Ex-Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm's dismissive relationship with key legislative leaders like House Leader Mike Bishop (right) contributed to repeated government shutdowns. AP photo. )
Before President Barack Obama won re-election with a negative assault on Mitt Romney’s wealth, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm's 2006 class warfare campaign earned her a second term over businessman Dick DeVos.
Before Obama launched his second term with a GOP-defying State of the Union speech demanding more spending to stimulate a sluggish economy, Granholm’s 2007 State of the State speech promised the same. And before Obama and the GOP went over the cliff on a government shutdown, Granholm and Republicans took the plunge in 2007.
Michigan has seen this train wreck before. We are reliving Granholm’s failed second term.
The dysfunctional tenures of Obama and Granholm are a lesson in what ails Washington today and what once dogged Michigan: A lack of executive branch leadership. While the pundit class sniffs at the current shutdown as an aberration “brewed by the tea party” (as The Washington Posts’ reliable purveyor of conventional wisdom, E.J. Dionne, puts it), the Michigan shutdown came in 2007 — before the tea party existed — because Democrats and Republicans have fundamentally different visions about the role of government.
Such governing splits are hardly unprecedented and demand executive leadership. In the tense budget standoffs of the early 1980s, former President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill built a relationship based on respect. “Horse trading, compromise and negotiation made the government work,” recounts ex-Reagan Chief-of-Staff James Baker in The Wall Street Journal. Bill Clinton too “was willing to negotiate when he had a body controlled by the opposite party.”
But in the Obama and Granholm eras, that leadership has been absent.
Harvard Law School-trained and charismatic — but with little governing experience — Granholm and Obama are political twins who manage by elevating demagoguery over political relationships. As a result, their governing styles breed crisis after crisis.
In the first budget of her second term, Granholm insisted on new taxes to pay for new green “investments” even as Michigan’s economy struggled. Similarly, Obama has insisted on enacting Obamacare despite evidence its mandates are strangling job creation.
Grassroots activists are the backbone of both political parties and in 2007, pink pig-hauling activist Leon Drolet stiffened elephant spines by threatening to recall legislators who supported Granholm’s tax hike. Battle lines were drawn: pro-Big Government House Democrats vs. small government Senate Republicans. Lansing careened toward a shutdown. Ratings services warned the state’s bond rating would be downgraded.
But rather than bridge the divide, Granholm reacted with a page right of Obama’s playbook. “People will die,” she said of Republican offers to cut services rather than raise taxes. No negotiations. Just a relentless game of shutdown chicken.
Granholm “appeared to be disassociated from the process, except to issue occasional press releases criticizing ‘the legislature’ or ‘Senate Republicans’ for failing to adopt her budget recommendations,” wrote the Mackinac Center.
For five years, Obama has neglected the hard work of building relationships with Congress. Instead of fighting the country’s fiscal fires, he has given incendiary speeches. And when the GOP foolishly overreached and demanded defunding Obamacare, Obama predictably reacted in kind, putting Washington on course for shutdown.
Where do we go from here? Granholm’s second term foreshadows more of the same. Following the 2007 debacle (Republicans caved to a tax hike yet deficits soared), Granholm would go on to preside over another shutdown in 2009.
Ex-GOP Senate leader Mike Bishop recounts he and Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon tried futile compromises (a bromance that does not exist between Boehner and Reid). Yet Granholm ignored them, plastering notices in public buildings that read “State offices are CLOSED effective Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009, due to the Michigan Legislature’s failure to act to meet its constitutional responsibility to enact a balanced budget.”
“Boy, that’s the kind of leadership and maturity citizens expect from their state’s CEO,” wrote MIRS political analyst Susan Demas for MLive. “Stay classy, Jenny.”
Having failed to head off a 2013 shutdown, the White House is shutting down WW2 memorials to maximize public pain. Stay classy, Barack.
Henry Payne’s column runs every Tuesday online. Payne is a Detroit News editorial writer and editorial cartoonist. He also is editor of The Detroit News Politics forum. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.