Opinion
11:45 am
Fri June 28, 2013

Halfway through 2013, a new man in charge of Detroit, and a weakened governor

Lessenberry commentary for 6/29/2013

Well, we’ve just about made it halfway through the year.  In fact, for most businesses and most states, Monday is the start of a new fiscal year. Michigan, however, starts its fiscal year October 1.

Why?  Well, it has to do with an accounting trick to deal with a fiscal crisis back in the nineteen seventies. Yes, the more things change, the more some things stay the same.

But this has been a pretty momentous six months. On New Year’s Day, elected officials were still fully in charge in Detroit.  Today, the city is being run by an emergency manager. Six months ago, while everybody knew Detroit finances were bad, nobody dreamed the total debt might be near twenty billion dollars.

Six months ago, the two most powerful figures in the city were Mayor Dave Bing and City Council President Charles Pugh. And nobody knew the name Kevyn Orr.  Today, while he is still mayor, Bing is virtually powerless. He can’t spend a dime without Emergency Manager Orr‘s consent.  He’s now dropped out of the mayor‘s race and virtually out of the news. Charles Pugh, the top vote-getter in Detroit‘s city election four years ago, chose this week to disappear.

Not just from politics. He disappeared. Nobody could reach him, and he didn’t show up for a council meeting Wednesday.  Then allegations surfaced of an inappropriate relationship between the council president and a high school boy.

For Detroit, the hits just keep on coming.

But the city isn’t alone. This has been a rough six months for Governor Rick Snyder. Two and a half years ago, he arrived in Lansing like an invading army, stunning observers by rapidly getting a vast amount of his program enacted into law.

But now he is bogged down. By late spring, Snyder’s endless repetition of his “relentless positive action” mantra could not disguise the fact that his fellow Republicans in the Legislature were relentlessly, positively humiliating him.

The trouble started when his own legislative allies displayed contempt for his proposal to find new revenue to repair Michigan’s crumbling roads. Then, during a celebration of the state’s business comeback on Mackinac Island, Pulte Homes announced the company was moving to California. Later, the state Senate refused to even vote on another top Snyder priority: Washington’s proposal to extend Medicaid to nearly half a million Michigan residents. When the governor cut a trade mission short to plead with senators, they responded by going on vacation.

Since then, the governor has looked, well, weak. When he held meetings around the state on the issue, local senators didn’t show up. Now, he is pleading for a vote in the fall.

And if that wasn’t enough news, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down three momentous decisions this week. As for now, affirmative action looks safe, at least for college admissions.

But the high court essentially wiped out the Voting Rights Act, to the dismay of civil rights groups. The next day, the same court said federal attempts to outlaw same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.

It may take years before we know the full effects of all this. But if you think we’ve already had a few years of news in half a year, I am not about to disagree.

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.