Richard D. Snyder was sworn in as governor last weekend, taking power in a state that has lost people, lost political clout, lost nearly a million jobs in the last decade. He then, in his distinctive, oddly nasal voice, gave an unusual inaugural speech.
Unusual, that is, because it was worth listening to. Though he did his appropriate best to encourage us to believe we can build a better future, he pretty much also spelled out how bad things are.
"The last part of the industrial era has been a period of decline in our state [that] has gone on for several decades," he said.
Reversing this trend "will not be simple or easy," he said. "It will require shared sacrifices from all of us ... many of us will have to take a step back in the short term to move us all forward together in the long term." That isn't quite Winston Churchill saying he could offer his people "nothing but blood, toil, tears and sweat."
Melodrama is not Snyder's style. What he did say is that the state couldn't be reformed; it needs to be reinvented.
That is, by the way, exactly right. You may not have voted for Rick Snyder. Interestingly, most of the 1,874,834 people who did vote for him in November hadn't even heard his name yet a year ago today.
But now he's in charge, and if you are reasonable, intelligent, sane and have a brain in your head, you have to hope he succeeds beyond anybody's wildest dreams, even his own.
Otherwise, Michigan, your Michigan, stands a very good chance of becoming Haiti with ice storms. The old economy is indeed dead. The domestic automotive industry is still alive, mostly thanks to the Obama administration. But it will never again play the role it did.
Think about this: For nearly a century, the auto plants defined the economy of this state. They employed hundreds of thousands of workers who, beginning in the 1940s, were paid high wages for largely unskilled work, thanks to the efforts of the United Auto Workers.
For many years after World War II, we were so rich we could afford this, and the autoworkers' fat contracts drove up wages and benefits across the board in Michigan. We were one of the highest-income states in the nation a half-century ago. Then things started slipping, and, finally, the bottom fell out a couple years ago.
Want to know what happened to Michigan? Back in 1979, General Motors had more blue-collar employees working in the city of Flint than it does today in the entire country. In fact, more than 91 percent of all GM blue-collar jobs in Michigan that existed then are gone. Forever. The auto companies may survive, but they never again will be a mass employer of high-wage, low-skill workers.
In fact, the UAW is now so beaten up and broken, they have agreed that when the factories hire new workers, they can get away with paying them only $14 an hour, and, in most cases, people need two-year degrees to even be considered for those jobs.
Most people finally get that the auto industry will never again be the all-driving force of the state's economy. But too many of us still have a sort of unthinking industrial worker mentality.
We want another industry to come in here and open up a new chain of big-box factories and put us all to work making scrunchies or condoms or windmill parts, providing good-paying, hourly jobs.
Jobs where we could punch in, punch out, not have to think too much and occasionally pile up lots of even better-paying overtime. Guess what. That isn't happening. Not this year, not next year, not ever again. Rick Snyder knows that; he knew it a long time ago.
That's why, as a young boy from Battle Creek, he got a law degree and an MBA when he was still in his early 20s. Now, to the extent I can tell, he isn't an elitist. He doesn't expect everyone to do that. What he expects is for us to work smart, think, take chances.
The example he used in his speech was of a couple from the Ann Arbor area who started a couple sandwich shops, turned to baking and came up with a new kind of bread which caught on, nationwide.
"We have to remember that innovation is not about technology, it's a state of mind that we all have the power to do."
Shortly we'll find out how he intends to make that happen. The voters elected him by a landslide, and he deserves a chance.
Even while he was speaking, Mark Brewer, the Democratic Party Chairman-for-Life, was cranking out a sophomoric press release whining that "Snyder has never offered a specific plan."
Right. Now go sit in the corner. The new governor is facing a state budget deficit of at least $1.8 billion, and how he handles that will tell us a lot. If he does it by savaging education in this state, our one hope for a workforce that can compete in the future, we'll know he is just another hypocrite, or a Tea Party, Ayn Rand-style wacko.
Somehow I think he may surprise us all. What the Democrats should be doing is trying to ensure that the least of us are not left completely behind, that foster children and the elderly aren't trampled in our rush to entrepreneurial reinvention.
"The reinvention of Michigan must not leave anyone behind," the new governor said. If he follows through on that, and gets the economy going, our best days and his may be yet to come.
Nothing against Sue Snyder, but ... Few in the press discussed this openly, but one of the bigger embarrassments of the Granholm administration was the perpetual problem of the care and feeding of her husband, Dan Mulhern, the "First Gentleman."
The First Gentleman did, it's true, write leadership books, and look after the household's three children, something he once called "leading from behind." But he also needed something to do, and though he got a radio show after a while, didn't really have a job.
So he beat up on reporters who dared to criticize wifey, and we the taxpayers paid for something called the Office of the First Gentleman. While he didn't get a salary, he had a chief of staff who got a very nice one, plus other employees.
Mulhern also cost the taxpayers a pretty penny in other ways, especially when he wanted to go somewhere or someone asked him to speak. A notice on the governor's official state website said:
Please note that the First Gentleman is accompanied to all events by a staff person and security personnel. We request that accommodations be made in seating and in meals.
Naturally, the taxpayers paid for the security personnel too. Now, apart from the fact that the state was broke, this was nuts.
Now hear this: The governor's family is not royalty.
Nor is the governor president of the United States, an office that has both governmental and ceremonial functions. I have no problem with a state employee driving Sue Snyder somewhere if she is appearing on behalf of her husband on what is clearly state business.
But she is a private person who both deserves privacy and doesn't merit an imperial staff. Here's hoping the Office of the Unelected Spouse is a tradition she is smart enough to let die.
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