Commentary: What a week!

Dec 8, 2012

If you were writing a novel about politics, you couldn’t make this up. Last month a Democratic President was re-elected, easily carrying Michigan by almost half a million votes.

The same day, the state’s voters reelected a liberal Democratic Senator by almost a million votes, and Democrats gained seats in the legislature. Exactly one month to the day later, this same state passed laws destroying the union shop, and making Michigan a right to work state.

Did I think I would ever see this in my lifetime? Absolutely not. But then, I never counted on a black president, General Motors going bankrupt, or Pontiac going out of business.

We live in momentous times. And in the Michigan legislature, last week was a time of lawmaking at breathtaking speed. If there has ever been a lame-duck session anything like this one, I certainly don’t know about it.

Consider not only did lawmakers pass right to work, but the House joined the Senate in the passage of a bill that will create a regional transit authority for southeastern Michigan.

That means the entire area could soon be served by a network of high-speed buses. The lawmakers also said yes to momentous changes that will allow Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to stop legally being a charity and become a nonprofit mutual insurance company, a move that is still controversial in many quarters.

The governor thinks this will be good for the health insurance industry, while some liberals think this is the first step towards Blue Cross becoming just another for-profit insurance company.

However, Michigan’s very conservative attorney general also opposed the Blue Cross changes; he believes it leaves our state’s senior citizens highly vulnerable.

And if all this wasn’t enough for one week, the legislature also began moving a bill that would give new powers to Emergency Financial Managers in this state. This came one day after the Snyder Administration signaled that it was finally ready to pull the plug on the failed “consent agreement” with Detroit and move towards appointing an emergency financial manager for the troubled city, after a month-long review of Detroit’s finances, something that could start as early as next week.

The bottom line is that Republicans are in full control of state government, and driving the process in a way that has seldom ever been seen, much less in a lame duck session in the last few weeks before Christmas.

I suspect we aren’t done with changes in state government yet, and it’s pretty clear that the political and economic dynamic in this state is changing in ways that would have been unimaginable ten years ago. What Michigan will look like in another decade is anyone’s guess. My own feeling is that eventually Rick Snyder may be seen as a vastly important figure in the history of this state.

What we don’t know is whether he will be remembered as the man who saved Detroit and revitalized Michigan’s economy.

Or as the man who destroyed some of the few protections our society offered to workers and the poor, and further helped eliminate the middle class in this state. Sometimes, cliches are right:

In this case, only time will tell.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.