Less than a month from the election, Gov. Rick Snyder is making no apologies.
He says taxing public pensions as regular income is "fair." Says the right-to-work law, signed over vehement protests from labor and Democrats, is paying dividends in economic recruitment efforts. Says the emergency manager law that facilitated Detroit's slide into Chapter 9 is working.
He predicts Detroit is poised to emerge from bankruptcy in less than 60 days "in a positive and constructive way." Says state job creation is driven by more than a cyclical recovery in the auto industry. Insists the repeated claim that his administration cut $1 billion from K-12 education is "a lie."
"It's hogwash and a lie," the governor told The Detroit News Monday, forcefully rebutting charges helping challenger Mark Schauer gain traction with would-be voters. Snyder cited "factual numbers from the state budget office" that don't "change because of how you feel about it."
He's right, to the extent black-letter truth matters in gray electoral politics cutting both ways. For all the demonstrable progress of his first term — financial and budget discipline, tax reform, the restructuring of Detroit — the governor's bid for re-election rests on a prospective argument laced with memory.
Namely, are his policies, backed by a GOP-controlled Legislature, the foundation for a new Michigan that bears less resemblance to the sclerotic, anti-business days of the "Lost Decade?" The trouble is proving it with the kind of base metrics that could end the debate with impatient voters, but mostly don't.
Michigan's unemployment is down sharply from more than 14 percent, but continues to exceed the national average. Job creation is continuing, but at a slower rate. Right to work may have changed investor perceptions, but there's scant evidence beyond the Michigan Economic Development Corp. that it is delivering jobs and new investment.
The challenge for Snyder is to persuade enough voters that the bitter medicine administered in his first term is the right cure at the right time for a Michigan malaise tied to the auto cycle, Detroit's epic troubles and a deeply rooted culture of entitlement.
Not buying "the entitlement" trope? Consider this: What do the right-to-work law and the tax on pensions, to name two, have in common? For starters, they removed special benefits reserved for specific classes of residents because that's the way it's always been.
The question Snyder dared to ask is whether it should have been that way. Several years on, I've still not heard a persuasive argument that makes the case for taxing withdrawals from 401(k)s, to cite one example, but not public pension payouts funded by taxpayers.
Nor is it clear how ignoring brewing revolt among private-sector employers, a hallmark of the Granholm years, is desirable. Or how it makes sense to downplay the metastasizing rot inside municipalities like Flint and Pontiac that presaged the inevitable collapse of Detroit into the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history.
"Go find a four-year period — Republican or Democrat — where more things were done for the city of Detroit" by the administration in Lansing, Snyder says, ticking off a list that includes lighting, mass transit, public safety, financial restructuring, reforms of 36th District Court. "I've done a lot of tough things. Long-term, people do see value in this."
How many people, come Election Day, is uncertain. But the governor who stumped in Detroit as a long-shot for his party's nomination formed a coalition of west Michigan Republicans and Detroit Democrats to support a rescue for Detroit and, by extension, its Democratic political leadership.
That's neither easy nor politically expedient, especially when the net result is to hand Mayor Mike Duggan — the most formidable pol to hold that office in years — a base underpinned with a stronger municipal balance sheet, broadly bipartisan political support and an energized business community.
There is no question Snyder's first term got a big assist from two things he and his people could not control: the electoral calendar, which delivered the Great Recession to Granholm, and the federal bailouts of the auto industry, which provided Snyder with a retooled sector to help drive recovery.
Love him or loathe him, the governor used his term, and Republican control of the Legislature, to execute an agenda that inflamed opponents as much as it gratified supporters who probably never thought they would see Michigan among right-to-work states or Detroit nearing its exit from Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
But they are, evidence that timing and leadership can be as potent in politics as they are in business.
Daniel Howes' column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.