commentary

Commentary
11:23 am
Wed July 6, 2011

Casey Anthony Verdict: Rushing to Judgement

Last night I was filling up my car in western Wayne County, when a woman next to me, a perfect stranger, said “Isn’t it horrible?”  I thought she meant the price of gas.

But no. She meant the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. “Can you believe it?"

I thought of sincerely telling her that I wasn’t surprised at all. Of telling her that what happens during a full-length trial in a courtroom is often far different than what you see on TV.

Additionally, our system - though not our media - still operate under something called the presumption of innocence. This means, in criminal trials, that your guilt has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and there seemed to be plenty of that here.

I also was tempted to suggest that she get a life, and become interested and involved in things that mattered to her family, community and state which she actually could do something about.

But of course I did none of that, mostly because I didn't want to get into a fight. So I merely mumbled that I hadn’t really followed the trial much, which also happens to be true.

I haven’t followed it, except to the extent that it was unavoidable. I usually watch CNN for a few minutes in the morning, a network which lately seems to be all Casey Anthony, all the time. If you are trying to discover proof that a large country named Russia actually still existed, you’d be out of luck here.

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Commentary
11:09 am
Tue July 5, 2011

Medical Marijuana

Three years ago, Michigan voters approved allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes by a margin of almost two to one.

Social conservatives weren’t happy, and feared that this would lead to the back door legalization of marijuana for everyone. However, the public was overwhelmingly sympathetic to its use for medical reasons. That’s largely because there is considerable evidence that marijuana can relieve suffering from diseases including cancer, glaucoma, and a host of other ailments. Yet there were problems from the start with the medical marijuana law.

For one thing, it wasn’t passed by the legislature, as most laws are, but was placed on the ballot by citizens who collected enough signatures to put it there. Legalizing marijuana for medical patients required setting up a complex new system.

This had never been tried before in Michigan, and it’s evident that the framework needs to be tweaked.  For one thing, there are clearly a handful of unscrupulous doctors all too willing to certify people for medical marijuana use.

The Detroit Free Press reported that only fifty-five doctors have authorized medical marijuana for more than seventy percent of all those now eligible. Whatever your feelings about marijuana, the voters did not intend to effectively legalize its recreational use.

Nor could Michigan legally do that. Technically, any marijuana use is still against federal law, and Washington could, if it chose, move against any of the sixteen states that authorize medical marijuana. They haven’t, and even allowed a medical marijuana statute to be enacted in Washington, D.C.. But if Michigan or any other state were to openly act as if the legalization of medical marijuana meant we could establish a marijuana industry for all, the odds of federal intervention would become much greater.

On the other hand, it is clear that people do want marijuana to be available to those with legitimate medical conditions.

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Commentary
10:13 am
Fri July 1, 2011

Lansing Takes a Breather

Happy new fiscal year, everyone. Everyone, that is, except for employees of the State of Michigan, whose fiscal year begins October first. The state used to have a normal fiscal year, but switched in the seventies as part of budget-balancing maneuver.

Anyway, even though their budget year isn’t over, our allegedly full-time lawmakers are honoring the conventional year by knocking off for the summer, pretty much. They are scheduled to be in session for only two days in the next two months.

Nice work if you can get it.

To be sure, whether you liked it or not, the lawmakers did accomplish a lot in the last six months. Repealing the Michigan Business Tax. Inaugurating a pensions tax. Balancing the budget earlier than anyone except Bill Milliken can remember.

They finished the session yesterday by dramatically changing the way public school teacher tenure works in Michigan.

Not that our lawmakers didn’t do some silly stuff too. You’ll be pleased to know that our lawmakers made it possible for five-year- olds to hunt bear. That’s right. They repealed that pesky socialist law that said you had to be at least ten years old to shoot living creatures with a gun Now, kids of any age will be able to blast away, provided they are accompanied by an adult who has a hunting license.

One more reason to stay out of the woods.

Turning serious, I was struck by something about the teacher tenure battle. The legislation will make it easier to fire bad teachers, all agree. It was bitterly opposed by the teachers‘ unions, who always seem to oppose any kind of education reform.

Interestingly, however, even the unions admitted at the last moment that it was too hard to fire really bad teachers, and that changes needed to be made. They decided to back a less drastic bill introduced in the senate that would have streamlined the process. But it was too late. The problem was that a year ago, the unions would have opposed any changes whatsoever. By not being willing to address the issue earlier, in a sense, they did it to themselves.

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Commentary
10:56 am
Thu June 30, 2011

Selling the Bridge

Our lawmakers are preparing to wind up business for the summer, and Governor Rick Snyder has racked up an astonishing record of legislative success. True, his party has heavy majorities in both houses, and there was a broad consensus that Michigan needed change. But he got lawmakers to agree very quickly to major reforms that faced entrenched opposition.

Taxing pensions, for one thing. True, he had to compromise, finally agreeing to exempt most of those already receiving them. But that he got Republicans to agree to a tax increase at all was something like getting a vegan to eat a hamburger.

The changes in the Emergency Financial Manager law and in the rules covering binding arbitration for government employees will have profound effects in years to come.

In six months, this governor has accomplished more than his predecessor did in four years. But he has so far failed at one thing, something that would have seemed an easy sell.

The proposal to build a new bridge across the Detroit River,  the New International Trade Crossing. The facts indicate this should be a no-brainer. The Ambassador Bridge is old. Canada wants and needs a new bridge so much it will cover all Michigan‘s costs.

Not only that. The federal government will allow Michigan to use the $550 million Canada is offering us as matching money to get two billion dollars in badly needed federal highway funds.

Yet the governor had to postpone a vote on the bridge because he’s been unable to win over most in his own party. To understand their thinking, I talked yesterday with one of the rising stars in the Michigan Republican Party, Senator Tonya Schuitmaker.

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Commentary
11:19 am
Wed June 29, 2011

The Mess in Detroit

What if, back in the early days of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had exploded an atom bomb in Detroit? Let’s say that two-thirds of the people were eliminated.

Even a higher percentage of jobs were lost. Land was left polluted; tens of thousands of buildings dilapidated and vacant, and the school system was essentially ruined. What would we do?

Well, I think the answer is clear. If something like that had happened in the early 1950s, both state and federal authorities would have responded with a massive outpouring of aid. Blighted areas would have been cleaned up, Buildings rebuilt. Detroiters who came through all this would have been battle-scarred but immensely proud.

Well, it’s more than half a century later, and while no nuclear device has gone off, much of Detroit does in fact look like it has gone through a war. Maybe not a nuclear war, but parts of it could easily have been pounded by allied bombers during World War II. 

The population is largely poor, undereducated, jobless and desperate. Yet there is no massive outpouring of aid. Mostly, there’s just a collective shrug of our shoulders. People who live in Grand Rapids don’t want to think about Detroit. Some of them act as if it didn’t even exist. What is even more bizarre is that some people in the Grosse Pointes and Birmingham act the same way.

They know that it is no longer socially permissible to say that Detroit is beyond help because its inhabitants are virtually all black and don’t share the cultural values other Americans have, most notably, the work ethic. They don’t say that, but many think it.

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Commentary
10:46 am
Tue June 28, 2011

China Daze

In many ways, the Toledo area just south of the border is more like Michigan than Ohio. It features an aging industrial city based on the automotive economy and suffering from its decline.

Beyond that are leafy suburbs, and then smaller towns, farms, and a significant agricultural sector. Yet there is one way in which Toledo is very different from us. The mayor and the chamber of commerce have been actively and aggressively courting China.

And their efforts are paying off. Earlier this year, the Chinese investment firm Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. bought a restaurant complex for more than $2 million dollars. Then this month, they paid the cash-strapped city even more to buy sixty-nine acres of land in what is known as the Marina District, along the Maumee River.

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Commentary
10:42 am
Thu June 23, 2011

Mutual Assured Deterrence

Governor Rick Snyder’s Emergency Manager law was highly controversial even before it was passed - and yesterday, a coalition of twenty-eight teachers, union members and private citizens filed suit, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

In their view, it violates the state constitution because it gives the executive branch power over the legislative, violating the separation of powers, something fundamental to both the United States and Michigan constitutions. To me, the only thing surprising about this suit was that it took so long to be filed.

This is not the first of the governor’s sweeping reforms to face a constitutional challenge. Lawsuits have already claimed the taxing of pensions is unconstitutional. Such cases can often take months or even years to wend their way through the court system. But in the case of the pension tax, to his credit, the governor requested a speedy decision from the Michigan Supreme Court.

The justices have agreed to hear the case in September, which is lightning speed in high court terms.

Getting this resolved quickly makes perfect sense, partly so that the state can try to figure out budget alternatives just in case the ruling goes against them.

Deciding this early should also prevent the endless cycle of hearings, injunctions and motions to lift injunctions.

But as long as the high court has agreed to an expedited decision on the constitutionality of the pension tax, it should give us a speedy ruling on the emergency financial manager bill as well.

Everything I know about our state’s highest court, and the experts I have talked to about this, makes me think it is highly likely the justices will rule in Governor Snyder’s favor in both cases.

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commentary
10:30 am
Fri May 27, 2011

Now for the Hard Part

When Governor Rick Snyder took office in January, he said he wanted to have the state budget signed, sealed and delivered by the end of May.

Nobody in Lansing took that seriously. In fact, if the budget had in fact not been completed until July, that would still have been seen as a remarkable victory. 

After all, we’ve become accustomed to lawmakers frantically struggling on September 30th, the last day possible, to pass a budget before the state would have to shut down.

True, this year is different in that the governor’s party controls both houses of the legislature. But the reforms that Snyder was calling on them to make were so revolutionary it was hard to see how he could possibly win early passage.

Well, we were wrong. Rick Snyder may officially be a “non-politician.” But he is in fact one of the shrewdest political operatives I have ever seen. People have consistently underestimated him, beginning with the famous “nerd” commercial which launched his candidacy. Everybody scoffs at Snyder, and he smiles and keeps on winning. Primaries, general elections, legislative fights. The governor got virtually everything important he wanted here.

Where he did have to compromise - on the pension tax, for example - one got the feeling that he had planned on compromise all along. With a series of wrenching moves, he changed the way the system works. He seems to have eliminated the structural flaw that for years has caused automatic billion dollar deficits. He did so at a terrific cost, balancing the budget, and providing huge tax breaks for business by cutting aid to the poor, to children, and to education.

But he got what he wanted, and now we’ll see what happens. Make no mistake: This is entirely a Rick Snyder, Republican Party budget. It did not get a single Democratic vote. If this pays off, if the lowered business taxes do create new jobs, Snyder should be able to waltz to re-election, and the political culture of this state may be forever changed. But if it fails - if the promised new jobs don’t materialize, and people keep falling through the tattered safety net - well, it will be clear who to blame. It will take awhile to know exactly what’s happening. But what does the governor do next?

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Commentary
12:54 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Canada and the Bridge

We live in highly polarized times. But even by those standards, it is remarkable how much those who support a new bridge over the Detroit River, and those who oppose it, differ.

Differ not just on the merits of a new bridge, but on the most basic facts. Those who oppose the new bridge claim that Michigan taxpayers could be stuck for a hundred million dollars a year. Those who oppose the new bridge - mainly, those who work for the owner of the Ambassador Bridge - Matty Moroun - say that traffic has been declining and another structure isn’t needed.

But they say Moroun is willing to build one anyway, at no cost to the taxpayers, and that this is best left to private enterprise. Those who want a new bridge say it is very much needed, that this is not “socialism” but a public-private partnership. They say the old bridge is wearing out, there is no backup, and that a new one will be desperately needed if Michigan is to be economically competitive.

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Commentary
11:47 am
Wed May 25, 2011

McCotter for President?

There was a fair amount of attention paid yesterday to the news that Thaddeus McCotter, a 45-year-old Congressman from Livonia, is seriously considering running for president. There are certain problems with this. First, outside his district, almost nobody has ever heard of him, even in Michigan.

He hasn’t been a very effective fundraiser, for himself or others, and he has a quirky sense of humor.

He does play a mean guitar - President George W. Bush, who had trouble remembering his name, used to call him, “the rock n’roll dude.” McCotter’s played before the troops in Iraq with a pickup Congressional band called the Second Amendments.

All of which is very nice. But… President? The last House member to be elected President was James Garfield, back in 1880, an era when party bosses picked the nominee.

Several congressmen and women have tried in recent years, and pretty much either sunk without a trace, or hastily pulled out in time to get renominated for Congress.

Just a few days ago, McCotter declined to take on U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow next year, something that would be a much more logical step for a congressman. So - where did this presidential boomlet come from? When I first asked this, people told me there was this great column by S.E. Cupp, touting McCotter for president.

That was even more puzzling, because I had never heard of Cupp. Turns out she is a conservative columnist for the New York Daily News, who saw McCotter in Iowa last month autographing copies of his book, “Seize Freedom! American Truths and Renewal in a Chaotic Age.” Cupp was impressed by a sign McCotter had put up, saying: “Unsigned, twenty dollars. Signed ,fifteen dollars.  No haggling.“  Now you’ve got to admit, that’s cute.

But Presidential?

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Commentary
11:47 am
Fri May 20, 2011

A Life Remembered

Al Fishman called me last week, full of energy as ever, wanting some advice. He wanted to put together a big debate over the national budget  in Michigan. Wanted to show people things could be more fair. I told him I thought people here were more concerned with the state budget crisis right now. “I know that,” he said.

“But state and local budgets also reflect the spending priorities of the federal government,” he explained. What he wanted me to do was to suggest a television personality who could moderate the forum, someone who might help boost attendance.

I suggested a few names. Yesterday morning, Al, who was eighty-two and big on physical fitness, went to the doctor to have a tricky knee looked at. He was in the waiting room when the heart attack came. He may never have known what hit him.

Fishman wasn’t a big name, outside of what his opponents would have called the “left-wing labor community.” There, he was revered, though he didn’t seem to know that.

He acted like just another guy who had just discovered something was wrong in society, and had decided to try to fix it. What was most unusual about him was his energy level and his attitude.

No matter how many times the system disappointed him, no matter how many new wars or atrocities or unfairnesses he lived through, Al never stopped fighting. There was injustice in the world, and he thought it was up to all of us to do something about it.

What he wanted most of all was to abolish war, the nuclear threat, and any kind of discrimination. He grew up in New York City and saw all those things in the army right after World War II.

He came to these parts to attend the University of Michigan, but got involved in politics, and never finished. Perhaps his biggest success came by accident. He married a Serbian-American girl from Detroit, and their political activity caused the Air Force, back in the Red Scare days, to try to kick out her brother, who wasn’t political at all. Edward R. Murrow took up his cause and did one of the most famous programs in television history about it: The Case of Lieutenant Milo Radulovich. That show enabled Murrow to go on to help destroy the demagogue Joe McCarthy.

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Commentary
6:30 am
Fri May 20, 2011

Prom night tip: check those coat buttons

Looking good on prom night.
Aaron Alexander Flickr

It was ninth grade, back when ninth graders still stayed in junior high. 

I had detention. I don’t remember why.  But so did the best looking girl in the class, whom I’ll call Rhonda—because, that was her name.

The catch was, she was dating Benny, the captain of the football team.  But, at detention, I learned there was trouble in paradise.  Oh yes.  They had broken up, with just four days to go before the big ninth grade dance. 

Tragic! 

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Commentary
10:22 am
Wed May 18, 2011

Bring Back the Posthumus Rules

I am aware that there’s a battle over whether to put the state’s unexpected surplus in the rainy day fund or to use it to help the schools. I know that libraries are in a fight for their very existence all over Michigan, and Detroit City Council is proposing crippling cuts of something like 75 percent to the city’s cultural jewels, including the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Historical Museum.

However, none of that was featured very prominently in any of the newspaper or commercial station news reports I heard while driving across the state yesterday. What was treated as big news was that former Governor Jennifer Granholm and her husband, Dan Mulhern, were denouncing Arnold Schwarzenegger via Twitter.

Granholm told the world, or at least that portion of it who follow her tweets, that this indicates that maybe we need more women governors, and advised men to keep their pants zipped.

Her husband, a leadership consultant, tweeted “Men: Can we talk maturely, openly and seriously about sex and fidelity?”

The ex-governor’s spouse then appeared to denounce the Arnold as a masculine ideal, and added that it was time to replace machismo - I am paraphrasing here - with brains and heart.

That’s all sensible advice. It also would be nice to think those tweets will be enough to dissuade the next millionaire movie star from impregnating his housekeeper, but I am skeptical.

Nor do I know why we are treating whatever the Granholm-Mulherns are tweeting about this as newsworthy. Yes, I know. He was a governor; she was a governor, it’s about sex, sex sells, et cetera.

However, this also reminds me of one of the few genteel customs in our politics that we seem to have lost in just the past few years. Until now, it has been the convention for defeated candidates and outgoing officeholders to quietly disappear, at least for a year.

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Commentary
10:27 am
Tue May 17, 2011

Miracle League

The Detroit Tigers have been playing baseball for nearly two months now, but for Steve Peck, the start of the season that really counts is still more than two weeks away.

He’s the non-salaried, happily genial commissioner of the Miracle League of Michigan, where everyone is a true all-star.

The Miracle League is designed to give children with every kind of physical and mental disability the chance to play baseball.

One little boy named Dylan can’t walk, but thanks to his able-bodied buddy, has no trouble rounding second base. The parents of Jennifer, a little girl with Down’s syndrome, say they’ve been blown away by how much self-confidence playing has given her.

Peck, a radio host and marketing and communications consultant, says he thinks this may be the most rewarding thing he’s ever done. It started almost eight years ago, when by chance he saw an HBO special about the first-ever Miracle League, which had been founded in Rockville, Georgia in the late 1990s.

The kids played on a special rubberized diamond, so that wheelchairs and walkers could move around. Every child was able to get hits, make runs, and round the bases, thanks to the assistance of a volunteer buddy. There was nothing else like it in the country.

Peck was inspired. Why should Georgia have all the fun?  He went to work and got the City of Southfield to donate some prime land in their civic center complex.  He raised the $325,000 necessary to have the special rubberized field built, and got the league going.

That was eight years ago. Things have been expanding ever since. There are various levels of play now. Some are non-competitive, where everyone just scores runs and has a good time. In others, they play for keeps.  There are now some Miracle Leagues groups where challenged adults can participate.

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Commentary
10:18 am
Mon May 16, 2011

Redistricting Dilemma

When I was twelve years old, Sander Levin, who everybody calls Sandy, was my state senator. When I was eighteen, he ran for governor. He was elected congressman for the district where I now live when I was thirty years old. Next year, I will be sixty.

And Sandy Levin, who turns eighty this summer, will still be representing me in Congress. That’s not to imply that he isn’t still sharp. On the contrary, Levin was chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee until Democrats lost control of the House last fall. But he, and the Democrats, have a dilemma.

Republicans are  entirely in charge of the congressional redistricting process this year.  Michigan is losing a seat in Congress, and you know Republicans are going to try to eliminate one of the six seats Democrats hold, not one of the nine held by their party.

Everything I know tells me that they are most likely to throw Sandy Levin in a district with Gary Peters, now serving his second term in the House. Levin has far more name recognition and seniority than Peters.  If the two men are forced to battle against each other in a primary, he’ll almost certainly be the favorite.

Both men also say they are running for re-election, no matter what. But - should Sandy Levin really do this? Might it be better for him - and especially, for his party - if he makes a graceful exit?

Here’s why I say that: Most of Michigan’s Democratic delegation in the House of Representatives are old. Really old.

Next year, John Dingell will be eighty-six. Dale Kildee and John Conyers, eighty-three, Levin, eighty-one. The only exceptions are the just-elected Hansen Clarke of Detroit, who will be fifty-five, and Peters, fifty-three. Does it make sense for the state and the party to sacrifice the career of the fifty-three year old so the guy more than old enough to be his father can have another term?

Within a very few years, all of those lions are going to be gone, one way or another.

Does it make sense to lose all our experience pretty much at once?

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Commentary
11:01 am
Fri May 13, 2011

Now for the Hard Part

Well, Governor Rick Snyder pulled it off. Yesterday, the legislature passed his radical restructuring of the state tax system, agreeing to slash business taxes, eliminate tax credits and for the first time ever, to tax pensions.

The man who was supposed to be a political babe in the woods skillfully guided his agenda home. They will tell you he almost didn’t pull it off. Indeed, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley had to break a tie vote in the senate to get the bill passed.

But to some extent, this was theater. While some Republicans were genuinely opposed, others were really opposed to being defeated when they run for re-election.

So the outcome was skillfully managed to allow some Senate  Republicans in swing districts to tell their constituents that they voted against Snyder’s plan. But were they really against it? Here’s a clue. When they took a second vote on whether to bypass the waiting period and have the bill take effect immediately, the Republicans unanimously voted to support the governor.

And now for the real test: Will it work? After the vote, the governor praised the legislature for, as he put it, “taking the bold actions necessary to put our state on the path to prosperity, and “paving the way for economic expansion.”

The contrast between Democrats and Republicans on this couldn’t be more stark.

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Commentary
10:29 am
Thu May 12, 2011

What Should Be Private?

Robert Bobb, the tough, controversial Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, made an astonishing admission yesterday. He has been fighting a deadly form of cancer.

Thirteen months ago, he learned he had Stage Four tongue cancer, which had spread to the lymph nodes in his neck.

His chances of surviving five years were put at less than fifty percent. Hearing such a diagnosis would be enough to emotionally destroy many people. Bobb toughed it out.

He clearly is an intensely private person. In fact, I had never  seen his age in print - he is sixty-six - or knew he was married until yesterday. People knew something was wrong with Bobb; he seemed to have lost weight, and at one point acknowledged he had been ill, but said he was feeling better. In fact, he was involved in an intensive course of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Bobb would show up at Henry Ford Hospital in the morning, checking in under a fake name, and get half an hour of intense treatment. Then he would go about the battles of the day, and sometimes endure abuse at school board meetings at night.

Remarkably, his secret held, until he decided to reveal it to the Detroit Free Press yesterday, adding, almost as an afterthought, “It was an hell of an ordeal, man.”

Why did he keep his condition from the public? His reasons make sense.

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Commentary
10:37 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Hope and Despair in Detroit

Two years ago, a band of young idealists crisscrossed Detroit, collecting signatures. They had a goal: To make the city a better place to live, with a decent, responsive, functioning government.

They thought the place to start was revising the city charter to  elect a council that would be responsible and responsive. For years, all nine council members have been elected at large, which meant they are in charge of everything and nothing.

They easily could and did ignore constituents they found annoying. Not that this mattered much; as it now stands, Detroit council members have the power to approve the budget and major city projects, but they are powerless to do small everyday things.

They cannot, for example, even ask the lighting department to replace a burned out bulb in a street light.

Worse, the system is set up to produce the worst possible results. Voters are supposed to select nine names from a primary ballot that may include two hundred names. Nobody can possibly know enough to do that, so they pick familiar-sounding ones.

In recent years, this had led to the election of a former school board member famous for being corrupt and the bizarre wife of a congressman who set new standards for bad behavior. Both are in jail now. In recent years, the council has also included an ex-congresswoman who lost her job after holding a fundraiser in a strip club and a once-famous singer who often did not appear to realize where she was or why she was there.

Well, the idealists made things happen. They got voters to approve writing a new charter, and this November, it will be on the ballot. If voters approve, Detroit in the future will have only two at large councilpersons. The other seven will represent manageable-sized districts of just over one hundred thousand residents each.

Other things the new charter would do include creating an inspector general who would investigate waste, abuse, fraud and corruption in city government, and enact mandatory disclosure rules on contractors and lobbyists making political contributions.

That’s the good news. Now for the bad.

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Commentary
10:54 am
Fri May 6, 2011

Social Agenda

Former Michigan Governor John Engler is widely regarded as having been more conservative than Rick Snyder. And certainly, Snyder won the support last year of many prominent independents and even moderate Democrats who never would have voted for Engler.

Yet perceptions and reality aren't always the same thing. You might have expected what some people call the “radical right” to have had a field day imposing their social agenda on the state during the dozen years that John Engler was governor.

However, that mostly didn’t happen. Engler kept those folks pretty effectively bottled up. When they grumbled, he or his people would ask, “would you like a liberal Democrat in this office instead?”

In other words, push too hard, and you risk backlash. Now, nobody ever accused Engler of being stupid. He knew that while Michiganders can be induced to vote Republican, this is anything but a deep red state. There were three presidential elections during the Engler years; Democrats easily carried Michigan each time.

In between, John Engler was re-elected by astonishing landslides. Rick Snyder doesn’t seem to have a social agenda either, except perhaps not to wear ties when he doesn't have to.

Though he has said he is anti-abortion, he is an enthusiastic supporter of embryonic stem cell research. Otherwise, he seems totally focused on the economy. But his fellow Republicans in the legislature have other ideas. They have taken a number of actions that could possibly hurt their party and their governor in the long run.

Yesterday, for example, the House approved both the higher education and the elementary and high school education budgets.

The vote was close, in part because the cuts were too much for even six Republican members to support. But at the last minute, they slapped on another amendment punishing universities that allow benefits for unmarried partners. They can lose up to five percent of their funding.

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Commentary
11:10 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Managing the Mess

When the news broke yesterday that retired General Motors vice president Roy Roberts would be the new Detroit Public Schools czar, the first thing I thought of was Henry Ford.

This is not because I have attention deficit disorder. No, I thought of something brilliant Hank the First once observed about his own career.  Ford said if he had asked about transportation needs in the 1890's, nobody would have said they needed an automobile.

They would have said they wanted a faster horse. For years, various people have been trying in various ways to beat life into a dying horse called the Detroit Public Schools.

They’ve tried appointed boards and elected boards; emergency managers, all sorts of superintendents and infusions of cash.

Nothing has worked very well. Sometimes they identify a particular problem, but the overall health of the system has remained poor. Now if you are not from Detroit, you may not think this matters much to you. Except that it does.

We as a state will all suffer, economically and otherwise, if kids can’t get a functional education in our largest city. Plus, the seeds of many of the problems that have ruined Detroit’s schools are present and growing in other school systems, urban, suburban and rural school systems across the state.

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