State of the state, indeed

“Life’s most dazzling victories dawn when imagination finds a way they said couldn’t be found.”

—Gov. Jennifer Granholm,

Feb. 5, 2003

When our warm and charismatic governor spoke those words last week, toward the end of her first State of the State address, my soul was filled with longing of a sort never previously inspired by any politician. Please, I prayed silently, gnawing a piece of cold pizza. Please start singing, “The sun will come out tomorrow …,” from the musical Annie.

Alas, our organic leader disappointed me once again. She already had dashed my hopes earlier, when for a tantalizing moment I dared to hope that, in the immortal words of the Teletubbies, she would clutch her flanking balls of meat, John Cherry and Rick Johnson, and yell, “Big hug!!!!”

Other than that, it was an appropriately “Sesame Street” sort of speech. Unfortunately, given the nature of the present crisis, it was also irresponsible. After 10 minutes or so of expressing love for Big Mac and trying, a bit too hard, to establish that she was in fact a true-blue “Michiganian” (the proper word, coined by Abraham Lincoln, is Michigander), Granholm got around to warning us that, yes, a scary monster does lurk in the dark corner. The monster is the state budget deficit.

“The budget problem we inherit for the budget year ahead is $1.7 billion. How much is $1.7 billion?” (One hoped for a freshman lawmaker to raise his hand and yell, “I know! I know!”)

“Let me give it to you straight,” our teacher said. “We could close every prison in the state and still not have enough to close the gap.” Every Secretary of State office could be closed, the Legislature abolished, etc., etc.

That was perfectly legitimate, but what I was waiting for was some general indication of how she was going to deal with this. For those who haven’t been obsessing over state finances, here’s the problem: Granholm has less than two months to submit a budget showing how she proposes to save that money. Then she will fight it out with the heavily Republican Legislature. However that battle goes, it will mean vast changes in many of our lives. Services will be cut to the bone, jobs lost, tuition raised (a lot).

We are going to pay more and get less, partly because of the recession and more because of mismanagement and deceit on the part of those who have been running the state, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Jennifer Granholm is not to blame for that, though she surely knew what was coming and elected not to discuss it in last year’s campaign. But now it is time to start preparing the voters, and she fell woefully short.

“How will we do it? By doing what every Michigan family does when times are tough. We will work harder, cut waste and tighten our belts,” she said, before dropping her real blockbuster: She promised to save money by using up John Engler’s old stationery before ordering any more!

And with that, and a pledge to “move to greatness” she dismissed any further specifics.

“But enough about cutting. I’ll present a budget message to you in March,” she said, before going on to praise herself and talk of new programs.

Now I don’t know if Jennifer Granholm talks to any ordinary humans anymore, except maybe David Katz. But the ones I talk to have no idea what is in store for them. Worse, they tend to think the budget cuts Engler did on his way out and a few more ordered by Granholm in the last few weeks are it.

Wrong. Those were tiny compared to what is coming — for next fiscal year, the one after that, and every one as far as analysts can see. Our outgoing governor and a term-limited state Legislature stuck it to us, big-time.

We deserve to know, how and why, and to hear some choices about fixing it.

The governor did let slip one of her schemes for rebuilding our economy, one almost unnoticed by the media — but which scared the pants off me. Granholm has bought heavily into the coming war, and the Bush terrorism mentality, and it became clear she thinks there is money in it.

She proposed that Michigan get in on the ground floor of the coming world of 1984 by establishing a “Homeland Security Corridor,” geared at creating and marketing goods and services to “the emerging homeland security sector.”

“Wayne Gretzky once offered this advice: ‘Skate to where the puck is going, not to where the puck is.’ My colleagues, the puck is going toward the goal of homeland security!” she said in a burst of triumphant nonsense.

What does that mean? New truth serums? Telescreens to watch us? Implanted chips for immigrants? Computerized lists of irreverent columnists? Regrettably, she offered no specifics; we can’t tip our hand to Ohio, after all.

In any event, the businessmen who preferred the vacant Dick Posthumus clearly have nothing to fear. Aptly, she ended her speech with a quote lifted from Pete Silas, a former CEO of Philips Petroleum. “We cannot wait for the storm to blow over; we must learn to work in the rain,” she said.

I prefer lifting my quotes from Bobby Zimmerman, who once noted that a hard rain is going to fall.


Proof in the pudding: This weekend, Democrats will either re-elect the shopworn Mark Brewer to another term as state party chair, or replace him with our governor’s old buddy, Butch Hollowell. Normally, governors get who they want in this job, but as happened last fall, Granholm has done nothing to help her man. If Hollowell doesn’t win, it will be a humiliation for the governor — and a clear message to anyone who thinks loyalty to her will be rewarded.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail comments to [email protected]
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