Commentary: The other debate

Oct 23, 2012

You might say there was more than usual going on last night. There was the last game of the National League baseball playoffs, in which San Francisco completed a dramatic comeback to take on the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Meanwhile, on another channel, the Detroit Lions were blowing their Monday night football game.

And Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were locked in the final debate of the closest presidential campaign in years, this time arguing about foreign policy and the state of the world.

Earlier yesterday, however, there was another debate of sorts over an issue that will probably affect our lives more than much of what the presidential candidates discussed.

I am talking about Proposal 6, the would-be constitutional amendment that would prevent anybody from building any bridge to Canada, ever, without a statewide vote of the people.

The debate was held at the now-restored Book-Cadillac hotel in downtown Detroit. Well, it wasn’t exactly a classic debate. While both sides showed up within minutes of each other, they weren’t on stage together -- though they’ve been locked in combat for months.

Governor Snyder actually appeared as part of a team, with Roy Norton, Canada’s Consul General who is the official representative of his nation and her majesty’s government. They want a new bridge.

Dan Stamper, who works for Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, doesn’t want anything interfering with the Moroun family’s monopoly over transporting heavy freight hereabouts.

They all appeared before a group called CUSBA, the Canada-U.S. Business Association. Snyder and Norton had a friendlier audience, and, for the purpose of proving their point, an easier task. They want to build a new bridge across the Detroit River, south of where the Ambassador Bridge now stands.

Both the governor and the consul say the new bridge is badly needed, won‘t cost Michigan a cent, and will create many jobs.

The governor, who isn‘t exactly Mr. Emotion, got quite worked up about all of this. He said, “In Michigan today, can you think of one good reason why we should delay creating thousands of jobs? With fire and passion, say ‘No on 6.’ We are reinventing Michigan. Let’s not stop.”

Roy Norton repeated that the bridge was Canada’s top infrastructure priority, and said the Moroun family, quote, “has been spreading lies and distortions about the New International Trade Crossing.” Despite their ads, he vowed that no Chinese steel would be used to build the bridge.

Dan Stamper repeated his usual charge that the governor “is trying to sell voters a government bridge we don‘t need and cannot afford.” He bizarrely ended by saying the proposed new bridge couldn‘t sustain itself, but that the Morouns also intend to build a second bridge, right next to their old one, as soon as possible.

Had anybody been scoring this “debate” it would have been a one-sided wipeout for the governor’s team. But here’s the problem. The Morouns are spending millions on a TV ad campaign. Those supporting the new bridge are not.

The business interests who stand to gain the most from a new bridge haven’t put their money where their interests lie.

If Proposal 6 does pass, and the bridge is tied up in courts for years, it may cost them more than a few commercials would now.    

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.