Opinion: Lazy summers and the cost of inaction

Greg McNeilly

“Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach. I feel it in the air, the summer's out of reach.” – Don Henley

August will soon be in our rearview mirror, and along with it the first summer on the job for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Like Henley in his 1984 classic, Michiganians may have a little voice inside their heads screaming don’t look back.  

Whitmer reversed course on campaign pledges and wasted summer months on a dilettante roadshow promoting a tax hike that was dead on arrival when there was still snow on the ground.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tests the integrity of a Lansing bridge on Aug. 12, 2019.

Easily the most surprising and disappointing development this summer has been the governor’s inability to get out of first gear on Michigan’s crumbling roads. Her 45 cents per gallon gas tax hike is opposed by 75 percent of state residents. But instead of getting to work on a new approach to “fix the damn roads,” Whitmer abdicates responsibility daily while demanding everyone else in Lansing do her job for her. Talk, as they say, is cheap.

Worse, she’s spent a good portion of summer driving in reverse. Late in July, members of the Operating Engineers 324 union went on strike, shutting down 13 asphalt plants across Michigan, and freeway and local road repair projects all over the state.

According to reports, the striking road workers haven’t even set a date to negotiate with their employer. The strike has no end in sight, and the projects it’s stalled remain in gridlock.

Whitmer’s been AWOL during the labor shutdown.  Instead of using her bully pulpit and her pull with organized labor — and her campaign donors — to kick-start negotiations and get workers back on the job, she’s buried her head in beach sand.

Now, when she could get the bulldozers moving again, Whitmer has given big labor the power to end road construction season, picking special interest support over the well-being of her constituents. It’s an abdication of responsibility drivers can ill-afford.  

Her refusal to lead extends well beyond crumbling roads. Remember those campaign promises about expanding the Freedom of Information Act and opening her office and that of the lieutenant governor to transparency laws? She has yet to act.  

Her commitment to ensuring Michigan families have access to affordable energy? Instead of building a tunnel to protect the Great Lakes and residents’ access to the fuel they need, she’s kicked the can and the responsibility down the road, calling for a study to look at the issue and make recommendations – sometime later.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and when a governor tells the world she can’t be bothered on an issue, someone else will always fill the leadership void.

On transparency, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson this summer demanded $10,000 to fulfill a single FOIA request, for instance, communicating in no uncertain terms that obtaining public records will be more difficult than ever under Democrat power in Lansing.

In Detroit, someone in Mike Duggan’s City Hall had staff in his city fundraising department illegally destroy public records related to a Duggan fundraising scandal.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Dana Nessel read Whitmer’s weakness in defense of energy users and has moved to skip ahead of the governor’s studies and reports; suing to shut down the critically important Line 5 pipeline and send working families’ energy bills skyrocketing.

Michiganians who’d banked on progress from an exciting new executive are left with worse roads, less transparency, and the specter of dramatically higher energy costs. Hopes for a summer of dynamic and meaningful leadership?  Those days are gone forever. We should just let 'em go.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.