Is Michigan on the Rise?

As stated previously on this blog, the states are where innovation is. California has been getting much attention for this. Although the new California Renaissance is not as bright as it seems, the state is heading in a better direction, and Jerry Brown’s unlikely popularity reflects that. In New Jersey, Chris Christie has led a turnaround that has lifted him to political stardom and possibly to the Republican nomination. And in Ohio, John Kasich’s recent turnaround is gaining more and more attention.

But there’s another turnaround that few are talking about, and it’s going on in what Ohioans call “That State Up North”. Yes, I’m talking about Michigan. 

It may seem strange at first because the biggest political story out of Michigan has to do with Detroit, a city in such trouble that it was given an emergency manager by the state. Even he couldn’t prevent a bankruptcy. But outside of the blighted city of Detroit there’s a remarkable thing happening. The current Governor, Rick Snyder, isn’t a well known figure. Perhaps this is because he doesn’t give charismatic or memorable speeches, like Brown, Kasich, or Christie does. In fact, he describes himself as a nerd. But his work in Michigan is, upon closer inspection, the least reported comeback story in America.

Born in Battle Creek, Michigan, Snyder grew up in a 900 square foot house, a fact he has mentioned while campaigning. He was one of the founder of the Gateway computer company and has helped with the formation of a handful of lesser known businesses. Despite having no experience in politics, Snyder ran for Governor in 2010 against Lansing Mayor Virg Bernaro. He claimed in a clever advertising campaign that he was “one tough nerd.” In a year of Republican successes, Snyder won the election comfortably.

The statistics show that Snyder, a fairly moderate and pragmatic conservative, has accomplished a long list of things in his first term. The state’s budget deficit is gone and there is money flowing into the bank from the state for the first time in nearly a decade. And this was done not through tax increases – Snyder even eliminated the Michigan Business Tax altogether. Once ranked 49th in the country for business climate by the Tax Foundation, Michigan has climbed to 7th. Snyder also signed right to work legislation. On that, the jury remains out. It triggered massive protests, and could hurt his reelection chances. That said, right to work laws have worked elsewhere.

Snyder touts Michigan as “the comeback state”. There is certainly truth to this. The gains are also not limited to the economy. The new Healthy Michigan program addressed the gaping hole in the president’s healthcare plan – wellness. It’s proved to be one of the better programs in the nation. There have been education reforms as well: a program allowing high school students to take more college classes has lowered higher education costs.

It hasn’t been all positive though. The glaring exception to this comeback is the city of Detroit, which declared bankruptcy earlier this year. Snyder appointed Kevyn Orr to run the city under the state’s rather infamous emergency manager law. Detroit is a mess by any measurement. For example, it takes police a little under an hour on average to respond to calls. As a friend of mine pointed out after visiting Detroit, Pizza Hut is faster than the Detroit Police. Large portions of the city are abandoned. Crime and drug use are out of control. Snyder’s legacy, if he’s reelected, largely hinges on what happens with Detroit. Although that isn’t entirely fair to Snyder or to local leaders in Detroit, it’s the political reality. The Detroit story has a much higher profile than the positive development in places like Ann Arbor, Traverse City, and Grand Rapids. If signs of a turnaround start to appear in Detroit, Snyder may begin to take a higher profile and maybe even make a run for the presidency. If he does, America will ponder the question: is it time for a nerd? Michigan, it seems, needed one.

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The Slow, Agonizing Decline of California

In August, Rolling Stone magazine wrote a piece entitled, “Jerry Brown’s Tough-Love California Miracle”. The article, written by Tim Dickinson, opened with a piece showing the 75-year-old California governor surrounded by a ray of light. The picture bears a certain resemblance to a painting one might find in a Catholic Church, with the light of God radiating out from a saint. They hailed his leadership as a “global model”.

Brown was not the first in his family to run California, nor is this the first time he has held that job. His father, Pat Brown, was California’s governor in the 1960s before being defeated by Ronald Reagan. When Reagan moved on to the national stage, Brown ran for governor and was elected in 1974. To put this in perspective, Barack Obama was twelve years old when Brown took office. Being long in the tooth should not disqualify a man from holding a political position, but Brown has little record to show for it. His most recent tenure in office is far from the success as portrayed in Rolling Stone.

The economic situation in the Golden State is a mess. Once cost of living is considered, nearly one forth of California residents live beneath the poverty line. The state’s unemployment rate is among the nations highest. The exact number varies from report to report, however the San Diego Union Tribune placed the figure at a staggering 18.3 percent (the statistic was among “Californians who want to work full time”. This may have included those working part time jobs). That number may be an overestimate, but even the lowest statistics put the state’s unemployment rate at nearly 9 percent. Moreover, the state government is drowning in astounding levels of debt. The state’s Budget Crisis Task Force stated in their report that the state’s debt was at least $167 billion. The report also asserted that the high end of the range for the state’s debt was around $335 billion. That is greater than the combined wealth of the six richest people on earth.

A National Review article written in response to the Rolling Stone one brought up an interesting question. How is California in a state of economic disaster? This question is genuinely a perplexing one. In Hollywood, California is home to the epicenter of the entertainment business. Silicon Valley is the hub of the huge and growing technology sector. The state has several of America’s top universities and many of its most successful companies. California has prosperous farms, a highly successful wine industry, incredible natural resources, and a tourism sector covering everywhere from Yosemite National Park to Beverly Hills. By all accounts, making a state as blessed with natural and manmade assets work financially should be relatively easy. And yet the state struggles.

Jerry Brown is up for reelection in 2014. Most pundits have said this race will be his for the taking. I wouldn’t be so sure. He could very well be upstaged by a well run Republican challenge or even a centrist Democrat in the primaries. Recall that in 2009, nobody believed Chris Christie had a chance in deep blue New Jersey. A similar result, although unlikely, is a nagging possibility threatening to bring the saint like picture that many have of Jerry Brown crashing down.


Storm over Texas: Wendy Davis, Rick Perry, and the Changing Politics of Abortion

On June 25, 2013, Wendy Davis, previously an obscure Texas state senator from Fort Worth,  stood on stage for an amazing eleven hours to oppose Texas Senate Bill Five, which would increase regulations on abortion clinics and ban abortion after twenty weeks. After being stopped from speaking on a technicality, a mob of protesters entered the chamber, angrily shouting down the bill in a “people’s veto”. The bill passed, but the vote was illegal on the count of it being held a few minutes after midnight.

The liberal leaning mainstream media hailed Davis as a hero who stood up against a bill prompted by the hatred of women. They also hailed her as a likely candidate for governor in 2014 and stated her rise was indicating that Texas was transforming into a blue state. When Rick Perry pointed to Davis’ own life as evidence to support his side he was attacked as an anti-woman bigot. The GOP was painted even more as a party of misogynists.

There are several holes in this argument. Firstly, the media claimed that the bill would close all but five abortion clinics in Texas. In truth it would force all but five abortion clinics in Texas to upgrade their facilities to meet the new regulations. The other misleading talking point coming from the media (particularly from MSNBC) was that the bill was prompted by a desire to reduce the rights and freedoms of women.

The true motivation behind SB5 was to respond to the recent activities of Dr. Douglas Karpen. Earlier this year four former employees of the Aaron Women’s Clinic that Karpen runs stated that activities similar to those of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Pennsylvania were a regular occurrence; most notably they accused the clinic where they had previously been employed of delivering live, viable babies and killing them, a practice which is against the law in Texas (and everywhere else in the United States for that matter). Karpen is also accused of being responsible for the death of teenager after a botched abortion. It is clear that women were being exploited in this clinic and others like it. The response of the state legislature was to subject abortion clinics to the same health regulations as any other surgical center.

It was with the 20-week ban that the legislature stepped into territory that could be called with some merit part of the war on women. The Senate rejected this when it was proposed on a national scale and the bill was strongly condemned by President Barack Obama, who is one of the strongest supporters of reproductive rights. Wendy Davis is being called an American hero for stopping it. America is a country that celebrates anyone who stands up for what they believe in. This belief is part of the American fabric; it is why John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage was such a success. One’s courage does not depend on one’s political view. Abortion opponents such as Marjorie Dannenfelser or Lila Rose exhibit similar courage.

The outlook in the medium and short term for the pro-choice position is not as rosy as the media would report. A recent poll from Gallup released on May 23 of this year reported that Americans now tilt pro life by a nine-point margin. By contrast, in 1996 the country leaned pro choice by 23 points. The trend is against the pro-choice movement at the moment. Wendy Davis’ courageous stand was commendable. However, her side is, in contrast to what the mainstream media says, on the decline.


The Quiet Ohio Revolution

The rest of America should take a look at Ohio.

Currently our nation is faced with debt problems and a far to high unemployment rate. We do not need to look to other countries for solutions. A success story in dealing with similar problems exists in our own country.

In 2010 Ohio was at a low-point. The state’s job creation ranking was hovering around 47th place and the state had 89 cents in the bank. As then candidate for governor John Kasich pointed out, most toddlers have more than 89 cents in their piggy banks. In 2010, incumbent governor Ted Strickland lost in a close race to Kasich in a year marked by a resurgent GOP.

This new conservative leadership didn’t start off terribly well. On early issue was Senate Bill 5, a law restricting collective bargaining rights. It went down in flames during a special election.

It was not long after this defeat that Kasich and his allies began to resurrect their administration and their credibility. Kasich, who was a leader of the Clinton era balanced budget effort, balanced the state’s budget and lowered the income taxes. By the end of 2012 Ohio was 4th in the country in job creation and first in the Midwest. There has been bipartisanship in this effort as well. The governor partnered with Democratic Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson to spur redevelopment in the city. Today the state unemployment is well below the national average.

Kasich has also shown the willingness to compromise on certain issues, especially the Medicaid expansion that has irritated the state legislature. This combination of conservatism and compromise has done well for the former Fox News host. He now has a 54% approval rating including an impressive 63% rating among the lucrative 18-29 group (source: Quinnipiac University Polling, June 24, 2013).

For all the failures of the Republican Party at the national level, strong leadership exists at the state level. It’s not just in Ohio. Rick Snyder brought Michigan back from the brink and Chris Christie has done great things for New Jersey.

The problems of the United States today looks remarkably like those faced by Ohio in 2011. The president and the congress could learn a lot from the quiet revolution that has occurred in Ohio in recent years.