Things got so bad for Matty Moroun last week that the state's oldest amphibian had to send his normally invisible wife, Nora, out to try to defend him. Looking a trifle haggard, she clearly feared she and Manuel might be down to their last billion or so.
"Is this the end of the American dream?" she rasped.
You have to admire that. Most lesser mortals did not realize the American dream involved allowing an octogenarian billionaire to keep a stranglehold over the nation's most economically important international border crossing.
Yes, it has been a bad week for the entity known as Manuel J. Moroun, at least, from a megalomaniac billionaire point of view.
Moroun, you see, owns the ancient Ambassador Bridge, across which billions in trade move every month. It is 81 years old this year; he is two years older. He is suing the United States and Canada because they won't let him build another bridge over the Detroit River. (There are terrible, terrible people in both countries who think he should not be able to completely control the flow of trade).
But Nora courageously came forward to set us straight Friday, the day every important politician on either side of the border urged speedy construction of a new, internationally run bridge.
"They want to destroy our family business and [have] government take it over," she said, bracelets jangling.
That's not true, of course; nobody is talking about invoking eminent domain and taking the bridge away. What's happening is competition. A broad coalition of governments, supported by private industry, want to build a modern new bridge about two miles south of the Ambassador. The project is called the Detroit River International Crossing, or DRIC, and would be built with a combination of public funds and bonds. In a remarkable show of support, DRIC proponents held a press conference April 16.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm showed up and was enthusiastically aboard. "This is about as much of a no-brainer as there is," she said. "Let's just get 'er done." Nor was she alone. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson was there. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was too, as was Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis.
Former Gov. James Blanchard is strongly backing the DRIC. So are the Canadian government and a coalition of U.S. unions.
Building the new bridge could create 10,000 good-paying construction jobs, some of which would last years. But Moroun, who for a long time claimed a second bridge wasn't needed, now wants to construct one next to the Ambassador.
The Canadian government has indicated it will never let him do that. It would be bad for pollution, road congestion, national security, and lots of other reasons. Nobody is more pro-private enterprise than Brooks Patterson. But even he gets it:
"It was made very clear to me that a second span would not be welcome in downtown Windsor," Patterson said. His fear now is that a new bridge will be built in upstate New York instead, causing Michigan to lose more jobs.
"It will be a huge boost to the county, region and state. The DRIC should be implemented immediately by the state Legislature," Patterson said. "If we do not act quickly on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we'll watch a new border crossing built between Canada and Buffalo." He vowed to try to get fellow Republicans in the Michigan Legislature to support the new bridge.
Their support may be crucial. The Legislature needs to approve further work on DRIC by June 1, or everything could fall apart. This doesn't mean a vast amount of funding now. What the lawmakers do have to do is authorize creation of a private-public partnership to build the bridge, which would cost about $5 billion, and sell bonds to pay for it. (Eventually, tolls would repay the bonds.)
But Moroun has been spreading campaign cash around for years, and he has friends in high places as a result. One of them is Senate Majority Leader Alan Cropsey, a Republican from a district near Lansing. For whatever mysterious reason, he has vowed to kill the DRIC, and supports Matty building a new one.
Virtually nobody else agrees ... except Matty's paid employees and kept politicians. And, of course, Nora. "My husband does homework every night and he is fighting two countries," she pleaded.
Aw, c'mon, sweetheart. You ain't got nothing on Eva Braun. Why, her husband fought almost the whole world, and plotted feverishly every night too. The world also wanted to do him in.
Well, OK, their marriage lasted only one day.
Nora, by the way, is not the only person who thinks Matty is misunderstood. There are those who think he is not human at all, but the last living Eryops, a primitive amphibian that lived half in and half out of the water 300 million years ago. Eryops was between five and six feet long, weighed about 200 pounds, and had a large head. It was thought to be a slow-moving predator with many teeth and little, upward-turned eyes.
Now I am not saying that I believe Matty Moroun is a prehistoric, slime-dwelling amphibian. Not at all. It's just that, well, we haven't seen his birth certificate.
Picking them early: One of the oddest things about politics in Michigan is that while we have primary elections for small-town city council members, voters have no say in which candidates the parties select to run for two hugely important statewide offices: attorney general and secretary of state. (You can go your whole life without dealing with a governor, but everybody has to go to a branch SOS office, to renew driver's licenses, among other things.)
Until now, nominees for those jobs were picked at state party conventions in late August or early September. Traditionally, the gubernatorial nominee has had some sway over who gets picked.
In recent years, Democrats have been obsessed with "ticket balancing" to make sure at least one of the statewide nominees was black and one a woman. That approach has helped Democrats manage to repeatedly lose these races, by rejecting stronger nominees for weaker, politically correct ones.
This year, however, the Dems tried something different: Last week they held an "endorsement convention" at Cobo Center. This led to their picking stronger nominees than in the recent past. Jocelyn Benson, an attractive and dynamic 32-year-old law professor at Wayne State University, easily won the nod for secretary of state.
David Leyton, the Genesee County prosecutor, narrowly defeated Richard Bernstein for the attorney general nomination, thanks to the UAW and former Gov. Jim Blanchard. Both Leyton and Benson won't officially be nominated until August, but that's a mere formality.
What this means, not incidentally, is that the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor will almost certainly be African-American, and very likely will be Alma Wheeler Smith, if she fails to win the nomination for governor on Aug. 3.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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