2009-02-14 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Granholm Bold in Annual Message
By George Weeks

The days when our government could be all things to all people are behind us.

- State of the State,

February 3

Governor Jennifer Granholm, not noted for bold strokes, had an array of them in her State of the State Address last week, including a call to reduce the number of departments from 18 to eight.

With apologies to Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, Democrat Granholm in her address was The Michigan Terminator, saying:

Eliminate 10 departments, earmarks in the budget, and state funding of the traditional State and Upper Peninsula fairs

Ban smoking in public places, and utility shut-offs for the remainder of this winter for vulnerable folks

Freeze university and college tuitions and auto insurance rates

Cut "the salaries of all state elected officials in Michigan by 10%"

Such Republicans as State Chairman Saul Anuzis and Attorney General Mike Cox, likely 2010 contender for her open seat, welcomed Granholm's nod to governmentshrinking/ living within means. But - standard for the opposition party in State if state reaction - they lamented lack of details, some of which will come in the budget.

On Monday, Anuzis called Granholm's comment that is atop this column "The Quote of the Day," and "Granholm rhetoric... if only she and other Democrats believed it. Their campaign rhetoric continues to NOT match reality."

Also on Monday, Anuzis' counterpart, Democratic State Chairman Mark Brewer started his annual weeklong winter trip to the Upper Peninsula to meet with local Democrats. He said: "They did a great job in 2008 up and down the ticket from President Obama to Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway. I have made this trip for several years and I enjoy the opportunity to talk to our Party leadership and grassroots activists in the U.P. I will thank them for their work in 2008, talk to them about the challenges of 2009-10, and listen to their concerns." He planned stops in Mackinaw City, St. Ignace, Escanaba, Bruce Crossing, Ironwood, Houghton, Marquette, Munising, Newberry, and Sault Ste. Marie.

I have read the State of the State Messages of every governor since Stevens T. Mason, who at age 25 presided over admission to statehood as the national Panic of 1837 was building and Michigan headed for its first economic fall. Granholm's ranks high as wellcrafted, and, among addresses I have watched, well-delivered.

Although Granholm is in a long line of governors to deal with inherited deficits and impacts of national economic downturns, Michigan, leading the nation in unemployment and reeling from woes of the auto industry, poses a particular challenge among governors in state history and among current governors across the land.

Granholm asserted in her address to the Legislature: "Michigan has done more to restrain general funding than any other state in the country. Already, I've cut more than any governor in Michigan history. And the budget I will present to your next week will cut even deeper."

At a 1981 Michigan Historical Commission "Gathering of Governors" at Michigan State University, 1949-60 Democratic Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams said: "Each and every one of us stands on the shoulders of our predecessors."

That's not to say governors always build upon predecessors. Sometimes they undo, which is what Granholm would do to the departmental structure crafted by 1991-2002 Republican Governor John Engler.

Hopefully, Granholm's restructuring means she will finally deliver on her campaign vow to reunite the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Engler split the environmental and natural resources functions.

The Detroit News said Granholm told its editorial board that one of the eight areas of consolidation would be "state sustainability, which she said takes in the departments of natural resources, environmental quality, and agriculture." There goes the farm vote.

Another area she cited, as described by the paper, is "public safety, including the departments of Corrections, Military and Veterans Affairs, and the Michigan State Police."

The role of the State Police, an elite and independent organization that has among other things important investigative functions, should not be diluted as state government goes through yet another restructuring.

Granholm asked Lieutenant Governor John Cherry, another 2010 gubernatorial contender, "to lead a comprehensive effort to dramatically change the shape and size of state government," including the reduction in number of departments and "reforming our civil service system, creating public/private partnerships, and infusing technology everywhere, because we won't settle for 9 to 5 government in a 24/7 world."

Granholm, as Engler and others before her, has the power to reshuffle state departments through executive order, subject to legislative approval of the order. So, ask Republicans, why go through the ritual of a study commission headed by Cherry?

Cherry, in remarks before the Michigan Press Association in Grand Rapids last week, said the administration, through hearings and online opinions, wants to reach out to "build a broad consensus on how to modernize" the state.

In reaction to Granholm's State of the State pitch, GOP State Chairman Anuzis said: "It is encouraging that the Granholm/Cherry administration has finally seen the wisdom in what Republicans have been telling them from the beginning. With the administration opting to reform our state instead of passing another mammoth tax increase, I hope that our state's government can finally work in a bipartisan fashion to root out the structural inefficiencies that have plagued us for too long."

Michigan's current problems do not stem from structural inefficiencies. But partisans who argue that they do and want to assign blame should be aware that since about the mid-20th century, half of Michigan's governors have been Democrats, half Republicans.

George weeks retired in 2006 after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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