Friday, December 26, 2008

Leave a legacy, Gov. Granholm

The worst kept secret in Lansing this year has been how much Jennifer Granholm wanted to skip town -- and how badly folks from both parties were dying for her to do just that.

After the governor was named to Barack Obama's economic transition team, most of Lansing's chattering class considered her a lock for a cabinet post. Evidently, the New York Times was convinced enough to run a cover story and all the networks came calling.

Around the corridors of the Capitol, Democrats could be seen crossing their fingers that the governor's name would be announced. And Republicans grumbled that although she certainly wasn't qualified for Labor or Energy Secretary, Granholm could sell anything.

The general sentiment among legislators was that they'd love to spend the next two years working with Lt. Gov. John Cherry, especially with the sorry shape the budget's in. And Democrats relished the idea of him waltzing into the 2010 election as an incumbent.

But after weeks of Obama's methodically laudatory press conferences, which had to be a form of Chinese water torture for the guv, she surfaced with bupkis.

Last week, she quickly put out the word that she wanted to stick it out here, "given all the crises Michigan is facing." But it was painfully clear that Granholm had been passed over for Labor and was allowed this face-saving gesture by Team Obama. Sure enough, a California congresswoman nabbed the post two days later.

That's not to say Granholm will walk away empty-handed in the long-run. Not all cabinet nominees make it through the confirmation process or serve a full term. And after her rave reviews for conducting the Kwame Kilpatrick hearing this summer, she'll certainly be on the federal bench list.

But it's a significant blow. Republicans will undoubtedly try to pounce on her weakness in negotiations, although after the beating they took on Nov. 4, they're pretty anemic themselves.

The more salient issue is why so many lawmakers of both parties were terribly eager to throw the governor a goodbye party.

In reality, this sentiment really isn't anything new; it's just reached a fever pitch after last year's government shutdown and it looked like Obama was generously posing a way out.

Granholm arrived at the governor's mansion via the attorney general's office, not the Capitol, and her lack of legislative experience has always caused tension. Like Bill Clinton in 1993, the governor frankly didn't get how the process worked and it's cost her dearly.

She's made deals that she's quickly reneged on, as even Democrats gripe, which has long eroded trust with lawmakers. Now that Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, is hightailing it to D.C., she's lost her biggest legislative ally. House Democrats are far more loyal to Speaker Andy Dillon than to her, something of which she's well aware.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, has a visceral disdain for Granholm. He recently sniffed to the Wall Street Journal that she "likes to be governor more than she likes to governs," which is kind of like Ken calling out Barbie for vanity.

All this means that we can look forward to a couple of years of fabulous friction, as 2009's budget hole is at least $265 million and 2010's is a jaw-dropping $1.5 billion, unless Obama's federal stimulus saves the day. Granholm, Dillon and Bishop are all term-limited, as well as a good chunk of the House and all but eight senators, which means a lot of folks will be lookin' for work instead of workin' full-time for Michigan.

Out of crisis can emerge great leaders. There seems little hope for that in the Mitten State, if the '07 government shutdown is any guide. But it's legacy-building time and this is the governor's shot.

Few honest Republicans would dispute that she is immensely intelligent, persuasive and personable. No one is more aware of the problems Michigan faces than she is.

So in her final two years, Granholm should draw on her talents and be the leader she has always had the potential to be. Start with slashing the bloated Corrections budget and dumping the Michigan Business Tax surcharge. Revisit the idea of doubling the number of college graduates by 2015 and make sure we're on track. Have the courage to fix the structural budget deficit by pushing for a ballot question on a graduated income tax.

For years, Michigan has passed a slew of economic development measures to lure new businesses. The time now is to look long-term for the state's fiscal health.

None of this will guarantee her a job with Obama. In reality, it probably won't help much. Her polls numbers aren't going anywhere but down as the economy plunges south.

What will help is that Granholm has the highest national profile of any governor in modern Michigan history. She'll continue to get invites for "Larry King" and "Good Morning America" about the Big Three. It would be very tempting to rely on that exposure to net her next job.

But that won't do a damn thing for Michigan.

Granholm promised to "never stop fighting" for us. It's been six long years and talk is cheap. Governor, the time to act is now.

1 comment:

Alan In Ann Arbor said...

The sad thing about Granholm, and this from someone who actually LIKES her, is that she wasted her moment in Michigan history. She became the Harry Reid of Michigan--someone taking the safe way out, never pushing things to the edge and in the end, having little to show for her time in office. Oh, if a Republican were in her place, this state would look like some banana republic third world country by now, and I really WOULD be tempted to move out of state, when my family has been here since the mid-1830s before Michigan was even a state.

But at most every turn, Granholm hasn't actually been a character for the next version of Profiles In Courage. And that, unfortunately, is going to be her legacy.