Michigan lawmakers' failure on roads eroding our faith in government

Jun 16, 2014

Our Legislature’s refusal to do what’s needed to fix the roads made me remember a brilliant political move many years ago.

President Harry Truman was running for re-election, and his chances didn’t look good.

He was a Democrat, and had a Republican Congress that didn’t want to cooperate on anything he wanted. So he called them back for a special session during the campaign. He challenged Congress to pass laws the nation needed.

They totally refused, as he knew they would. Most commentators thought that made him look weak. Truman knew better. He campaigned hard against the “do-nothing Congress.”

In the end, he won the biggest upset of all time, and Republicans lost a whopping 84 seats in Congress.

Gov. Rick Snyder also could, if he wanted, call a special session of the Michigan Legislature and ask them to get it done and come up with the money to fix the roads.

But that’s not going to happen.

... we should all realize that we will be living in a highly dangerous world if the public becomes convinced that democracy just doesn't work, and believe there is no way they can make their representatives respond to their needs.

For one thing, this time the governor’s party controls the Legislature. For another, they’d plainly resent the executive branch telling them what to do, and if this still failed to produce new money for the roads, everyone would look bad.

However, what the leaders of the Legislature need to be doing this very minute is talking to each other – and the governor – and figuring out an agreement, getting the lawmakers back in session for a day or two and pass laws to fix the roads.

It has long been clear that Michigan badly needs to pour billions of dollars into the roads as soon as possible. To not do so not only endangers our axles, but damages efforts to attract new business.

However, there is another reason it is essential that the Legislature do this: To restore faith in government. People don’t have a lot of it today, and Lansing is making that worse.

Beyond any doubt, the citizens’ top priority is road repair.

But Michigan’s Legislature not only ignored the voters and refused to pass a plan to fix the roads, they stopped trying and went on a two-month vacation mainly to campaign for reelection.

This prompted all sorts of cries, some of them from the state’s major newspapers, to just vote all the rascals out in November.

But here’s why that mostly won’t work. Thanks to outrageous gerrymandering, most lawmakers are in utterly safe one-party districts. They will get re-elected no matter what they do.

They can only be threatened by a challenge in the August primary, and it is too late to put new candidates on the ballot. The few lawmakers who do face primary challenges are mainly running against anti-tax fanatics who would be even worse for the roads.

However, we should all realize that we will be living in a highly dangerous world if the public becomes convinced that democracy just doesn’t work, and believe there is no way they can make their representatives respond to their needs.

The grownups I talk with understand the roads need to be fixed, and that this will cost money.

Now we need lawmakers who are willing to be adults as well. And just come back and fix the roads.