When Jesse Ventura ran for governor of Minnesota in 1998, he campaigned with one simple message: “Retaliate in ’98.” Part of that slogan was a playful take on his pro-wrestling career as Jesse “The Body” Ventura. But that slogan was also a battle cry against the two-party system in Minnesota that had distanced itself from the people so much so that it no longer represented their interests.
While Ventura’s victory in 1998 was criticized as “a triumph for political showmanship, anti-intellectualism and the trivialization of the electoral process” by people like Steven Dornfeld of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, it still scared the hell out of Minnesota’s two major parties. For once, they had to think about losing to a new challenger – a seemingly unqualified and dim-witted wrestler nonetheless.
This is exactly what Michigan needs right now: a viable third-party challenger to shake up the state’s politicians.
Granted, “dim-witted” doesn’t usually come to mind when I think of the perfect governor. And for some odd reason I don’t think that a pro-wrestler is qualified to be the governor of the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country. But Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s Harvard law degree hasn’t done much to make her a leader either.
Take, for instance, the recent debacle over the state’s budget crisis. While many use the collapse of the auto industry as the all-encompassing excuse for Michigan’s economic crisis, state leaders should be sharing in the blame as well.
In her State of the State address in February, Granholm told her fellow lawmakers that, “We cannot afford to be divided or to be timid.” She was exactly right. But since then, she has been just that, and Democrats and Republicans in Lansing have been as divided as ever. Her timid approach to political bargaining has made her the ineffective leader of a divided government that has allowed petty differences in ideology to render it useless.
After proposing her budget, the governor expectedly ran into Republican opposition to her proposed tax increases. What followed was a pointless tug-of-war between state Republicans who wouldn’t vote for anything with a tax increase and state Democrats who couldn’t come up with a compromise or, even, a more innovative way to raise revenue. Neither party wanted to fall in the mud and risk losing a votes.
Meanwhile, as the budget deficit swelled to $802 million, Speaker of the House Andy Dillon (D-Redford Township) and other House Democrats proposed buying every student an iPod, roughly 80 state officials went to Honolulu for a week-long pension conference on the taxpayers’ dime and more than 350,000 Michigan residents continued to be unemployed. When a budget finally got passed last Friday, it didn’t even cut the deficit in half because the cuts are temporary fixes that will need to be addressed next fiscal year. Not to mention that the majority of those cuts came at the expense of one of the state’s few bright spots: its universities.
Together, the parties let the state slip further into the black hole of debt and unemployment. And the people who suffer because of all this are not those lawmakers in Lansing; it’s the people who voted for them.
It’s no wonder that people hate politicians.
But what’s even sadder is that these politicians will get re-elected year after year. In the current two-party system, incumbents rarely lose, and if they do their replacements are politicians who are just as likely to adhere to their party’s platform. While this is largely the case because campaign finance and ballot-access restrictions limit the ability of third parties to contend, it doesn’t make it acceptable. If Michigan residents want to hold the state’s major parties accountable for this incompetence, they should do it by rejecting this system.
I don’t think that a third-party candidate could win in Michigan. I don’t even think I want one to win. But I want something to convince the legislators in Lansing that incompetence has consequences.
The best way for that to happen is if voters “Retaliate in ’08.”
Gary Graca is the summer editorial page editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.