2012-06-23 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Northland’s Stake In Detroit Debate
By George Weeks

Northern Michigan has a big stake in the debate raging in Lansing over Governor Rick Snyder’s commendable push for a second Detroit-Canada bridge that is threatened by a huge ad campaign by owners of the Ambassador Bridge, and by footdragging of fellow Republicans.

As Democratic 1983-1990 Governor James J. Blanchard, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, said in this space last year, “It’s a big, big deal” beyond Detroit—a sentiment of support of the project echoed by fellow ex-Democratic 2003-2010 Governor Jennifer Granholm and former Republican Governors William G. Milliken (1969-1982) and John Engler (1991-2002) .

As President and CEO Doug Luciani of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce said in the Traverse City Record-Eagle Saturday: “The ripple across Michigan is significant. This is a Michigan bridge, not a Detroit bridge.”

On Friday, in announcing an historic agreement for a second international bridge across the Detroit River that they said would not cost Michigan taxpayers because Canada would front the state cost that would be paid off by tolls, Snyder and other U.S. and Canadian officials touted it as a way to create thousands of jobs and stimulate trade.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was at the Windsor announcement along with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and others, said the “truly visionary project” will “mean both jobs and growth” in both countries.”

Last year, Detroit-based Canadian General Counsel Roy Norton made appearances in Sault Ste. Marie, Escanaba, Marquette, Traverse City, and other cities to, among things, note the number of Canadian-owned businesses in northern cities as Petoskey, Alpena, Boyne City, and East Jordan.

Last week’s agreement came as owners of the Ambassador Bridge, who want to build a second span next to the current bridge — a span opposed by Canada because of traffic congestion in Windsor — are accelerating a massive broadcast ad campaign opposing Snyder’s proposal. They are trumpeting a petition drive that would require a statewide vote on the issue.

The Ambassador Bridge ad campaign is the most extensive and effective I can recall on a public issue in Michigan. Countering this, at least momentarily, is coverage and commentary favorable to Snyder’s bid from Michigan’s two major newspapers.

The Detroit Free Press, in big bold headlines atop page one proclaimed “New bridge means huge boost to state,” accompanied by other headlines about “Thousands Of Jobs...More Tax Revenue... Long-Term Growth.”

The Detroit News, in its biggest front page headline, said of the New International Trade Crossing: “$2.1B span to boost trade, economy.”

The News, based on a report by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, also headlined: “Crossing to generate jobs, revenue; Report: 4-year project will produce 12,000 jobs a year.”

Radio/television advertisements and newspaper headlines influence legislators who decide how state money is spent. But Snyder, frustrated by legislative inaction, has done a good job through governmentto government relations in getting federal and foreign help to accomplish what he could not accomplish in Lansing.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journal Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist of The Detroit News and previously was with UPI as Lansing Bureau Chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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