A major point of focus at the 30th annual Mackinac Policy Conference is going to be this fall’s elections. It is my fervent hope that the focus is not on the horse race aspects of who’s going to win and lose, but rather on who will actually bring a commitment to developing sound public policy to Lansing.
Term limits are producing wholesale turnover in 2010. We’ll elect a new governor, attorney general, secretary of state, at least 29 new senators – 75 percent of the total body – and 36 new House members – one-third of that body – to take office next January.
We have seen in Detroit that wholesale turnover can be a good thing. Just look at our new Detroit City Council. With five new members, everyone agrees the result has been a breath of fresh air. I’m sure the ratings for the cable telecast of its proceedings have dropped because those meetings no longer resemble a reality show involving a severely dysfunctional family. In the process, the Council’s credibility is up.
A year ago a lot of people didn’t think such a change was possible. They had written off the voters of Detroit, saying they would just re-elect the usual suspects. They had written off the business community, saying it wouldn’t support good candidates. In both cases they were wrong. And those of us who live in Detroit as well as those who care about Detroit are much better off for it.
The new Legislature is going to have to make tough decisions. As a state we are still living beyond our means.
The governor and the Legislature are due some credit for their recent decision approving an early retirement plan for teachers combined with benefit reform. It represented a significant recognition that Michigan can no longer afford the generous benefits that have been in place for years for public employees. But it represented only a small start after a long disappointing period of stalemate and inaction, not a conclusion.
Five years ago, former Gov. William G. Milliken told the Mackinac Conference that the state has been hurt by the fact that the focus in Lansing has become “winning elections rather than developing responsible public policy.”
“Building a legacy should be the primary objective of everyone serving in public office,” he said. “We remember the legacy of Lincoln, FDR and Teddy Roosevelt, not for the elections they won, but what they did for the country. We remember G. Mennen Williams for the bridge he built connecting our peninsulas. We remember George Romney for the constitution and improved government he left us.
We have to get it right this year. We have to elect people who want to build a legacy, not a résumé. We have to elect people who are looking to Michigan’s future, not to their next job.
Business Leaders for Michigan has put forth our own turnaround plan for the state. It’s not a perfect plan. But somebody had to start somewhere and that is what we have done.
Our plan is designed to put Michigan back on the road to job creation, rather than job loss. It was developed after a thorough analysis of the factors that have made Michigan an economic underperformer.
Our plan puts forth concrete proposals to:
1. Change the way we manage Michigan’s finances,
2. Right-size spending at the state and local level,
3. Make Michigan’s tax structure competitive with other states,
4. Invest in our future through focusing on higher education, infrastructure, our Great Lakes and our cities and
5. Support collaborative growth strategies involving regional cooperation, entrepreneurial education, university-business partnerships, venture capital pools and expanded business incubation services.
Our plan recognizes the importance of urban areas to our future as a state and our common stake in the rejuvenation of Detroit as state’s largest city. We need our urban areas to be successful if we are to succeed as a state. And we need Detroit to be successful if we are to succeed as a state.
If we are to realize our full potential as a state, the business community has to continue playing the leadership role being assumed by Business Leaders for Michigan. We have to keep refining our ideas to meet our needs as a state. And we have to identify and then support candidates based not on their political party but on their commitment to putting aside personal differences to work for the common good and their ability to see the larger picture.
We need candidates who seek to build a legacy by building Michigan. That’s what I am looking for as I decide who, if anyone, I will be supporting in 2010. I urge others to join me in that mission.