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Michigan is better off today than it was four years ago. That's a classic measure of an incumbent executive. And it's why voters should retain Rick Snyder as governor.

Think back to January 2011, when Snyder took office with no political experience. He's proven a fast learner.

The state's unemployment rate stood at a near nation-leading 11.7 percent, cementing what has been called Michigan's Lost Decade, a 10-year stretch of economic decline, job losses and business closings. By the time the Great Recession hit the nation in 2008, Michigan had already lost 315,000 manufacturing jobs over the previous eight years. That number would eventually grow to nearly 1 million. Every economic trendline was heading downward, and the state ranked at or near the bottom of every business climate measure.

What's happened since Snyder took over? Gross Domestic Product, per capita income and jobs have grown faster than the national average. The Tax Foundation, which just five years ago ranked Michigan's business climate as the worst in the nation, now places Michigan at 14th, and says the state tax burden is below the national average.

The governor showed leadership and ingenuity in his effort to chart a prosperous course for Michigan. His deft management of state government and his persistent effort to develop pragmatic policy solutions have shown him to be an effective governor who is willing to take a risk if it will achieve progress for the state's future. Snyder's role in the comeback is why voters should return him for another four years on Nov. 4, but it isn't the only reason. His skills are needed for the challenges that lie ahead.

During Snyder's tenure, Michigan has added more than 300,000 jobs in four years — and a large percentage of the new positions are in high-paying tech industries. Household incomes are also on the rise for the first time since 2007.

The improvement hasn't happened by accident, nor is it solely a reflection of the cyclical upturn of the automobile industry. Certainly the auto comeback has helped, but Snyder put in place economic reforms that have allowed Michigan to fully exploit the national recovery.

Scrapping the oppressive Michigan Business Tax was key. Making the business tax flatter and less complex has put the state in a competitive position for attracting jobs and investment. And while the governor is taking heat for some of his tax policies, broadening the tax burden and making it fairer benefits all taxpayers.

The governor also eased the regulatory burden, cutting the red tape for starting a new business and adopting common sense and flexible rules for the workplace. He's also resisted pressure to restrict energy production in Michigan, understanding that affordable energy is essential to the state's manufacturers.

The governor's Democratic opponent, former Congressman Mark Schauer, is running a vigorous campaign, and one that is forcing the governor to defend his record. That's beneficial to voters who should be assessing Snyder's performance before deciding to give him a second term.

But Schauer's own record is unimpressive. He has no executive experience. He was a one-term congressman and before that a leader of the state Legislature during years of gridlock, dysfunction and partisan bickering.

Snyder put an end to the wearisome Michigan tradition of an annual budget crisis. He has signed a budget each year months before the Oct. 31 deadline, and it has been balanced without financial gimmicks and one-time revenue windfalls.

Working with a Republican controlled Legislature has helped. But lawmakers have certainly not been a rubber stamp for Snyder. He had to work around them to get a deal done for the new Detroit River bridge, and had to do intense lobbying to pass the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, the regional bus authority for Metro Detroit and, most importantly, the Detroit bailout — all tough votes for conservatives.

Schauer continues to insist Snyder cut education funding — a claim proved false by independent fact-checkers — but commitment to education must be judged by more than just spending.

The governor signed critical accountability reforms and provided incentives for districts to adopt best financial practices. He also dedicated money to pay down retiree pension costs, which were devastating local district budgets. And he is restoring money to colleges and universities.

Snyder's focus on the long view, paying off debts before they become unmanageable, is unusual in today's political world, but is a reflection of the governor's sense of fiscal responsibility.

He has not shied away from tough or unpopular decisions. Taxing pensions, for example, did not win him many votes. But it did make the tax code more sensible and fair.

Likewise, intervening in Detroit's financial mess was not a priority of his Republican base. But Snyder engaged in Detroit more than any previous governor, Republican or Democrat, since William Milliken. Convincing a Republican-led Legislature to approve the $350 million bail-out package for Detroit was masterful.

The governor's two-pronged strategy of fixing the finances while also making Detroit more liveable gives the city hope of stemming a 60-year decline in population and tax revenue.

Without his determined leadership and vision, Detroit likely would not be reaching today its last settlements in a surprisingly smooth bankruptcy, and would not have emerged from its financial collapse so relatively unscathed.

Sndyer is not afraid to lead. And he clearly has more to do in Michigan.

Top of his agenda, should he win a second term, is passing a comprehensive plan to fix Michigan's roads and keep them in repair. He also has plans for accelerating employment growth with innovative programs to close the skills gap — which amounts to 80,000 jobs — and prepare Michigan workers for new economy jobs.

His goal is to make Michigan a Top 10 state by every economic and quality of life measure. Rick Snyder has built a solid foundation for reaching that objective.

If he accomplishes as much in the next four years as he has in the past four, Michigan will have replaced its Lost Decade with a decade of growth and prosperity.

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