Editorial: Mich. can prove progress can happen in split gov't

The Detroit News

Michigan begins the new year with a new governor, and new faces in other key leadership positions as well.

Governor Rick Snyder tweeted this photo of him and Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer meeting at the State Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 7.

True to its history, voters replaced the outgoing two-term Republican governor with a Democrat, Gretchen Whitmer, and for the first time in 24 years also elected a Democrat as secretary of state (Jocelyn Benson) and for the first time in 16 years as attorney general (Dana Nessel).

And while Republicans still control the state House and Senate, power in Lansing will be more balanced between the two parties than it has been for a long time.

That is bound to bring a new governing atmosphere to the Capitol.

Gov. Rick Snyder enjoyed eight years of working with a GOP Legislature. And though lawmakers weren't always deferential, the governor did get most of what he wanted from them. 

Whitmer will have to work harder to enact her agenda. Gridlock is a very real threat. Avoiding a return to the days when power sharing meant constant stand-offs on budget priorities and the inability to respond effectively to crises will take all of the new governor's political skills.

Fortunately, she has 14 years of legislative experience, including serving as the minority leader of the Senate. Whitmer is the first governor since John Engler to have served in the Legislature.

She knows a little something about how to horse trade when the situation demands.

The new Republican leaders of the Legislature, House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clark Lake, have expressed interest in working with the new governor on the state's most urgent needs — improving education and rebuilding the state's infrastructure.

It's guaranteed they won't share all of Whitmer's ideas for addressing those needs, but they do seem to understand Michigan voters want solutions, and won't tolerate inaction. That should be conducive to finding consensus with the new governor.

For her part, Whitmer has set the right tone in transition. She is working closely with Snyder and his team to assure a smooth hand-off. She even went to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump, and came back with positive things to say about the session.

Whitmer seems to be assembling a solid team. Her early appointments suggest she understands the importance of surrounding herself with top talent.

She has an advantage over predecessors. Snyder and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm each faced a fiscal crisis on Day One.

Snyder is handing Whitmer a state with a budget surplus, and no immediate fires to put out.

That should give her breathing room to put together education and road repair plans that can pass the Legislature. A couple of early successes on those key issue would set her governorship off on a positive course.

There will be perhaps more friction in Lansing than we've been used to over the past eight years. But there should not be hard lines drawn in the sand by either Republicans of Democrats.

Progress is possible in a divided government. It is what Michigan residents expect of their leaders, and what those leaders now have an opportunity to prove can happen.

This transition of power in Lansing comes amid extreme dysfunction in Washington, as exhibited by the government shutdown.

Whitmer and the new legislative leaders must make darn sure that circus doesn't come here.

Good luck to the new governor, and to all of the new officials who will be sworn in on Tuesday. Michigan needs the best you have to give.