foot Charley‘s patio at Building 50 in TC, Friday, June 19 from 6-8 p.m.

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