Uniting divided polities is frequently a topic of national elections, but seldom of gubernatorial races. However, the climate and debate of the race for governor of Michigan suggest that more needs to be done to unite the state and address its concerns as a whole.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick recently drew criticism from state Republicans for drafting a memo to Jennifer Granholm asking for state buildings, contracts and jobs for Detroit in exchange for his help in rallying voters. The memo, which Granholm says she never received, became the subject of an ad favoring the Dick Posthumus campaign suggesting that Detroiters were only looking out for themselves – effectively pitting the city against the state, urban against rural and black against white.
In the upcoming election the state is largely divided between east and west sides. Eastern areas, which are seen as largely supporting Granholm, include areas like Detroit, Flint, Saginaw and the Upper Peninsula. Among the issues such areas confront are lagging economies, blight, urban sprawl, under-funded schools and dying industry. The western side of the state, which has prospered under the Engler administration, includes more conservative cities like Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Lansing and forms a base of support for Posthumus.
Political division can be seen on a smaller scale within Michigan’s metro areas; Posthumus seeks and gets support from suburbs, while Granholm’s support lies within more urban areas. The fractionalization of the Michigan electorate is not only caused by economics and geography, but encompasses issues of cultural values, ethnicity and race.
Republican rhetoric in the campaign has further strained relations. Posthumus has insinuated that puerile distinctions, such as his enjoyment of hunting, his in-state education and even his preference of beer to wine, somehow qualifies him as an authentic Michigander, in contrast to his opponent.
Attempts to divide the state distract voters from the reality that what is good for Grand Rapids is not necessarily adverse to Detroit and vice versa. Recently Kilpatrick has tried to encourage cooperation with other urban cities in Michigan, such as Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo. His call for cooperation among the mayors of Michigan’s urban cities has been a well-received step toward mutual cooperation between all cities in Michigan.
What Michigan needs is a gubernatorial candidate who can unite the interests of various areas into one cohesive plan for the betterment of all of Michigan. In the last days of the election, more time needs to be spent addressing problems that confront Michigan as a whole. Emphasis should be placed on values shared by Michigan voters, rather than the petty distinctions that separate them.
Detroit is an integral a part of Michigan; while it has special needs, it is not unreasonable for the state to be concerned about its particular development. In gubernatorial candidates’ quests to assemble winning coalitions, however, one section of the state should not be pitted against the other. Employment and economic growth concern every Michigan voter – it’s time to regain that focus.