Sunday, October 15, 2006

Grand Rapids Press and DeVos.....A Knockout Punch

Dick DeVos, for a new direction

Sunday, October 15, 2006

More than a governor, Michigan voters next month will be choosing an agenda. This state sorely needs a new one to begin to climb out of the nation's economic basement.

That cheerless context of this election mustn't be minimized. Michigan is in a terrible depression. It ranks worst or near-worst in the nation in unemployment, job creation, home foreclosures and outward migration. Michigan this year, for the first time, fell below the national median in household income. The state's largest city is seeing a population free-fall and ranks as the poorest large city in the nation. Smaller cities, like Flint and Saginaw on the I-75 auto plant corridor, may be worse. Forbes magazine's state-by-state comparisons two months ago ranked Michigan as second worst in economic climate and prospects for growth.

A new course must be charted, one that confronts the reasons for Michigan's situation, that engages the global economy and moves directly to again make the state appealing to investors and entrepreneurs.

The candidate best suited for that mission is DICK DeVOS, the Ada Republican and businessman. His business background and the campaign he has waged sufficiently establish his fitness for the governor's office and the priorities he would bring to it. Those set a pro-business agenda, which is what Michigan at this moment must have. True, Michigan must invest more in its universities, improve performance in K-12 schools, make the streets safe, and care for health and the environment. But none of that will matter much if we cannot attract the employers who make it possible for us to live here.

Far more than the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Mr. DeVos has emphasized the importance of change. His campaign has centered squarely on the Michigan economy -- and on the tax policies, investment strategies, government reforms and market ventures that must be undertaken to return the state to a job-creation path. His proposal for calling a special session of the Legislature immediately after taking office might easily be dismissed as standard campaign rhetoric. But there is heavy symbolism in it, too. He would set a tone from the outset of urgency, of coming to grips with what ails Michigan.

Something about Mr. DeVos's character is notable, too. He's not afraid to pick a fight. Six years ago, he led a ballot drive for tax-paid education vouchers. We disagreed with that proposal, but we had to admire his willingness to wade into what anyone could see was going to be a very tough battle. As governor, we would expect him to face up to interest groups and political factions -- left and right -- that stand in the way of the reform Michigan needs.

We find much to like personally about Gov. Granholm. She is charismatic and optimistic. There is no denying that her rough road in office largely has been shaped by circumstances beyond her control. But as Ms. Granholm didn't cause Michigan to roll to a standstill, neither has she been able to use her skills to persuade her political power base to join the fight to get the state moving again -- at least to catch up with other industrial states. Whether this is a failure of will or fear of risktaking isn't clear. But Ms. Granholm has been all too reluctant to break with the circle of interest groups that backed her election four years ago and remain her political pillars now. Those attachments, to labor unions most notably, have stood in the way of significant education and economic reforms -- many of them represented in the scores of vetoes she has cast.

The governor has been all-but absent from the current fight against Proposal 5, a union-initiated plan on the ballot that would shift massive state funding to school employee accounts at the expense of other state services. Though she says she opposes the proposal, the lack of a vigorous fight corresponding to the threat is not to her credit.

Nor has her campaign been helpful to the state. Her strategy of attacking the foreign trade record of Mr. DeVos's former company, Alticor, ignores today's economic paradigm: Every successful company must compete in the global village. Coming from the sitting governor, the blasts suggest that Michigan is detached from the realities of international trade -- not far from the 1960s images of Michigan autoworkers bashing the windows of Japanese cars.

Michigan has to get beyond that xenophobic past. The future is in engaging the world. The two trade offices that the governor has abroad don't suggest global trade's importance and opportunity, especially with Asia. The same goes for her rare overseas travels. Mr. DeVos proposes opening 10 trade offices and aggressively stepping up pursuit of markets and investors.

That's the kind of choice Michigan voters now face. The names on the ballot, Granholm and DeVos, represent very different agendas. Michigan has a four-year familiarity with one. For the future, a far better chance rests with the alternative offered by Dick DeVos.

No comments: