Thursday, December 30, 2010

WKAR Video: An Evening with Governor Granholm

The Skooby Interview. It's the one I've been waiting for:

One of the better interviews, simply because Skubick has been so close to the situation for all this time. He knows the deeper questions that take Governor Granholm out of her standard talking points, ones that she had become very practiced at over the course of the other interviews (One exception: Rick Albin's interview does that as well). Although Tim loves his "gotcha" questions and will tend to focus on the fodder of sensationalism over substance, he can and does tie some of the more controversial moments to how they can affect governance, which in turn affects us all. So, I try to give Skubick a pass on some of his sillier transgressions because, as he says in this interview - substance doesn't sell papers. And that's not his fault.

Maybe that's what he has been trying to do all along, hook people in with the drama so they stay for the policy. I honestly don't know. I feel his frustration though. People would rather indulge in the political games that are played rather than talk about the work that needs to be done. I've certainly seen that happen on the ground level, you know you are seeing it at the state and national level, and that's probably been true since the beginning politics in of our country. Unfortunately that is the very thing that distracts us from the important work. Republicans know this very well, and they exploit it.

The reason I tie this interview to the ongoing battle is that the obstruction policy of Mike Bishop make an appearance here, and I feel it's important to note, for the future of the party, that this tactic will continue to work as long as there are no penalties attached to the behavior. Democrats continue to struggle to define to the public exactly what it is they are willing to fight for, and that allows the Republicans to get away bad behavior. It needs to stop.

During the 94th Legislature, Bishop made progress as difficult as he possibly could. Remember there were three separate budget battles during 2007; the mid-year shortfall and cuts, the writing of the MBT, and the final tax battle that shut down the government in one big, serious game of chicken in the fall. During these exit interviews, the Governor has been asked a few times why she didn't fix the structural deficit problem we have with our budget - and what these interviewers are forgetting is that she did give it a shot, and she tried it more than once. What happened during 2007 though set the tone for the rest of her tenure when it came to progress on this issue, as well as many others.

Most states are gradually shifting their revenue base to include services. As of 2007, Michigan ranked near the bottom in number of services taxed. Governor Granholm introduced a plan that would "lower the rate and broaden the base" - which would have helped shore up our deficit problems from there on out. (Note: No one escaped the Crash of '08, but it wouldn't be surprising to find that the states with a broader tax base fared better with budget difficulties than those who were concentrated in a few specific areas. The CBPP suggested such a thing in 2009 when states started to raise some service taxes to deal with the recession)

It was at that point that the Democratic Party's Achilles heel was exposed - and parallel these next two paragraphs to what is happening today at both the state and national level. Here is Peter Luke, March 18th, 2007.

At a Senate Finance Committee meeting Thursday convened to pretty much trash the 2-percent tax, Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, echoed emerging conservative GOP talking points that maybe Michigan spends too much on education already, given high teacher pay.

The move might wake up Democrats, who are being viewed by the GOP as too timid to raise revenue for a broken budget. House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, pretty much dismissed Granholm 's proposals for long-term funding for new education spending when he told a Detroit radio station that any tax increase could be temporary. Tax cuts worth billions of dollars would stay permanent.

Eerie coincidence? No. It's been the plan all along. We just saw it here first. And we are about to see it on a national scale in Washington.

After the bruising fights of 2007, during 2008 Mike Bishop dragged his feet on everything for as long as he could. The energy legislation was the battle; they watered it down, fought the RPS, threw up all the roadblocks they could think of. It finally got done towards the end of the year. There were some other fights as well, over the primary, etc, but the budget at that point wasn't an issue because of what was accomplished in '07, and the effects of the recession hadn't yet hit the bottom line. The budget was done, the energy legislation was done, and we focused on the election.

It's a bit of a miracle those things got done, considering what came next.

After the resounding Democratic victories in the fall of 2008, for the 95th Legislature, Mike Bishop decided that his job was to obstruct the will of the voters by blocking any and all progress for the Democratic House and the Governor. He simply said "no" to everything - and mind you, this came at a time when Michigan and the rest of the country were facing the worst economic downturn since the Depression.

Is that sinking in to anyone? At the time of acute crisis, he refused to help. He became fanatical about his ideology, to the point where he justified hurting the very state he took a vow to serve. When we needed lawmakers to pull together for the good of our citizens, Mike Bishop choose to put himself and his party first - and that has stopped a lot of progress for Michigan for the past two years. The Democrats admitted they were unwilling to take a stand, and the Republicans admitted that they would shut down the government before they would compromise on anything. And now Mike Bishop is bragging about it.

Freep: The thing about (Republican Senate Majority Leader) Mike Bishop is ...

Granholm: He wears his obstructionism like a badge of honor.

So what did we learn from this? We better figure it out, because I believe that we will see the same thing happen in Washington over the next two years. We are already seeing it now, with a record number of filibusters from the US Senate Republicans in the previous Congress, to the new Republican-controlled House changing rules that will allow even bigger tax cuts for the wealthy while they demand further cuts to public services. This is at a time where states are still struggling with record deficits that will force major cuts at the local level because we will not see any further help from DC.

Big pain is coming, and the Democrats are going to need to be bold if they are to revive the magical "voter enthusiasm" that we sorely lacked in 2010. Compromise is a good thing. Showing that you are willing to compromise goes a long way. But at some point, you have to show also that you are willing to take a stand, to fight for the things that are important to people. To fight for the people, period.

And that brings me back to my most favorite Jennifer Granholm moment ever. Before there was Mike Bishop, in 2003 there was Betsy DeVos, running around and intimidating Republican lawmakers who dared reach for compromise with our popular Democratic governor. DeVos has managed to escape scrutiny during these exit interviews, but she was a huge presence at the beginning, demanding loyalty to "party principles" from Republicans, running frivolous legal investigations on the Granholm administration, you name it, the whole Gingrich playbook was being employed.

Governor Granholm took a stand when she said this:

Gov. Jennifer Granholm unleashed a blistering attack against Republican lawmakers Friday, saying they'd rather resolve a budget deficit by cutting heating aid for seniors and assistance to homeless shelters than delay an income tax cut.

"I am not going to stand for cutting out the legs from the social safety net, balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable citizens because they (Republicans) don't have the guts to pause a rollback in an income tax that equates to $11 a person," Granholm told reporters.

She said an effort by the state Republican Party to discourage GOP lawmakers from supporting the tax cut delay "is irresponsible and cruel."

And then she threw the Bible at them. Whoa. I was hooked from that point on. It was a very bold move, one that drew some criticism, but one that set Betsy back on her heels. In the end, a compromise was reached that paused the tax cut, and also gave business a tax cut as well. It was brilliant. Granholm defined what it was that she would fight for, and then she moved to compromise.

President Obama would do well to take a lesson. Democrats in general would do well to take a lesson. After the losses of the last election, there has been plenty of discussion as to where the Democrats go next. In the interview above, Governor Granholm talks about expanding the appeal of the party, to reach out to the voters that we saw in '08 and get them back again. Well, the only way you can do that is define just what it is you stand for.

And then show you are willing to fight for it.

One of Governor Granholm's greatest accomplishments is that no one was cut from Medicaid during her tenure. We may have nibbled around the edges, but that safety net was kept intact during a time when we were cutting billions from the budget. She won that battle, it started by taking a stand years ago, and there is no doubt in my mind that it saved lives.

And that's why I got as deeply involved as I did. If the Democrats show that they are willing to stand up and fight like that, they just might be amazed at all the enthusiasm they will see from the voters in 2012.

One battle is over, and another one begins. The faces may change, but the goal remains the same - and that is to create a better world for us all.