2005-07-21 / Opinion

Granholm Facing the Heat Before Long Japan Trip

Michigan Politics
By George Weeks

Critics of Governor Jennifer Granholm are providing quite a sendoff for her Friday departure on a nine-day mission to Japan to lure jobs and investment to Michigan.

The GOP is running statewide 60-second radio ads contending Michigan is "losing one job every 10 minutes on Granholm's watch."

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, who still ever-so-slightly leaves open the door to a possible 2006 challenge of Granholm, knocks Granholm's handling of economic issues and opined Thursday: "I think it's increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the governor to get reelected."

The same day, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, where Granholm was rapped in March and again in a July 7 op-ed by two Michigan Republicans, referred to her Japan trip and cited "Michigan's inhospitable tax climate."

Now, beyond agendas of Granholm's critics and supporters, comes Governing magazine's "Source Book 2005" independent ranking of the states in more than 40 categories. Michigan looks good in several of them, including being seventh in per capita spending for education.

But woe is Michigan on economic grading.

No surprise here: Consistent with recent monthly jobless figures, it's at the bottom of the "Unemployment" chart. In calculating comparisons on 2000-05 jobless rates and 2001 and 2004 personal income figures, it's dead last on the "Economic Growth" chart.

The "State Economic Momentum" chart averages most recent one-year changes in employment, personal income and relates each state's performance to the national average. Michigan ranked 50th.

Reacting to this, Granholm Press Secretary Liz Boyd said, "Michigan is not an aberration but part of a trend," affecting Midwest states reeling from the economic downturn and "global economic forces."

Before Republicans trumpet lack of economic momentum, they should note that in May of 2002, Michigan's index rank on Governing's scale among the states was 47th. So it's not that Granholm inherited robust momentum.

Another area where Governing ranks Michigan at the bottom (48th) is per capita "Highway Spending." The figures are 2002 and pre-Granholm.

It has long been a struggle for Michigan to get a decent return on highway and other dollars sent to Washington, regardless of party affiliation in the state's congressional delegation.

On Saturday, Granholm called to acknowledge "an unfortunate choice of words" when she told me in Traverse City a week earlier that Rep. Rick Baxter, R-Hanover, should "be removed from office" for co-authoring a "treasonous" July 7 op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal "trashing Michigan" on its tax and business climate. Her "angry" remarks were published in The Detroit News July 11.

Granholm emphasized, "I will never apologize for defending Michigan," but said her comments on the column were "perhaps clouded (because) I feel so passionately that we should work together to beat the drums" for the state and for tax reform.

Passions are cooled, and it's a good bet that negotiations underway in Lansing will produce a compromise on changing the tax structure and stimulating the economy.

Irwin to Ag

When Granholm campaigned in the Upper Peninsula, former state Sen. Mitch Irwin, D-Sault Ste. Marie, was often at her side. He then headed the agriculture team of governor-elect Granholm’s transition office. She then named him as director of the Department of Management and Budget, where she said he "excelled at saving dollars and improving service for our citizens."

When Irwin was appointed last week by the Commission of Agriculture to succeed Dan Wyant, a holdover from Engler days, as director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Granholm said: "I'm certain he'll use that same zeal for making government more effective to both protect our food supply and grow our agriculture industry."

Unfortunately, a governor lacks the power to name the agriculture director. But Granholm is elated that a member of Team Granholm will be in that job.

The Michigan Farm Bureau also is happy: "We appreciate Mitch Irwin's agricultural background, having grown up on a small farm in the rural Upper Peninsula where he gained practical experience farming beef cattle, hay, and horses, as well as being active in 4-H. We're also pleased that Mitch Irwin's interest in agriculture continues today with the breeding of horses."

George Weeks is the political columnist for The Detroit News and is syndicated by Superior Features.

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