Opinion: Whitmer chooses between politics and governing

Dennis Lennox

Michigan’s new governor seems conflicted over which direction to pursue in office.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State speech to a combined chamber Tuesday evening, February 12, 2019, in the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Lansing.

Admittedly, the past few weeks have been on-the-job training for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She served in both chambers of the Legislature and she briefly served as an interim county prosecuting attorney, but she has never been in a position of real power until now.

In her successful campaign against Bill Schuette, the Republican nominee, Whitmer talked about building bridges to span the political divide. Yet, she has been unwilling to set aside the partisan and ideological politics of the hard-left for the realities of divided government.

Look, the politics of today’s Democratic Party in Michigan, of which Whitmer serves as titular head, are incredibly difficult, thanks to the hard-left. These militant voices only care about resistance, obstruction and implementing their left-wing or, as they call it, “progressive” agenda by any means necessary.

Thus we saw the Legislature override an executive order Whitmer issued that circumvented normal lawmaking to effectively repeal a law passed in late 2018. It also didn’t help when the new governor used her first State of the State address to issue a blanket threat to veto so-called referendum-proof legislation. (Under the state Constitution, bills appropriating money aren’t subject to referenda.)

It didn’t need to be like this.

Republican Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield extended an early olive branch, offering to work in an apolitical, bipartisan, nonpartisan — whatever you want to call it — manner that puts the best interests of the Wolverine State first and foremost.

Whitmer is governor, but Michigan is a republic and the Legislature is the first branch in the tripartite system of state government. Her job isn’t to make laws. Rather, her duty is to “faithfully” implement the laws as legislated.

Of course, it isn’t too late for Whitmer to reverse course. Otherwise, the governor will find herself relegated to issuing executive orders and enforcing partisan and ideological legal opinions from Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose desire to use her office for political gain is no secret.

If Whitmer doesn’t begin governing then the budget won’t be a Whitmer budget. It will be a Republican budget, which will greatly limit her policy manifesto.

There are genuine opportunities for Whitmer to forge a political consensus on infrastructure and education, two of her biggest priorities.

Part of reforming the way Michigan funds, builds and maintains infrastructure could include a better governance model. Most would agree it doesn’t make sense to have multiple layers of government at the city, village, township, county and state levels involved in infrastructure when roads and other public works cross the political boundaries dividing communities.

If Whitmer is serious about free community college, then it’s time to give serious thought to ending high school after 10th grade, especially for students bound for community colleges, universities or trade schools. Simply throwing money at the existing education industrial complex won’t get the desired results.

Both of these challenges can be addressed if Whitmer forges a partnership with the Republican legislative majority to think outside the box and go beyond predictable policy ideas of the left and right.

The governor has choices. It’s up to her to decide her next move.

Dennis Lennox is a political commentator and public affairs consultant.