Howes: Michigan’s best, worst can be found around Lansing
And, lo, in the closing days of the year 2015 AB — after bankruptcy — the call went out to all those not yet gone and making merry: Who are the best (and worst) in Michigan business and politics?
Who learned from the confluence of people and forces that guided Detroit through an epic Chapter 9 and rebuilt the hometown auto industry into a cash-generating machine? And who didn’t, demonstrating yet again that bickering, grandstanding and short-sightedness can survive the harshest reckonings.
Where last year was one of great accomplishment and diplomacy — think the “grand bargain,” a consensual bankruptcy settlement, a Republican Legislature helping to fund the financial rescue of a Democratic Detroit — this year is proving to be one of missed opportunity and dysfunction.
Nothing epitomized that syndrome more than the GOP-controlled Legislature’s chronic inability to produce a package to repair Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges. Last month, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a compromise version few embraced, a testament to what passes these days for governing.
Would that the worst ends there, but it doesn’t. The disappearing year is rife with political embarrassment in Lansing, carrying implications for real people and real business who make the mistake of thinking politicians take their jobs seriously.
They do, actually, if the job is pulling an all-nighter to oust two philandering representatives from the state House. Can’t let the serial sanctimony of Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat become a political weapon wielded indiscriminately by Democrats, even rivals in their own party.
The sordid tale of the freshmen tea party rookies transfixed Lansing in August and September far more than such mundane issues as roads or a workout for Detroit Public Schools or the appalling water debacle in Flint — all of which matter a heckuva lot more than their legislative soap opera.
A fitting metaphor, that, to illustrate how superficiality triumphs over substance as much in Lansing as it does in Washington, how the issues that affect real people living real lives are too often subordinate to the political exigencies that matter most to politicians. First up ...
The Fiddling while Reality Burns Award goes to the GOP-controlled Legislature, which has done the unthinkable. In the space of a single year, it elevated dysfunction to high art, easily displacing a functional Detroit City Council from its longtime association with such dubious honors.
Lansing punted a remedy for Detroit Public Schools to next year, confident that it won’t really, actually, have to assume financial responsibility for the towering debt accumulated during the state’s stewardship of the city’s desperately broken system. But it will.
GOP stalwarts led the effort to gut the budget of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., presumably convinced that elected leaders with scant understanding of corporate tax incentives and business recruitment efforts could do a better job than the professionals hired to do the job. The result is likely to be more sweetheart deals in the Legislature (see the Switch deal) and fewer incentives for indigenous businesses to stay and reinvest.
How any of that makes Michigan more economically competitive in the investment wars between states no one is prepared to say. But you can bet that John Kasich’s Ohio, Mike Pence’s Indiana and Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, to name three Great Lakes rivals, will look to exploit the opening left by Michigan’s temper tantrum. Speaking of tantrums ...
The Wake-Up Call Award goes to the leadership of the United Auto Workers. Seldom in the annals of Big Three-UAW national contract talks has Solidarity House been so convincingly steamrolled by its members. Instead of brandishing picket signs, they weaponized smartphones armed with Facebook and Twitter to reject (Fiat Chrysler), or nearly so (General Motors and Ford Motor), the richest set of contracts since at least 1999.
The automakers, chiefly General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., can afford the deals — but not without a cost to the longer term employment base of UAW-represented plants in the United States. America’s loss will be Mexico’s gain, proving once again to anyone willing to pay attention that the global business increasingly is trans-national.
Finally, a note on the business of college sports: arguably nowhere in the country can a single university boast national-level coaches (and perennially strong football and basketball programs) like Michigan State can in Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo. The players they recruit and coach win the games, but it’s Athletic Director Mark Hollis and President Lou Anna Simon who create the environment for the coaches to co-exist and succeed.
That’s exceedingly rare, an example of leadership worth emulating because with the right people it works.
Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN, or catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM.