Mackinac is an opportunity for our embattled governor
It’s that time of the year when the governing class leaves Lansing for three days of glad-handing the moneyed business interests of Metro Detroit.
The official backdrop is the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, where nostalgia-seeking guests willing to pay several hundred dollars a night consume the semblance of historical authenticity. Think the World Economic Forum in Davos, but for Michiganians with fudge and horses.
But the confab does serve a valuable purpose, especially for those trying to raise their political profile.
It was here in 2005 Dick DeVos launched his Republican gubernatorial campaign against the incumbent Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm. Despite presiding over what became known as Michigan’s “Lost Decade”—the single-state recession in which so many millennials left for a brighter future elsewhere—Granholm maintained her support among Detroit’s crony capitalist business interests.
Mackinac has also hosted many a colorful discussion between Kwame Kilpatrick and Dennis Archer, both of whom were initially seen as reformers during their mayoralty, and now ex-Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. More recently, it’s been Mark Hackel, the Macomb County executive, using the island to grow his clout.
And then there are the controversies every couple of years. There were the stalled budget disputes between Granholm and Republicans in the Legislature, the epic prelude to Detroit’s city hall bankruptcy and, now, the mess that is the city’s public schools.
Generally forgotten, however, are the one or two radical ideas proposed just about every year.
Back in 2010 it was former Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich, who proposed a tax-free city aimed at spawning economic growth not seen since Detroit was the world’s richest city in 1950.
With this being Governor Rick Snyder’s last Mackinac gathering before he is relegated to the sidelines as a political lame duck, now is the time for the governor to shepherd through a radical idea.
Snyder, who is very much at home among the conference’s business interests, has yet to make good on his promises of six years ago to fundamentally change the way government in Michigan operates.
Sure, there have been meaningful reforms to how state government taxes and regulates, but the self-styled nerd has largely ignored Michigan’s outdated system of government.
Despite Census projections indicating a continued population decline, government remains out-of-touch with the realities of Michigan two decades into the 21st century.
A good example is Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, who recently embarked upon a statewide tour aimed at increasing the “revenue,” which is government speak for new taxes, collected by local government.
Not only do the state’s 83 counties, 276 cities, 257 villages and 1,240 townships claim to never have enough money, but they actively use taxpayer-funded special interests to lobby against any and all meaningful changes to the state’s bloated, archaic and otherwise rotten system of government.
Instead of seeking more taxpayer dollars to preserve his bailiwick, Evans should put the interests of his constituents first and admit that Wayne County serves no meaningful purpose.
Most taxpayers wouldn’t notice if Wayne County government was abolished, as frontline public services are typically provided by cities and townships. The same is true in other counties, the lines of which haven’t been redrawn since 1891.
What little unique authority a county does exercise on its own could be absorbed by either a special authority or through an interlocal agreement of cities and townships.
Of course, this is just one possibility. There are so many other radical ideas that Snyder should consider before his legacy is defined only by his handling of the numerous crises that have plagued his governorship.
Dennis Lennox is a freelance columnist and Republican consultant.