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Two Speeches

Jan 21, 2015

I was fascinated last night by the contrast between Governor Snyder’s State of the State Speech and President Obama’s State of the Union Speech. Think about this.

Two middle-aged guys, one fifty-six; the other fifty-three, both wearing dark suits and blue ties, speaking two hours apart. One black, one white; one Republican, one Democrat.

A majority of us in Michigan voted for both of them twice, even though polls show most of us don’t think either is doing an especially good job.

The speeches couldn’t have been more different. Obama’s was an inspiring rhetorical delight, designed to make us feel good about ourselves and our country and challenge us to do better.

Governor Snyder’s speech, which was assembled from talking points, was largely about administrative reforms.

It is hard to imagine someone running home, throwing open the door and saying breathlessly:

“You won’t believe it. The governor is merging the departments of Community Health and Human Services ... And if that wasn’t enough, he is going to combine a bunch of other commissions into a new state energy agency.”

Well, this may not be the stuff that sends the heart racing, but unlike the reforms President Obama wants, the governor does have the power to make his happen.

Over the years, some governors have combined agencies; others have taken them apart. Republicans usually say they are in favor of smaller government. Here, however, the governor is creating two mammoth agencies, one of which, the new Department of Health and Human Services, will account for nearly half of the entire state budget.

The governor is clearly hoping to streamline services and save money through economies of scale here. Democratic leaders seem open-minded about all this.

They were, in fact, cautiously supportive, but a little rightly worried some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens could be lost in the creation of a new enormous bureaucracy.

That’s a legitimate concern. But there seemed last night to be far more willingness to try to find areas of bipartisan cooperation. Far more, certainly, in Lansing than in Washington, where the Republican majority largely sat stone-faced while the president spoke.

In Lansing, there was near universal praise when the governor called for more investment in early childhood development. There also seems to be a consensus developing to steer clear, at least for now, of more divisive debates on gender identity.

While the governor said there should be “more discussion” on expanding the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, presumably to include gay Americans, the new Speaker of the House said no thanks. In other words, this is going nowhere. Not for the next two years.

On the other hand, it is interesting that new Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof doesn’t seem eager to take up divisive “Religious Freedom Restoration Act “ legislation again.

My guess is that everyone is waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on same-sex marriage.

The bottom line is that Obama gave a far better speech last night, but Snyder’s is certain to produce far more concrete results.

But ask yourself this: How many lines do you remember from any State of the Union or State of the State speech?

I thought so. Well, the political year is now truly under way. Be prepared for a bumpy, if interesting, ride.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. You can read his essays online at michiganradio.org. 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