Commentary
9:22 am
Thu January 20, 2011

The Statesman and the State

When it comes to speeches, Rick Snyder cannot begin to touch Jennifer Granholm in terms of style.

At no time during his State of the State speech last night did he come close to matching her perfectly modulated tones. He’s getting better, but the governor still sounds much of the time like a college student making a speech in a class he’s required to take.

But when it comes to substance and leadership, he blew her out of the park. He took one of the most divisive issues in the state, made it his own, worked out an astonishing deal with the federal government, and happily co-opted both his friends and enemies.

Nobody had a clue before last night what the new governor would do about the proposed new bridge over the Detroit River.

For years, Matty Moroun, the billionaire trucking magnate who owns the Ambassador Bridge, has managed to block construction of a new internationally owned bridge.

Last December, Moroun’s allies in the state senate blocked a vote on the bridge, which virtually every other interest group in the state has wanted for years.

During last year’s election cycle the Ambassador Bridge’s owner donated more than half a million dollars to candidates and their committees, with the clear expectation they‘d continue to protect his interests. Nobody knew how Snyder stood on the issue, but supporters of the new bridge had little reason to be optimistic.

But then Snyder stunned the state.

“It’s time to build the new Detroit River International Crossing Bridge,” he said flatly. And then he added a bigger surprise. He’d gone to Washington and negotiated a deal.

The federal government would allow the $550 million dollar loan Canada had offered Michigan to get the bridge deal done to count as matching funds for federal highway dollars.

That’s not only a good deal for Michigan, it offers Republicans who had opposed the bridge a face-saving way to change their minds.

“Forget everything you heard in last year’s debate,” the new governor told them.  After all, this wasn’t the bill they rejected last year, but a new and better deal for Michigan.

There are some who are saying the new governor was backing the bridge to please the Democrats, to win bipartisan support. Well, it may have that effect, but some of the strongest backers of the DRIC bridge have been Republicans outside the legislature, like former Governor John Engler and Oakland County’s Brooks Patterson.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce wants the bridge, as do all the auto companies. Snyder decided to try to end the logjam saying he was tired of “rhetoric and paralysis. It’s time to solve problems.”  Now, the bridge isn’t a done deal yet.

Nor did the governor explain how he proposes to close the massive budget deficit. That’ll come with his budget, next month.

But everything he said indicated he is a man of rational, commonsense solutions.  He wants full funding of the successful Pure Michigan ad campaign. Most of all, he wants anything and everything that will create jobs. Ironically, by the end of the night, his somewhat wooden delivery had accomplished something his predecessor never did. He really did blow people away.

And I have a sneaking suspicion we ain’t seen nothing yet.