COPPER HARBOR — Go vote on Tuesday, damn it.
There may be no more important election in Michigan history than this year's. We — those of us who bother to vote, that is — will choose a new governor and a mostly new Legislature. That's the case every few years. But this one comes at a time when the state's formerly auto-based economy badly needs reinventing and our politics and government are no longer working.
Next Tuesday, we'll pick the two finalists for each race in a statewide primary election. And far too few of us are paying attention. I am writing this from Copper Harbor, at the northernmost tip of the Upper Peninsula, more than 600 miles from downtown Detroit. Nobody I've met here shows any sign of caring who the next governor, the most powerful individual in the state, will be.
Last week I drove across the sparsely populated UP, from St. Ignace to the Soo; from Marquette to the Keewenaw Peninsula. I saw a lot of signs for local politicians, a few scattered Rick Snyder signs and none for anyone else running for governor.
Yoopers, with some justification, think they live in another world. But they don't, economically and politically, and the rest of us have even less excuse for thinking so. We need to vote, both next week and in November. Not to decide is to decide. If we make the wrong choices — or allow the wrong people to make them for us — things could easily spiral out of control, dooming Michigan to future Third World status. Some of the candidates are promising policies that would do just that.
They'd slash taxes to the point where the state's universities would be damaged beyond repair. They would deny government the money to keep state's roads and bridges from falling apart, all in the name of the sacred mantra of lower taxes.
Lower taxes, they'll tell you, is how you attract new business and industry and jobs to the state. That may have been true in 1880, but nobody today wants to come to a state where the schools don't work and the infrastructure is falling apart. The members of the cult of low taxes are worshiping a false vision.
Some other candidates don't seem to have any vision, other than that of power for themselves. On Tuesday, those of us who show up will pick the two major party candidates who will face each other in the fall. Yes, there will be other candidates on the November ballot, but they have little chance, and in any case, don't have primaries.
So now it's up to you, O, citizen, to go vote for the candidates for governor and other offices you think are the best, or at least, the least bad — what Geoffrey Fieger used to call the "less evil of the lessers."
By the way, in Michigan we're legally all independents — the state doesn't have registration by party. So anybody can vote in either primary with no obligation to vote for the same party or candidate in November. However, it's important to remember this:
What you can't do is vote for governor in one party's primary and vote for Congress in the other. In August, unlike November, you either have to vote for all Republicans or all Democrats.
That might influence how you vote for governor in some cases too. For example, if you live in the 13th Congressional District, which includes the eastern half of Detroit, Wyandotte, Lincoln Park, River Rouge, Ecorse and the Grosse Pointes, the most important election is the Democratic primary for Congress. If you vote for the GOP candidate for governor there, you lose your chance to help oust or re-elect Kwame's mommy, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick.
With that in mind, who are the best choices for governor?
First of all, the odds are good that the Republicans will win this fall. That's because when the economy is down, voters tend to punish the party in power. Democrats hold the White House — and Democrat Jennifer Granholm has been in power for eight dismal years.
Smelling victory, five candidates have been fighting for the GOP nomination. The four conventional ones are Mike Bouchard, the Oakland County sheriff; Mike Cox, Michigan's attorney general; Tom George, a state senator from Kalamazoo, and Pete Hoekstra, a congressman from Holland, on the west side of the state.
The worst of these is Bouchard, who had a fairly moderate reputation to start, but who has pandered to the far right throughout the campaign, bashing unions and immigrants.
Cox is the most driven and hardest-working, but has too often taken the low road, and has promised a $2 billion tax cut without explaining how he would keep the state running.
George has actually talked some sense, but in the Senate was distinguished mainly by his attempts to sabotage embryonic stem cell research, even after the voters approved it.
Pete Hoekstra, who started the campaign talking inanely about homeland security, now talks about bipartisan cooperation. Yet he has the worst environmental record of all.
Rick Snyder, however, is an interesting enigma. At first, the thought of a venture capitalist without a day's worth of government experience in Lansing made me roll my eyes — even if his famous "nerd" commercial was eye-catching. However, people I respect say he is the closest thing to an open-minded moderate the GOP has had in a long time. Former Gov. William Milliken has endorsed him, as has the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
What about the Democrats?
Mark Dobias, a colorful attorney in Sault Ste. Marie, characterizes the race this way: "It's like being lost in a cold and wet cedar swamp in November with a wet matchbook. Survival is seriously in question."
Most of the unions are behind Virg "Angry Man" Bernero, the mayor of Lansing. That's mostly because they are punishing Speaker of the House Andy Dillon for proposing lessening benefits for public sector workers, since the state can no longer afford what it used to, because nearly a million private sector workers are out of jobs.
Making sense is politically dangerous. Bernero often goes off half-cocked. He has taken Matty Moroun's money, and opposes the vitally necessary Detroit River International Crossing bridge.
When I questioned him about this, he showed an astonishing lack of comprehension of the issues, and when presented with information about Moroun's career as a slumlord and generally bad citizen, said he believed in the possibility of deathbed conversion.
Virg is at his best when identifying the faults of his opponent, whom he calls the "Speaker of the Mess." He is absolutely right when he says that Dillon was too timid and too willing to trust his rival, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, who played him like a violin. Dillon has been largely ineffective as a legislative leader, though he was handicapped by having the weakest governor in modern times as leader of his party. But he's shown signs of growth. He supports the new bridge, and understands the issues.
He is clearly the better choice, if only because he is the only candidate who has tried to do something sensible about the Michigan budget mess. None of these guys look like saviors.
But then again, Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't either, at the start.
We may not have the best choices in history here. But Snyder and Dillon are at least not the worst. And even if you don't agree, not voting would be the worst choice of all.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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