2010-12-30 / Columns

Michigan Politics

Smooth Transition
By George Weeks

To their credit and reflective of their personalities, outgoing Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm and Republican Governor-elect Rick Snyder fashioned one of the smoothest, cooperative transitions Michigan has had from governors of opposite parties.

True to his campaign pledge in his first quest for elective public office to reach across political aisles and promote diversity, businessman Snyder has done that even before assuming office.

He has had bipartisan meetings with lawmakers; decided to retain Granholm's transportation director, Kirk Steudle; designated department veteran Rodney Stokes as the first black to head the Department of Natural Resources and Lieutenant Colonel Kriste Etue as the first woman to command the Michigan State Police, and announced Democratic Detroit Mayor Dave Bing as emcee of his inauguration ceremony on New Year's Day on the steps of the state Capitol.

Snyder and Granholm, standing together in Lansing behind Granholm's official seal of office, even had an unprecedented chummy deal of each announcing 10 appointments of a new governing board of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, once chaired by Snyder by appointment of Governor John Engler.

(Engler is leaving the National Association of Manufacturers to head another business powerhouse in Washington, the Business Roundtable.)

Of his gig with Granholm, Snyder said: "This is the way we need to operate in terms of people working together in a very cooperative and inclusive fashion."

It may be an unusually cooperative transition, but with one glaring exception: There is little unusual about the economic and state budget fiscal grief that Snyder will inherit.

The unique blow is that the 2010 Census revealed Michigan, which long had the nation's highest jobless rate until recently, is the only state to lose population over the past 10 years -- costing it a seat in Congress, and a smaller slice of federal funds.

From the outset of statehood, the history of the Michigan governorship has been dealing with economic Boom/Bust/Rebound. Several governors, upon inauguration, were riding for a downfall because of factors beyond their control.

Much as the Great Recession impacted Granholm's reign, the national Panic of 1837 was building when Stevens T. Mason led Michigan to statehood.

Our third 19th century governor, John S. Barry, said in his 1842 Inaugural Address: "It cannot be concealed, that embarrassments of no ordinary magnitude oppress the finances of the state. The public debt is heavy, and the immediate demands upon the treasury are beyond its present ability to meet."

And so it went through the decades, including the 1959 payless payday for state workers when Democratic Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams and the Republican Senate failed to agree on a funding plan. It was a big deal in the national press, touting a mock "Michigan on the rocks" cocktail.

Of less national note was in 1908 when a cash crisis during Republican Governor Fred M. Warner's administration prompted a two-month delay in payment of state obligations and state employees were a few months late in getting their pay.

A string of recent governors, Democrat James J. Blanchard, Engler, and Granholm, inherited deficits.

Thanks to an infusion of federal funds, Granholm leaves a balanced budget for the current fiscal year. Nonetheless, as Snyder prepares an inaugural address geared to a renewed Michigan, he is bequeathed a looming deficit for the fiscal year starting in October.

In her final weekly radio address, Granholm said she's proud of her accomplishments during eight years "which focused on diversifying Michigan's economy and creating jobs, educating children and retraining workers, and protecting citizens during the transition from the old Michigan economy to the new one."

She said, "My administration's record includes nearly 4,000 economic development projects, the creation or retention of 653,000 jobs, and diversification into sectors like clean energy. We've changed our education system to ensure that every child takes a college prep curriculum. Test scores have risen, dropout rates are declining, and we now have record college enrollment. We completely restructured workforce through No Worker Left Behind, and more than 147,000 adults have enrolled."

Granholm did indeed lay the foundation for elements of a new Michigan economy -- battery and other clean energy industries, life sciences, film industry, and others. But her accomplishments were overshadowed, as were those of some of her predecessors, by economic gloom, in part, beyond her control.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and worked previously with UPI as Lansing Bureau Chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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