And, As for the Democrats

Jan 19, 2011

There’s a lot of speculation today as to what Governor Snyder will say when he makes his first State of the State speech tonight.

Well, we’ll find out soon enough. However, I’m also interested in what the Democrats are going to say in response. Now, there are a lot of people who think whatever they say won’t matter much.

After all, the Dems were pounded into the ground in the last election. They lost a record twenty seats in the House, where the Republicans have a sixty-three to forty-seven seat edge.

And they are in a lot worse shape in the state senate, where they now hold only a dozen seats out of thirty-eight. That’s the weakest position they’ve been in since 1954.

Nevertheless, what goes around does tend to come around. Nobody thinks Governor Snyder‘s honeymoon with the voters will last forever. Nor is it likely that all of his fellow Republicans in the legislature are always going to support what he wants to do.

These are also not normal times. Michigan has lost nearly a million jobs in the last decade, and has the highest unemployment rate of any major state in the nation. Additionally, it’s clear that our method of funding state government is broken.

Every year, the system automatically produces huge budget deficits that have to be closed, in large part because the  state has more funding commitments than it is generating revenue to cover.

So Michigan face major economic challenges at many levels, troubles so serious that wiser heads in both parties recognize that they can no longer play the same old partisan games.

The voters clearly don’t want that. They want everybody working together to try to fix things and revive the Michigan economy.

That’s what any number of surveys have shown, as well as a series of Community Conversations conducted over the past few years by the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Michigan.

Unfortunately, there are any number of career politicians on both sides who don’t get it. Within minutes after Governor Snyder delivered a fairly nonpartisan, inspiring inaugural address, longtime state party chair Mark Brewer was issuing a boilerplate press release denouncing the governor’s address; he did much the same when the governor filled a Supreme Court vacancy days later, in language that made the Democratic leader sound like just one more, out-of-touch political hack.

That’s not what the voters have indicated they want. This time, the Democratic response will come from Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who may well be the new face of the party.

Though still in her thirties, Whitmer is a seasoned politician who has been in the legislature for more than a decade. She is also a highly regarded attorney and a stunningly attractive person who once told me she sees her charisma as a two-edged sword.

One of her big fears, she once told me, was that people would see her as either another Sarah Palin or Jennifer Granholm.

She’s more than smart enough to know the times are changing, and her challenge will be to see if her tiny band of Democrats can manage to make a difference and be relevant in a positive way.

We may see if she starts them off in the right direction tonight.