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The governors game heads to Mackinac

Jun 2, 2018

Credit Daniel Howes / Detroit News

The race to replace Governor Rick Snyder is on.

Here on Mackinac Island this week, we learned from a gubernatorial debate: That Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is a mom. She’ll “Fix the Damn Roads.” And she has a “backbone of titanium.” Just ask her.

Republican Pat Colbeck has Michigan’s roads disaster all figured out. He’d order “a complete review” of the state’s road-building process and upgrade them to higher standards – all without raising taxes. Right.

Democrat Abdul El-Sayed would dismantle the “Betsy DeVos agenda” for Michigan’s public schools and “end this profit motive in our schools.” And every student coming from a household making $150,000 or less should graduate from college debt-free. How and who’s paying the tab he didn’t say.

Republican Brian Calley, the lieutenant governor, knows his policy and his talking points. He’d prefer to focus on what he calls “the future” and a city of Flint that’s “on the move,” instead of atoning for the biggest scandal in Snyder’s eight years – the massive Flint water crisis.

Democrat Shri Thanadar doesn’t want to run the state like a business. He wants to run it like “a family” – presumably one where Big Daddy picks up the tab for everyone else. Universal Pre-K? Check. No state income taxes for people making $50,000 or less? Check.

A graduated income tax for all those Richy Riches making $200,000 or more? Check. New Jersey, here we come.

Republican Bill Schuette says President Donald Trump endorsed him repeatedly, in case you didn’t hear it the first time. He says you can’t afford to vote for Jennifer Granholm’s “economic collapse plan.” Granholm hasn’t been on a Michigan ballot in 12 years.

This is disappointing, if entirely predictable. And it’s what business leaders gathered this week at the Mackinac Policy Conference fear most: the problem-solving CEO who led the rebuild of Michigan’s competitiveness is one of them. Synder did more to bolster Detroit’s reinvention than any governor in the past 50 years. He’s more interested in embracing solutions than parroting partisan talking points.

And, based on the early rhetoric of this campaign, he’s likely to be replaced by an ideologue – barring a come-from-behind surge by his deputy, Calley.

A major driver of Michigan’s turnaround and the remarkable reinvention of Detroit is the people who made it possible. A Republican governor who didn’t act like a typical Republican. A Democratic Detroit mayor who didn’t act like a Democrat when it came to working with Republicans in Lansing.

Snyder set a tone that is unfashionable in the Era of Trump. It prized cooperation over confrontation, solutions over blame, unity over regional rivalry.

His would-be successors? Not so much. Listening to them in the Grand Hotel, I couldn’t help but think: don’t these people know it’s not 2009 anymore? That Michigan has created 540,000 private-sector jobs? That Detroit sped through bankruptcy? That its credit ratings are rising, that billions of private dollars are flowing into Detroit redevelopment?

Like him or not, Snyder’s agenda succeeded more than it failed because it tried to be positive. His would-be successors? Not so much.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.