Thursday, January 29, 2009
House Dems In Retreat
It's not a very deep concept but one that more politicians should follow i.e. whenever you contemplate any action, ask yourself, how does this play with the public? You can apply that rule to the decision by House Democrats to stage a retreat at an isolated resort in Garlin, up North. Before you know anything else about the decision, if you are like most folks, you are not overjoyed and see this as just another perk for politicians. But hold that thought and consider the following: The retreat is being paid for by the lawmakers and not some fat cat lobbying firm. They obviously are not going to play any golf but they might squeeze in some skiing? They are holding the meeting to lay the groundwork for the new legislative year. As you might expect the democratic leaders defend the retreat noting that there are 67 members in the caucus including 24 new comers. "We've got a lot of new freshmen," explains Rep. Kathy Angerer the democratic floor leader. "We've got to get to know one another so we can work together, otherwise passing good public policy is going to be difficult." So they will play team-building games and try to speed up the "getting to know you" phase of having an effective caucus. They'll also kick around some policy issues from tax reform to the budget deficit. But what sticks in the craw of some anti-politician types is the location. Angerer defends the Garlin venue because it is isolated, cell phones don't work, and with nothing else to do, she figures lawmakers can stay focused on th e task. "When I do this (hold the retreat) in Lansing, people leave in the evening, they run to a meeting, they do other things...This is a good work opportunity." So now that you know all that, do you still harbor negative feelings? Would love to hear what you think.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
How 'Bout Some Good News For A Change
Any practicing journalist would likely be shot at the stake for offering such a suggestion. But betya by golly, most common folk would give it a standing ovation. Try this on for size. How about one week of ignoring all the bad economic news and filling the front page headlines with something positive…anything positive. Frankly folks right about now would much rather read: "Eight Kids Born in California" instead of "10,000 Auto Workers Laid Off." The steady drip drip drip of bad economic news must be having a profound impact on the public psyche. For example, in the midst of the meltdown of the auto industry, consumers refused to buy this car or that for fear in20three months, nobody would be around to service the darn thing. Of course the media cannot deny reality, but does it have to select the lousy economy as the lead story day in and day out? Bury some of that on the obit page or even better yet on the editorial page. Nobody reads that stuff. (With apologies to editorial writers.) Such a "good news" policy would be a total dereliction of everything they teach in journalism school. Everyone knows that if it bleeds, it leads and Michigan's economy has been hemorrhaging going on seven years. But if the media can't ignore the bad news for one week, how 'bout one day as a compromise? Come on. What harm could it do?=2 0The state is mired in one of the worse winters in recent memory. It's probably snowing again right now. The trip to Florida is no longer an option for most folks and there is no ray of hope within sight. Heck the media gets accused of slanting the news everyday, so why not prove the critics right with one day of good news and good news only. And you thought the papers were thin now. Wait til that edition comes out.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Wake Up Tom
It's a free country and obviously anybody who wants to run for governor can do so, but ya gotta wonder what some folks are thinking or are they? Nothing against Senator Tom George (R-Kalamazoo). Frankly he's a pretty good guy, hard working, does his homework, and has eight years under his belt in the Michigan House and Senate. Out of nowhere, he forms an exploratory committee to run for the GOP nomination for governor. Asked if he was a long shot, he shot back, "I'm a credible candidate" adding, "You can't predict what's going to happen in two years. Nobody would have predicted, I think a few years ago that we'd have a president Obama. I'm not a long shot." Nice try, but if the Tom George for Governor thing is not a long shot, what the heck is? Nonetheless, you can't write him off. But let's be kind here: He has no name ID, unless you are reading this from Kalamazoo, he has no ready made base from which to launch a statewide campaign, and donors are not going to flock to his door with check and pen in hand. But, of course, George is right in that a lot could happen in two years. Maybe he is the next Obama in Michigan. So welcome to the contest the man with two first names who also happens to be an anesthesiologist. And pundits will have a field day with that. Not exactly noted for his fiery speeches or personality, someone may be tempted to write, "George's campaign will put you to sleep." George says he's heard the line before but quickly adds, "The bigger skill, if you are an anesthesiologist, is waking people up."
Monday, January 26, 2009
Tilting At Windmills
Talk about your classic tortoise and the hare or David and Goliath story. This one is both. What is it about reality that former state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk does not understand? Fresh off the campaign trail where Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin easily defeated poor ole Jack, now he is on a mission impossible to chair the tattered and torn state Republican Party. Problem is Ron Weiser, a.k.a. the hare and Goliath, has this thing all but wrapped up. If you are not a died-in-the-wool GOPer, you're going who the heck is Ron Weiser? Start with the fact that he is a millionaire land baron in Ann Arbor. Bush 42 app ointed Weiser to an ambassadorship. And now Weiser has rounded up all the top dog state GOP leaders on his way to a victory next month in a party convention. Yet Hoogendyk won't hang it up. "It's not going my way with all the folks at the upper levels," he reflects but quickly adds, "but I still continue to have very strong support in the rank and file" of the party. In all honesty, the rank and file takes its marching orders from the "upper levels" and if anyone balks, the leadership comes down on the non-conformists with vengeance. But Big Jack refuses to fold his tent. Two years ago the vote for a party chair was out in the open as convention delegates had to raise their hand to cast a vote.< span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
Leaders took the names of those who did not toe the line and wanted to vote their conscience.
Now there's a secret ballot and Hoogendyk figures folks can vote for him without fear of recrimination. And he read the stories about David and the tortoise winning.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
If, as they claim, confession is good for the soul, why won't devote Gov. Jennifer Granholm confess her team botched the unemployment and jammed phone line debacle? Given the chance the other day the governor thought about it for a couple of seconds but then demurred with, "Let's move on." Well some others are saying, "Let's not." Look it. The inability of frustrated citizens, who are already out of work, to file for jobless benefits is an embarrassment but the governor contends Wall Street is partly to blame for creating the economic meltdown in the first place and those bad guys in Congress who initially stiffed the domestic auto industry are next in line. Does that mean, she was asked the other day, that everyone else is to blame and not you? A flustered governor with TV cameras grinding away, in essence said the buck stopped at her desk. "I'm responsible," she correctly stated, but when asked if she had made any miscues, she dove for the tall grass. Last time anybody checked, Wall Street and the Congress did not have jurisdiction over Michigan's antiquated and dilapidated computer system which has been unable to handle one million calls a day. The system, which dates to the days of Jim Blanchard, may have been state of the art twenty years ago, but year-by-year, as technology has advanced, Gov. John Engler and now this governor either could not or would not spend the cash to upgrade. She could have confessed, we should have done that but we did not and now we will do everything we can to correct the mistake.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Turf War Over Roads
They are known in the biz as turf wars. And in government they can get really nasty as one unit fights another for power. Pull up a chair. The senate republicans are fixin' to launch a turf battle with one of the entrenched units of county government namely the county road commissions. These are the folks who run the road system in your neck of the woods and an influential state senator thinks your tax dollars can be saved if the system is regionalized or taken over by county commissions. The road commissions will not go without a fight. One leader says Senator Jud Gilbert is "barking up the wrong tree" if he thinks there are huge savings in abolishing the local units. Gilbert is not impressed. He has ordered his staff to nail down the savings and if they are huge, Gilbert has an ace up his sleeve to defeat the road guys and it's a good one. All of the road building interests want more money from the state but Gilbert hints he will sit on the money until he gets his way on revamping the road commission system. "If it becomes pretty clear to me that this is a huge savings and an efficiency, I could get to that point. I can't say that I'm at that point now" but he says he could get there. If he adopts that strategy, the road builders will have a choice. They can stand with the road commissions and defend their turf, or they could side with Gilbert, toss the commissions under the bus, and then grab the money from Gilbert. You can figure out which choice they would make.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
What Did He Mean By That?
The problem with instant analysis is you always miss something. To wit the Monday posting on Barack Obama's Inaugural message which omitted a commentary on a very provocative statement. There was a sentence in the 18 minute address that begs for clarification, so the next guy who asks the new president a question, ask him what he meant by, "We come to proclaim and end to petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics…the time has come to set aside childish things." Was it a slap at the ex-president sitting just chairs away from the new president? Was it a blast at both political parties for focusing on their "petty grievances" instead of the big picture of working together for the common good? Or it could have been a swipe at all the single-issue special interest groups, think Right to Life and Pro-Choice, that strangle legislators if they don't toe the line? Finally it could have been all three and more? It's difficult to gage if the statement resonated with the two million folks in the audience, some of whom may have been more focused on keeping warm than analyzing his every word. But this point is for sure. The record breaking crowd was there sending a strong message to the new president and the new congress and it's a message all sides should heed: We want you to knock off the partisan politics and join hands to solve our problems." That's basically what President Obama was saying, but obviously with more eloquent and oblique prose.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
One Emotional Day
If your emotions were not stirred by the Inauguration of Barack Obama, you either have none or you slept through it. Even if you did not vote for the guy, there was plenty in the pictures to awaken your senses. Former President Bush and wife Laura moved to the helicopter to leave town for the last time. They exchanged hugs and warm words with the new First Family. It was classy. Then the Obama's and the Biden's stood on the capitol steps as the chopper lifted slowly into history. Biden saluted, the others waved good-bye and another orderly transference of power was complete. Even if you didn't like "W", you had to empathize with his thoughts as he flew into the political sunset. Earlier the massive crowd on the Washington sent a strong message. Americans apparently are engaged in the political process and were willing to shiver in the frigid wind to be a part of history. Then the "So help me God" moments as the new vice president took the oath with a confident smile and even though the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court booted the swearing in for President Obama, Mr. Obama, as always, remained cool and got it done. And finally the Inaugural address. Frankly it lacked the "Ask not what your country can do for you line" that former President Kennedy made famous, but Obama made up for that with other provocative themes. With Mr. Bush and Vice President Cheney sitting close by, the new President left little doubt he rejected their approach to government. This is not about the favorite GOP theme of whether "government is too big or too small," Obama opined, but about whether government can work. He lashed at the greed on Wall Street and called for a more "watchful eye" from the government implying that the Bushies were asleep at the monetary switch. Obama bemoaned the "narrow interests" in some political corners and urged citizens to "Pick up, dust off and join the remaking of America." And the new president argues for a new economy that doesn't "favor only the prosperous" but extends that prosperity "to everyone for the common good." Inaugural Day is the easy part. The words and emotions are one thing. Now America awaits act ion.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Back Scratching Time
You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours is a time-honored tradition in this town and we're about to see if the top legislative leaders can do it. The senate GOP leader has a plan to eliminate term limits and create a part-time legislature. The speaker of the house has a plan to revamp the state's tax system and while the two proposals have nothing in common, they will be linked. In blunt terms, Mike Bishop is not going to get his thing passed unless he coughs up some votes for Andy Dillon's plan and vice versa. There is widespread public support for a part-time legislature. The challenge has been to get enough petition signatures to place this on the ballot for enthusiastic voters to approve. With a two-thirds vote, lawmakers can place it on the ballot. The rub in Bishop's plan is elimination of term limits which remains very popular with the unwashed. Lawmakers for obvious reasons have been reluctant to put themselves out of work for half the year, and even more reluctant to muck around with the equally popular term limit concept. But democrats might be willing to hold their noses and vote for the Bishop scheme, if he'll provide some votes for a tax revision that might include a graduated income tax. Democrats have lusted for that for years but the one time it was up for a statewide vote, citizens gave it thumbs down. Republicans agree with the citizens. Thing Is, if there is a graduated income tax, lots of republicans who make more moola than democrats, will end up paying more to the state. At this read, it appea rs that neither leader is going to get his way. But we are not even in the first inning as Bishop and Dillon are just warming up. But if they both received good back scratchers for Christmas, it just might happen.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Tears and Politics
There's no crying in baseball, but there is in politics and you'll see lots of tears shed this week. The really successful politicians have strong emotions and passion and over the years that has been seen in public. Former Gov. John Engler, who had a hide as tough as nails, almost broke down during his final address to the legislature when he talked about his family. Later in an exit interview, he almost broke down again when talking about taking the oath of office for the first time with his dad sitting behind him. Former Gov. William Milliken has had his moments, too. When he got in the Lincoln to head up to T.C. for the last time as governor, everyone was teary eyed. And more recently during a one-hour public TV broadcast, right at the end, you could see the tears in his eyes again. House Speaker Andy Dillon came close to tears last week when he talked about his son losing his best friend because the family had to sell its home to the bank. And soon to be President of the United State Barack Obama has been there, too. At a public appearance just after his grandma passed on, you could see the tears coming on. Which brings us to the impending inauguration. Tears will be in abundance especially among African Americans and rightfully so. They will see, for the first time, one of their own sworn in as leader of the free world. "I never thought I would see this in my life time," composer Quincy Jones told Larry King over the weekend. And that sentiment has been reflected time and time a gain as the cable news gang has talked to common folk, too. Tears of joy. Not a bad way to start a new chapter in American history.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Credit Where Credit Is Due
Every Michigan governor from time to time has griped, "Why don't you guys write about all the good news?" Silly governors. They'd make lousy political reporters who thrive on all the bad news you can muster. Nonetheless if you isolated what this governor has done the last month or so, you would be tempted to concluded two things: (1) Michigan is enjoying an economic renaissance and (2) Gov. Jennifer Granholm's economic policies are working. Unfortunately for her only item two is correct. While we have seen in the last month a number of significant and revolutionary job victories, the announcements are in the contest of seven years of a lousy economy stuck in reverse. The piddly couple thousands of jobs coming in don't offset the 113,000 j obs we lost last year. But this governor would boast it is a start and frankly she's right. The list is impressive: GM will build the new electric Volt car in Flint and create a new battery factory in the state to boot. Another battery firm is moving here. Michigan State University just beat Illinois, home of the new president elect, to build a new superconductor atom something or other in East Lansing. And while the Spartans are at it, IBM just announced another 1500 Internet jobs for the campus as well. Down the road, the U of M is holding its own with automotive R and D wins, too. Not bad for a state thought by the rest of the universe to be one breath away from extinction. "Our policies are working," the governor boasted in remarks basically ignored by the MSM earlier this week. Now if the national recession would just get out here, she might receive a little more positive ink.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Let The Games Begin
The Michigan House officially opened the new legislative year on Wednesday as families and friends gathered to welcome back the old-timers and welcome in the 44 new members. There were hugs, lots of picture taking, slaps on the back and all sorts of wonderful talk about putting partisan differences aside and working in a bi-partisan manner. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. They say that every year but pretty soon everyone forgets the high rhetoric and gets back to normal. Maybe this year will be different? And maybe the Tigers will win the World Series, too. But it will be sometime before we get a feel for how this new bunch is going to jell because they won 't be around for a while. Next week a lot of democrats will invade the nation's capitol to celebrate the election of you know who. The senate may be in next week since the GOP controlled body apparently won't be popping any corks for Barack Obama. And since the governor won't give her State of the State until February 3rd, you won't see any major action until after that. That's cool with House Speaker Andy Dillon. He reminds everyone that just because nobody is voting on the house floor, it does not mean folks are not working behind the scenes to tee up stuff for a floor vote. His GOP counterpart, Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, who replaces Oakland County Repub Craig DeRoche, says it's "traditional" for lawmakers to get "acclimated to the building and acclimated to their assignments" before the floor show begins. So while Mr. Obama is demanding that the new congress act quickly on a stimulus package in Washington, the same sense of urgency does not exist here to tackle health care, transportation, budget cuts, etc. etc. etc. But Dillon and Elsenheimer reassure doubting citizens, work out of the public eye will be going on.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Who'd Want This Job?
Wanted: Someone to work in a state with an economy in the tank and little hope of a quick recovery. Must be able to convince others to create jobs here and you get two years job security yourself. Chance to work with optimistic governor. Sign- up now. Get real. Who in his or her right mind would want apply? Nonetheless the governor is hunting for somebody to run the Michigan Economic Development Corporation because the current CEO is getting out whlle the getting is good. You can't blame Jimmy Epolito for bailing out even though he admits he is "pretty conflicted" by his decision which he made before Christmas. On one hand there are some faint signs that the Granholm recovery strategy may be moving off of life support, but on the other he got, as they say in the Godfather, an offer he couldn't refuse. As president of Delta Dental, Epolito could more than double his state salary. Plus he took a $400,000 hit when he left the private sector for the MEDC gig in 2005. At some point your desire for public service can fade. "It's a once in a generation opportunity," the governor suggests as she announced an immediate search for a replacement. But the job description outlined above, means the really talented applicants may take a pass. That means the job czar job may be filled with some second tier also-ran. "This is a challenge," the governor admits but refuses to concede she'll have trouble filling it. 0 If you were dragging down a high-six figure paycheck, would you answer the governor's plea for public service and the assurance you'd only have the job until she left office?
Unless you're a relative of the gov, you know the answer to that.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Brooks Milks It
Give the old warrior credit. He masterfully squeezed a whole lot of free advertising out the news media last week which undoubtedly juiced up the ticket sales to his 70th birthday bash last Saturday night. And when lots of revelers appeared hoping to hear Brooks Patterson announce his candidacy for governor all they got was I'll let you know later on. Hope those folks enjoyed the cake because the chances of the Oakland County executive running for gov again are down there with the Lions going to the Super Bowl. He addressed the issue with Free Press reporter Kathy Grey saying if he does not run it will be for personal/family reasons as he may want to spend more time with his eight grand kids. That may be true, but the reasons for not running go way beyond that. Based on comments from someone familiar with his current private thinking Patterson is described as having "misgivings" about making a bid. There would be a ton of media scrutiny into all aspects of his public and private life. In addition there is all the travel. This is a huge state and Patterson is not well known north of M-59. Heck when he ran in 1982, the sign in front of the Traverse City Holiday Inn read: Welcome L. Brick Petterson. You get the point. If you devoured all the news speculation in last week's feeding frenzy over a possible Patterson candidacy, you came away with the feeling that he was in a go-mode and just toying with everyone for the fun of it. Turns out it is "pretty remote" that he'll take the plunge with the chances between 25% and 50%. Now a personal friend is all but convinced Patterson will run based on private remarks and lots of the birthday bash folks hope it will happen. But remember in the political game there are always two faces politicians have: The one they want you to see and the private one you just read about here. So stash those Patterson for Gov bumper stickers.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Hard Feelings On The High Court
In a historic move, the state's highest court opened its hermetically sealed doors to the media last week for one and all to see the election of the new Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. It was not a pretty sight. It confirmed what everyone in this town has suspected for eight years. These guys don't like each other. Pick your adjective to describe the philosophical and personal tensions that permeates the high court membership. Last year, four republicans dominated the court. The two democrats and one maverick republican were not happy jurists. The maverick, GOP Justice Elizabeth Weaver, went public with her gripes about the "gang of four." Almost everyone concludes her comments did little to enhance the image of the court let alone foster a sense of collegiality among the seven. But things have changed---for the worse. Last November, in case you missed it, the four republicans were reduced to three with Chief Justice Cliff Taylor getting the boot from the voters aided by the now infamous "sleeping judge" commercial. The old gang of four minus one was still grousing about the commercial during the vote for a new Chiefy and sharp comments were aimed at the democrat who replaced Taylor as the new Chief Justice. The R's were not happy with Marilyn Jean Kelly for campaigning against Taylor and for not disavowing the commercial. Justice Robert Young Jr. calls the commercial a lie and has confronted Kelly trying to convince her to issue the same opinion.
She demurs telling the media she doesn't know if it was true or false.
That's not good enough for Young and his two pals. So instead of a unity building seven to nothing vote to install a new chief justice, it was a badly splintered 4-3 vote which got the court off to an ugly and partisan start to the new judicial year. The fact that they are feuding is one thing, but more critical is what impact will that have on the court's job of issuing reasoned and non-partisan decisions based on the law and not personalities that don't get along?
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Brooks: One More Time?
What is it about guys 70 years of age running for office? First there was John "Call Me Maverick" McCain; now there could be L. Brooks Patterson dusting off his 1982 bumper stickers for governor. "We'll take a look at it," the jovial Oakland County executive announces and that's the kind of response this may provoke…jovial. Is he really serious will be the collective thought in this town as he trots out the possibility of another bid for governor. He couched his comments in terms of, "I've not made a final decision" but just to be safe he explains he wants to make sure his supporters are not aligned with any of the other two thousand republicans running for Jennifer Granholm's job if he does jump in. So me, present company not included, may argue Patterson tried this once before and couldn't even get the GOP nomination in 1982. Suffice it to say the 1982 version of Patterson is not the same model who contemplates running this time. Instead of a bomb-throwing persona closely aligned with the anti-cross-district busing controversy of the 1970's, Patterson is still tossing grenades but has a gravitas he didn't have before: He has an impressive record of creating jobs in his county. The 2010 race for governor will be all about the economy and jobs. But he also has baggage. His age will be one thing. Ask the aforementioned Mr. McCain if that cost him votes last November. Patterson is also an unknown quantity with voters once you leave his home turf. He can buy name ID however. And on another front voters are crying for bi-partisan cooperation in Lansing and Patterson does not exactly bring a sterling record to the table. Some say he is the reason Southeast Michigan doesn't yet have a transportation system to rival New York, Chicago and L.A. But first things first. He has to decide to run and he's clearly not there yet and chances are he won't be when push comes to shove.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Phone Lines Jammed
If you are out of work, it's bad enough that your income has been slashed, but to make matters worse, you're having trouble filing for jobless benefits to keep bread and milk on the table. Just for laughs try calling 866-500-0017. "We're sorry but all circuits are busy. Please hang up and try again." For the thousands of unemployed who have gotten that cryptic response, their frustration level is off the charts cause they can't go through. So, you might ask, why not hike on over to the unemployment office? At least you could stand in line instead of being frustrated by the jammed phone lines. Turns out there are no unemployment office to hike over to! Just before beloved Gov. John Engler hi-tailed it out of town, he shutdown each and every office around the state and installed the phone system instead. "He did a lousy job," confesses Doug Stites who use to work in the unemployment agency before heading up the Lansing office of Michigan Works. The anxiety-riddened unemployed are now flooding to those offices all over the state hoping to find a helping hand. "Our office was a zoo," Stites describes his lobby earlier this week as the state's jobless rate makes a steady climb toward 10 percent and beyond. "Because there is no long er unemployment agencies left anywhere in the state, they come to us in frustration saying, "Help me." Those who want to file can do it on the Internet, but there are still many instances where a human on the other end of the line is still needed. But help is apparently on the way. 100 new phone operators have been hired…but before they answer the phones, they, of course, have to be trained. You gotta wonder why the state was not more prepared. It's not as if this unemployment thing is some new phenomenon that just popped up.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The Thin Man
The first time former Gov. John Engler ran for governor he must have shed over 100 pounds of his excess baggage and he won. Lt. Governor John Cherry has peeled off 55 pounds from his previous 265 pound frame on his way to losing another 55. Could it be he is hoping to replicate Engler's victory? "I made a decision last year that if I was to be a candidate, there were several things I needed to do and one was to improve my health." The mere-shadow-of-his-former-self seems to be on the road to doing just that. "I feel a lot better now," he smiles as the issue of running for governor is quickly linked to his desire to replace Jennifer Granholm. Cherry laughs at the linkage but acknowledges the importance of image in the political game. He admits he lost the weight in part to "look more presentable." Frankly at a hefty 265, Cherry looked anything but presentable with the bottom button on his three piece suit busting out along with his dun-lap disease…you know his stomach dun-lap over his belt. In addition to counting calories going into his mouth, he has stopped something else from going in there, too. "I quit smoking last year around April," he boasts and unlike President-elect Obama, Cherry has not fallen off the wagon. "That's what's amazing," he boasts.
"Whether I run or not, it's got to be a plus for me," he confides. The new John Cherry is now the thin man and on his way to maybe becoming the thin governor. Maybe like his current boss who is thin, perhaps his next goal will be to add a mold on his cheek, too?
Monday, January 5, 2009
Getting To Know You
Imagine going into the office tomorrow and finding 46 new employees all of whom you have to deal with on a daily basis and you don't know most of them. Yep..that would be a challenge and that is exactly what folks in this town are facing once lawmakers return to work next week. 46 lawmakers whom everybody knew last year are long gone, as Ernie would say, and in their seats are 46 who are basically unknown quantities. It's a very disconcerting feeling to know that you need to get news out of these folks but frankly if you got in the elevator with anyone of them you'd have no idea if they were lawmakers, staffers or capitol tourists. Reporters are not the only ones suffering from term limit turnover shock. A legion of lobbyists who get paid to influence lawmakers are singing choruses of "Getting to Know You" as they move into the new legislative session. Over the holidays lobbyists were busy sending out greeting cards to the new batch of players laying the groundwork for a new relationship. To give you some feel for how tough this assignment is, for this particular correspondent I would recognize by face six out of the new bunch and two of those are former legislators. That means almost 85 percent of the incoming class is a blank slate. Which is why the picture of everyone of the newbe's is on my desk right now. Try memorizing 40 new faces between now and January 14. span>
Sunday, January 4, 2009
This Ain't Fiddler on the Roof
The Michigan legislature is a tradition-laden institution and if lawmakers were smart, which they aren't, they would scrap many of the traditions, which they won't. High on the "to-eliminate" list should be the month of January. While most working slugs around the state will head back to the grindstone this week, the state's lawmakers will not. Oh sure, some of them may move into their new offices, others will take phone calls at home and do some constituent work but basically there will be no legislating during this entire month. Both the house and senate do return next week, but tradition dictates that when a new session begins, no one is in a hurry for a variety of excuses: There are 44 new members of the house who have to settle in. The House Speaker has to re- configureate all the committees with new and old members. And all this takes time. Years ago nothing got started until the governor delivered the State of the State which set the agenda for the New Year. The tradition was that a few days after lawmakers reconvened, the governor spoke. That traditional under this governor has changed---for the worse. Instead of the SOS in mid-January, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has waited until the end of the month and sometimes even into early February to set the legislative stage which will likely be the case this year. Hey what's the rush? There are no pressing issues. The state's economy is on life support along with its major industry. The jobless rate is inching toward 10-11%. There's another pool of red ink surrounding the budget. And the battle cry to reform state government now, is heard everywhere, except in this town. There is no reason in the world why committees could not be established during December so everyone could hit the ground running in January. There is no reason why the governor could not get it in gear to deliver her speech next week, and there is no reason why state taxpayers should have to wait a month to get a full return on their investment in 148 legislators. Oh yeah, forgot, there is a reason…tradition.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Lewand: Who's On First?
What a way to end the old year and begin the new one by getting a blog all-wrong. Here's hoping you never saw it. But if you did, please accept this apology. Come to find out the Tom Lewand who runs the Detroit Lions is not the same Tom Lewand who tried his hand at running the executive office for former Gov. Jim Blanchard. What a shocker…especially to the composer of that blog. Turns out F. Tom Lewand is the old man and his offspring, Tom J. Lewand is the guy fumbling around with the so-called football team. Somewhere along the line that important fact never got into the blog. That's what you get when you wander f rom your political comfort zone into sports. Anyway, the parallel between the two still holds. F. Tom did have a tough assignment being the first Chief of Staff for Blanchard as the new governor took over from former Gov. Bill Milliken. His heart was in the right place, but Lewand just couldn't get the job done. Now with eight years under his belt in the Lion's den, son Tom has not exactly compiled a compelling record on the gridiron, but his boss, William Clay Ford, still has confidence he can turn it around. If the pundits on the sports pages are right, Ford should have done what Blanchard did to the father and shown the younger Lewand the door. Now that we have the Lewand story corrected, we begin 2009 hoping for no more prat falls in this space.