Romney and the Bridge

Feb 24, 2012

If you’ve following the Michigan Republican presidential primary race, you probably know that Governor Rick Snyder has endorsed Mitt Romney. If you’ve been following politics in Michigan, you probably know that one of the governor’s top priorities is a new bridge over the Detroit River, the New International Trade Crossing.

Nearly the entire corporate and business community want this bridge. But the governor hasn’t even been able to get a vote on it in the legislature, where many of the members have taken campaign  donations from Matty Moroun, owner of the rival Ambassador Bridge. Moroun doesn’t want any competition, and so far, has managed to frustrate the governor and get his way.

This is not purely a local issue; this is America’s most economically important border crossing. Billions in heavy freight cross the Ambassador Bridge every month. Getting a new bridge is a top economic priority for Canada, our nation’s biggest trading partner.

So, how does Mitt Romney stand on the question of whether we should build a new international bridge? The answer seems to be that he doesn’t. He is apparently refusing to take a position on it.

And that is costing him one and maybe two fairly major newspaper endorsements. Earlier this week, John Robinson Block, the co-publisher and editor-in-chief of the Toledo Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, asked me how Romney stood on the bridge. I happen to be The Blade’s ombudsman, which means I deal with reader complaints, but I also sometimes advise the editors on Michigan issues, since the newspaper circulates in several counties in southeast Michigan. I left messages with a number of aides for both Governor Snyder and the Romney campaign.

They didn’t return my calls. Yesterday, Tom Troy, the politics writer for The Blade, asked Romney about the bridge during a photo opportunity. “He wouldn’t answer,“ the reporter said. “He just kept posing and smiling.” Clearly, he knew the issue was controversial.

But this time, he will pay a price. The Blade, which is the biggest newspaper in Northwest Ohio, had planned to endorse Romney in both the Ohio and Michigan primaries this Sunday. Ohio’s primary is the week after Michigan’s.

But now they are not going to endorse. If Romney refuses to take a stand on an issue of great economic importance to the region, the publisher feels he has no business being president.

And I think that makes sense. There are some who might say that he should stay out of the bridge issue, that it is a purely local dispute. Except that it is not. I think it would be totally appropriate for a presidential candidate to refrain from commenting on, say, whether Detroit needs an Emergency Manager. That is truly a state and local matter. But the bridge is a national and international issue.

One thing we need to know is whether Romney would continue the Obama Administration‘s offer to let the money Canada is willing to advance us be counted as federal highway matching funds.

That could mean more than two billion dollars in road money for our state. Mitt Romney wants a job which is all about making bold and controversial decisions. Playing “Detroit River duck” isn’t the way to show that he is up to the job.