Who Can Restart Michigan's Engine?
DETROIT -- Michigan
has a problem: Its prosperity is withering as America's automobile
industry withers. So Gov. Jennifer Granholm has a problem: She
is seeking re-election in this cold economic climate. Her likely
Republican opponent, Dick DeVos, has a problem: People are appalled
by the state's condition, but they like Granholm. As does DeVos:
``She's a really nice person.''
The result may be a
rarity -- an outbreak of gentility in politics. Debates about
economic policies involve splittable differences, so civility
might actually be served by the seriousness of Michigan's crisis.
The focus on traditional economic issues may preclude any preoccupation
with the cultural questions -- abortion, guns, gay marriage, etc.
-- that tend to embitter politics.
DeVos, son of the co-founder
of Amway, is a gentlemanly businessman from Grand Rapids. Recently
he passed through this city's airport, dressed for wintery campaigning
in the Upper Peninsula, where only 3 percent of the state's population
lives. His full-court-press campaigning is fueled by the daily
drizzle of terrible economic news.
that it is cutting at least 25,000 jobs and closing 14 manufacturing
plants in North America was preceded by GM's announcement that
it is cutting 30,000 jobs and closing 12 plants. Soon the largest
North American maker of auto parts -- Delphi, based in Troy, Mich.
-- might ask a bankruptcy judge to shred labor contracts covering
33,000 workers. This would trigger a showdown with the United
Auto Workers union. The UAW cannot strike Delphi without causing
ripple effects that could inundate GM, which used to own Delphi
and might, under the terms of the spin-off agreement, be responsible
for anywhere from $3.5 billion to $12 billion of Delphi's ``legacy''
costs -- pensions, medical care -- for retirees.
Last year, Michigan
was the only state other than Mississippi and Louisiana -- that
is, the only state not hit by Hurricane Katrina -- that had a
net job loss. It has lost one in four auto manufacturing jobs
since 2001. Republicans have paid for billboards proclaiming that
Michigan has lost one job for every 10 minutes Granholm has been
governor. Understandably, the percentage of voters disposed to
re-elect Granholm is 35 percent.
income-tax burden will be ranked the second heaviest in the Tax
Foundation's forthcoming State Business Tax Climate Index. DeVos
especially objects, as almost any conservative would, to heavy
reliance on the Single Business Tax -- basically, a payroll tax
-- particularly as applied to service industries that can, and
do, leave the state.
Granholm has a recognizably
liberal recovery plan: The state has borrowed $2 billion to be
invested by people her administration calls ``independent job-
creation experts.'' Translation: The $2 billion is a politically
useful fund to be distributed to favored business executives.
DeVos is being attacked
because, the chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party says, ``He
supports free trade which has devastated the Michigan economy.''
So this race will preview what might be the highest stake in the
2008 presidential race -- repudiation of the basis of America's
post-1945 prosperity. That basis was a bipartisan consensus in
favor of free trade. That consensus has frayed, and by 2008 the
Democratic Party probably will fully and formally embrace protectionism.
With 17 electoral votes,
Michigan has recently been -- and in 2008 will again be -- a presidential
election battleground state. In 2000, when Republican John Engler
was governor, Al Gore defeated George W. Bush, 51-46. In 2004,
when Granholm was governor, John Kerry defeated Bush, 51-48.
Another close presidential
contest could turn on this state, in which the biggest city may
be the nation's saddest, other than New Orleans -- and Detroit's
condition is not the result of a natural disaster. Detroit's crime
rate makes it second only to Camden, N.J., as America's most dangerous
city. (Flint, Mich., is fourth.) Detroit has an adult functional
illiteracy rate of 47 percent. A passionate advocate of school
choice where schools are failing, DeVos knows he will be the object
of passionate opposition from the teachers unions. But he says
he operates on the assumption that this will be a close race,
so if he wins, ``48 percent will have voted against me.''
United Van Lines, a
winner from Michigan's losses, reports that last year the ratio
of outbound to inbound moves was the state's highest since 1982,
when Michigan's unemployment rate was 16.4 percent. DeVos tells
audiences, ``I don't want to have to get on a plane to visit my
grandchildren.'' He wants them to have to go to Lansing to visit
2006, Washington Post Writers Group