Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, an ambitious politician on the make with a law degree, a real estate license and grease in his hair, is more than happy to cost this region tens of thousands of mostly high-paying jobs, just to please one greedy, aging billionaire.
What's worse is that he is getting away with it, because he can, thanks to a corrupt Legislature and apathetic public. To pull this off, he also had to lie to the people, but he couldn't care less about that.
Last May, Bishop promised an up-or-down vote on legislation that, if approved, would allow a public-private partnership to build a badly needed new bridge across the Detroit River to move forward. Then, this month, he said, too bad. He wouldn't keep his word, and he wouldn't let the Senate vote. He was worried, you see, that they might act with the public's best interests in mind.
Bishop has always been against anything progressive, especially if big business or insurance interests wanted him to be. He tried to block the restaurant smoking ban until even his fellow Republicans revolted against him.
Naturally, he wanted to stop the new bridge, the Detroit River International Crossing. True, the new bridge is badly needed. Currently, billions of dollars in heavy manufacturing components move between Michigan and Ontario over the Ambassador Bridge, which was built in 1929, is not made for today's giant tractor-trailer trucks, and is in need of serious repair.�
There's also little security to speak of, and one fanatic with a bomb could plunge our state and Canada's biggest province into an authentic depression. But none of that is important to Bishop. What matters to him is that Matty Moroun, the 83-year-old billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge, doesn't want anybody infringing on his monopoly; to protect it, he has shelled out vast sums to legislators, mostly Republicans, in the form of campaign donations. And that's only the money we know about. Moroun has also given money for legislative parties, Senate caucus events, and he is utterly ruthless.
Last month, Jeff Gaudette, a Canadian who had worked for the Ambassador Bridge for 20 years, ran for a seat on the Windsor City Council. He lost. So Moroun fired him. "I've been bullied by the biggest bully in town," said Gaudette. Actually, Gaudette, a steward for a Teamsters local, was directly fired not by Moroun, but by his chief henchman, Dan Stamper — who did so via speakerphone.
Gaudette's real crime was evidently not losing, though he thinks he would have kept his job ("those guys would be kissing my butt") if he had won. He thinks he was really fired for bringing attention to a crack in the concrete on the Canadian side. That's a hanging offense in Morounland. "I'm not an engineer, but I think we need to look at the bridge and the safety of it," Gaudette told the Windsor Star.
By the way, does it seem odd to you that our nation's most important border crossing should be owned and totally controlled by one shadowy businessman? If not, I'd say you are either spending too much time reading Ayn Rand or are receiving handouts from Matty Moroun.
Or, you might be Mike Bishop. He did offer a flimsy excuse for breaking his word and not allowing a vote: He said the Michigan Department of Transportation hadn't supplied him with enough information. MDOT said this was nonsense.
The Canadians were offended. They, after all, have gone out on a limb to make sure Michigan has nothing to lose. Canada knows how important a new bridge is to both nations' economic futures. Ottawa also knows how cash-strapped Michigan is right now, and stunned onlookers by announcing it would cover Michigan's share of the costs, as much as $550 million. We could repay it later via tolls.
That forced Bishop and his equally contemptible understudy, Senate Majority Floor Leader Alan Cropsey, to claim this might infringe on our national sovereignty, and make other ridiculous arguments. Their fellow Republican, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Jud Gilbert, was working on a bill that would allow the DRIC bridge and allay any of those fears — when Bishop stopped the process.
Nobody has to look far for the reason why: According to the Detroit News and the respected Gongwer News Service: "Moroun and his family gave more than $400,000 this year to candidates and political action committees, and a significant portion of that went to committees controlled by Bishop, committees helping Senate Republicans or Bishop's unsuccessful campaign for attorney general."
The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce is generally a pro-business, pro-Republican organization, not given to emotion or sentiment. They know what Bishop has done to the region. "We're disappointed Bishop is blocking the creation of up to 35,000 jobs in the Detroit region, but we will continue to push for the DRIC bridge," said Sarah Hubbard, the chamber's senior vice president for government relations, adding, "This project has been debated for at least 10 years — there is no reason to delay any longer."
The chamber believes that there's no risk to the taxpayers. The tolls, Hubbard said, "would be more than enough to repay bonds used to build it and maintain and operate the bridge."
There may still be a glimmer of hope. The lame-duck session of the Legislature lasts a couple more weeks. If voters protest vigorously enough, the other senators could force Bishop to allow something called democracy to occur in the chamber. Or possibly not. Term limits mean most are leaving forever in January, and some may want a job from Moroun. Meanwhile, Bishop is reportedly scheming to run for Oakland County prosecutor in 2012. Remember who he is, if and when he does run for anything. Remember the 35,000 jobs that could have been created.
And this time, get off your asses and do something about it.
Michigan man to head the Republican Party? Saul Anuzis, who spent four years as chair of the Michigan GOP, is challenging Michael Steele for the job of Republican National Committee chairman. Anuzis ran for the job two years ago, but pulled out after five ballots. Steele, who hasn't said whether he will run again, was seen as a laughingstock for much of his tenure. He was always rumored to be on the brink of being fired, but he may have gotten a new lease on life after the Republican landslide victories this fall.
Anuzis, on the other hand, may be at a disadvantage because he presided over a period when the Michigan GOP lost two elections, big time. But don't let that fool you: Democrats should quietly be hoping that he doesn't get the top national job.
That's because Anuzis has formidable skills. He is tech-savvy, a whiz at raising money, and excellent with the press, though he isn't interested in making himself the story or in running for office. A Harley-riding son of Lithuanian immigrants, he grew up in a blue-collar Detroit family. He can relate to constituents many Republicans can't. The national party would be smart to hire him. My guess is they won't be.