It has been nearly impossible for Michigan residents to escape the barrage of political ads for the gubernatorial race in the past few months. Incumbent Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican challenger Dick DeVos turned negative early, appealing to voters’ fears – which are numerous due to the state’s poor economy. Many Michigan residents are understandably discouraged and may be inclined to vote for anyone different than the status quo.
While Michigan certainly could stand for serious changes, it would be a terrible mistake to assume that the current situation would improve under DeVos’s leadership. Indeed, governors have relatively little influence over the performance of a state’s economy, particularly in the short term. No matter who wins next Tuesday, the unpleasant reality is that the decay of Michigan’s manufacturing base will likely continue.
Although Granholm has often lacked political courage during the past four years, DeVos’s extremely conservative social views and unsound plans for running the state represent a dangerous model for change – one Michigan voters should reject.
DeVos would like voters to see him as a successful businessman with the ability and experience to whip Michigan’s economy back into shape. While DeVos’s large fortune might lend some credence to his claim of business prowess, the pseudo-pyramid scheme business model behind Amway isn’t terribly relevant to running a state government. DeVos hopes residents will assume business leadership is wholly transferable to political leadership – perhaps because he has no real experience in government. DeVos sat on the state Board of Education for two years of an eight-year term before resigning, and he quit his seat on the board of Grand Valley State University in 2000 after missing 16 of 27 meetings.
It is important to consider what actions DeVos will take to address a budget deficit, given that his plan to cut business taxes will lead to a deficiency in the state’s general fund when the state already has a structural budget deficit. It has been clear for some time that the state’s antiquated Single Business Tax needs to be restructured, but DeVos says he would only replace about half of the revenue generated by the SBT. Currently, the SBT accounts for 25 percent of the state’s general fund. Another business tax cut won’t address the long-term issues facing Michigan’s economy. Meanwhile, DeVos has avoided specifying how he’d make up the lost revenue – a dishonest but politically wise move, considering that the reduction in business taxes he proposes would likely result in enormous cuts to social programs, higher education and Medicare.
The dominance of the economy in the campaign has helped DeVos by allowing him to downplay his hardline social views. Social issues like abortion are usually Republican mainstays, but DeVos has kept surprisingly quiet on them – and for good reason. He is opposed to abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and he has spoken in support of teaching intelligent design in the classroom. DeVos may seem focused on the economy now, but if handed the keys to the governor’s mansion, voters can expect to learn just how conservative he is.
Like many voters, we’re less than thrilled with the progress Granholm has made over the last four years. True, she inherited a large structural deficit created by years of tax cuts under former Gov. John Engler, and the sharply partisan state Legislature was hostile to many of her ideas. Yet she often seemed politically unable to forge compromises on issues important to her, leading to years of cuts in state appropriations for higher education, for instance.
Nonetheless, Granholm has a more viable plan for Michigan’s future than simply cutting taxes and hoping for the best. She wants to diversify the economy though initiatives such as the 21st Century Jobs Fund, while staying committed to important issues such as health care and education. Granholm understands that telling people to just get a job if they want healthcare, as DeVos has, means little in Michigan, where layoffs are common and when fewer employers offer health insurance anyway. Instead, she’s proposed a plan that would extend coverage to a large portion of Michigan’s uninsured.
Given the choice between Granholm, with her lackluster record, and an experienced moderate Republican – say, a latter-day version of William Milliken – Granholm might not be the best option. But that’s not the decision voters have before them this fall. DeVos is simply the wrong man for the job, and the Daily endorses JENNIFER GRANHOLM for governor.