Politics and Prejudices: The campaign we should have had

Mark Schauer needs to tell the voters the truth: The system is broken

Oct 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Well, if you watch cable news, you know by now that it shouldn't matter much who wins the elections. We're clearly all going to be dead from Ebola in a few months.

Whatever weakened survivors are left will be wiped out by the ISIS agents now pouring unchecked across the Mexican border. The cable channels differ slightly on how much this is due to that Kenyan socialist or communist in the White House.

But it's quite clear, at least in cable TV land, that we're all doomed. But on the off chance they're wrong, we've got a major election a few days away, one that still matters.

Especially for governor. United States Senators are important birds, but there are a hundred of them. We only get one governor. I've been covering elections a long time, and sometimes I've gotten it wrong. But not very often.

And based on everything I know, Rick Snyder is going to be elected next week. Not by the landslide of last time. Not by a wave of enthusiastic voters who expect a bright new future.

Nope, but he will win, because his Democratic opponent, Mark Schauer, hasn't made the sale. Snyder has managed a couple of huge accomplishments. Probably no other governor could've gotten the deal done for a new bridge over the Detroit River. And if you accept that a Detroit emergency manager and bankruptcy was inevitable, it's hard to imagine a better and more effective one than Kevyn Orr.

But beyond that, Snyder has angered a huge number of people over the past four years. Unions, because of his ramming right-to-work through after indicating he wouldn't.

Seniors, because of the pension tax. Teachers, because Snyder really did cut spending for kids in the classrooms; increased educational spending has gone almost exclusively to retirement funds, according to two new nonpartisan studies.

Others are appalled that Snyder signed a ridiculous law allowing motorcyclists to ride without helmets, an act that has already produced a spike in deaths and closed-head injuries.

And even Democrats seem to have forgotten that Snyder last year wanted to severely limit benefits for those terribly injured in car accidents, a move headed off in large part by that unlikely latter-day hero, L. Brooks Patterson, who was in a coma after his own horrendous auto crash the summer before.

Indeed, nothing rang truer during the gubernatorial candidates' one debate Oct. 12 than Schauer's remark that "our accountant governor is missing some columns on his spreadsheet. (They're) called people."

If the ballot said only: "Do you want another four years of Rick Snyder?" he would almost certainly be going back to push spreadsheets for venture-capital schemes in Ann Arbor.

Yet they will be asked if they want Mark Schauer instead. True, the Democratic candidate was marginally better during the debate. The governor was somewhat of a hulking, tieless presence onstage. He looked like an idiot when he tried to defend Aramark, the prison food contractor from hell.

Worse, Snyder looked like a waffling, old-politics coward when he didn't even have the guts to say where he stood on same-sex marriage, obviously fearful he might lose the votes and the dollars of Michigan's right-wing religious fanatics.

Yet Schauer didn't really blow people away and make them believe that he could and would make their lives better. What would he do as governor? He says he'd get rid of the pension tax. Fine, but how would he replace the revenue?

He says he would work to fix the roads. But what's his plan? Snyder, at least, has one – a combination of gas tax and vehicle registration fee hikes. Schauer talks instead about finding money by cutting down on government waste, and then asking the federal government to give us money for the roads.

The tooth fairy might be a better bet.

What happens in January if it is Governor Schauer? He would be sworn in together with a mainly hostile legislature. The state Senate is certain to be heavily Republican.

More than likely, the House will be, too. So how would he get anything done? Do you think the collection of Tea Party fanatics and time-servers owned by special interests are going to pass any Democratic governor's agenda, no matter what it is?

What would Schauer really be able to do, other than smile and wave? Well, I suddenly had a revelation.

Yes, it may have been caused by my eating nachos late one night and reading old John F. Kennedy speeches.

But here's what I think Mark Schauer needs to do – if he wants to win and have his victory mean something:

Tell the voters and the citizens the truth.

Challenge them to fight with him.

Tell them that the system is broken, and that one guy by himself in the governor's chair can't fix it. Tell them this is the time for a little bit of "ask not what Michigan can do for you, ask what you can do to make this a better state for all of us."

He should tell voters that if they elect him, he's going to challenge us to work hard with him to fix things.

To repeat: The system doesn't work. Even Rick Snyder, with his own party in overwhelming control, had to go around the corrupt, Matty Moroun-bribed legislature to get the badly needed new bridge with Canada.

Mark Schauer should be telling the people our state constitution needs a major overhaul, or, at the very least, a few major amendments. He should call on the people to:

Push to amend the Michigan Constitution to require a fairer way of redistricting congressional and legislative districts to end outrageous gerrymandering.

Amend the constitution to end or drastically lengthen term limits, which have weakened government and given added power to special interests and lobbyists.

Outlaw the ability of shadowy groups to spend heavily on campaigns and keep the source of this so-called "dark money" hidden from the press and the people.

Finally, fight to amend Michigan's constitution to allow a graduated income tax. Right now, a millionaire and a minimum-wage mom pay the same rate. Is that fair?

Getting any of this done won't be easy.

There are stubborn forces determined to prevent this from being a government by and for the people.

State Sen. Arlan Meekhof, for example, is the man most responsible for the dark money bill. He also helped to ram right-to-work through in a single day. He's determined to represent the DeVos family and their interests, not the citizens'.

The legislature is now gerrymandered in such a way that Democrats regularly win hundreds of thousands more votes, but the Republicans keep easy control. Is that fair?

How much of this could Schauer actually accomplish? Could he inspire our increasingly cynical and beaten-down people to seriously try to make this a better state?

I don't know. But I strongly suspect that if he doesn't give them something to vote for rather than just against, he'll lose.

Even if he wins, unless he inspires the people to try for major reforms, he'll have nothing. Schauer might think he has good bipartisan skills from his time in the legislature. But that was another era.

Today's Republicans won't work with him; period. His administration will end up stalled and stymied; and he'll be a Jennifer Granholm in a blue suit.

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard," said JFK, soon after Mark Schauer was born.

Saving Michigan would be hard.

But maybe, just maybe, more important than the moon.