Profile without courage

Normally, I have absolutely no patience with immature all-or-nothing liberals who, when they aren’t totally pleased with a candidate who has a chance to win, sulk or sabotage the process, causing us to get, well, George W. Bush.

That’s exactly what happened five years ago, as all the world knows. We wouldn’t have this senseless war, the coming economic crisis or the very real threat to our civil liberties had it not been for 97,000 fools in Florida who signed on for Ralph Nader’s ego-trip campaign in 2000.

Having said that, there are exceptions that prove the rule, and we have one now. What our state desperately needs is someone of principle to come forward and give Jennifer Granholm a strong challenge in next year’s Democratic primary — and if that doesn’t work, to run an independent campaign.

Why? Sadly, Granholm is the most weak-kneed governor this state has had in modern times. Michigan is falling apart and losing its ability to compete in the economy of the future. We have only a short time to make the moves that will allow us to stay competitive. And she just doesn’t get it — or more likely, is totally unwilling to make any hard decision that might endanger her re-election.

Those in the know largely agree on what needs to be done to make Michigan competitive again. Most of all, they agree we must pour far more resources into higher education. Granholm herself established a special commission on this problem, led by her lieutenant governor, John Cherry.

The top experts in the state were rounded up, investigations were made, hearings were held, and earlier this year they produced one of the best reports of its kind that I’ve ever read. Michigan is suffering, it concluded, from “an education achievement gap” with nearby competing states.

Too few young people are earning college degrees, or completing any other kind of post-high school training, something that now is the bare minimum for any kind of successful life and career. Without a highly educated workforce, nobody is going to want to locate the Silicon Valleys of the future here.

The Cherry Commission concluded that we need to make higher education universal, double the number of people earning bachelor’s degrees in a decade, and do everything we can to better prepare high school students.

But that would take money. Trouble is, state government doesn’t have any. The outgoing right-wing Republican governor, and a term-limited Legislature that apparently felt no need to behave responsibly, left us an appalling “gift.” They designed the process so that every year, the state will end up with a billion-dollar deficit, meaning that the books have to be balanced at the last minute by a series of budget cuts and other maneuvers. Most of the money the state spends cannot be touched, due to contracts and other legal reasons.

So every year that Granholm has been governor, higher education has taken a hit. Sometimes she’s promised not to cut education further, and then has come back and cut it again.

What’s clear is that more money is needed. And that means raising taxes.

That’s right. Frankly, we’ve all been sold a false bill of goods about taxes. Nobody wants to pay more. Nobody has enough money to suit them. Yet taxes are not evil. They’re the price of admission to a civilized society, one that has roads and clean water and firemen and toilets.

And schools. Even if you don’t have children, you have a strong interest in funding the universities, which will educate the doctors who will hopefully cure you someday when you are hacking up phlegm.

The governor should go on TV and make that case to all the citizens of Michigan. Yet she hasn’t. Her supporters might say that’s because the Legislature is controlled by right-wing Republican ideologues.

For that reason, they say any bill raising more revenue would be dead on arrival. Maybe so. Nevertheless, she owes it to our state and our futures and the people who elected her to stand up for something that is so clearly right.

Sadly, she’s incapable of it. What did she do instead? Last week, she attacked, not the conservatives who have brought us to this pass, but the state’s major universities themselves. Why? After years of enduring her budget cuts, they were forced to announce huge hikes in tuition.

That’s not a good thing. Wayne State University was the highest — tuition will go up nearly 19 percent. That means a college junior will pay $140 more for one four-credit course this fall than last winter. Most state schools had smaller, but significant increases. This will price some of my students out of a future.

Jennifer Granholm, a Canadian by birth who went to Harvard Law School, hypocritically attacked Michigan colleges for erecting “financial barriers” to the poor students.

“We all know the state has cut funding, but the state has cut funding everywhere,” she said, something that is not strictly true. “I would ask that the boards and university regents reconsider how much they are raising tuition on the backs of the students.”

Did she offer any plan to help the schools? Did she pledge to fight for more money for them if they held the line on tuition? What do you think?

This is a politician who pledged never to allow mourning doves to be hunted — and then signed legislation permitting just that.

Even some Republicans get it. As state Sen. Michael Goschka — who chairs the higher education budget committee — noted, the govenor “cut university funding and now she’s lamenting tuition increases? Part of the reason for the tuition increases is because higher education hasn’t been a priority for her.”

The real problem is that courageously tackling the issues this state faces hasn’t been a priority for her. All that seems to matter is her own re-election. But it’s time for all progressives to ask why that should matter to us.

And the thought that Dick DeVos, Granholm’s apparent Republican opponent next year, might be worse is no longer a sufficient reason.

What’s badly needed now is someone who represents, in words Howard Dean once stole from Paul Wellstone, “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” someone who is willing to take on the special interests and fight for what should be done if this state has any hope of a bright future.

Even if a candidate like that lost the primary, they’d have made a record, and reminded us what leadership is supposed to be about.


Speaking of courage: Jerry Buckley was one Detroiter who had it, big-time. Often referred to as America’s first broadcast investigative reporter, he was Detroit’s biggest radio name in 1930, and used the airwaves to attack corruption.

Vastly ahead of his time, he successfully led an effort to get a newly elected mayor recalled for ties to organized crime. On the night of the recall, three gunmen assassinated the crusader in a downtown hotel lobby. The murderers, believed to be tied to the Licavoli crime family, were never convicted.

Citizen outrage at his death helped clean up the town — for a while. Pat Clawson, a former NBC reporter who now lives in Flint, thinks more of Buckley’s spirit is needed today. So he’s starting the Jerry Buckley Society Inc., to act as an independent, nonpartisan watchdog group to help expose corruption, promote accountability in government and get citizens involved. Interested? E-mail Pat at [email protected], and say Jerry sent you.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
Scroll to read more Metro Detroit News articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.