Honeymoon Period

February 11, 2003
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If Thursday's coming out party in Grand Rapids for Gov. JenniferGranholm was any indication, the next four years should be interesting.

Granholm, on the day after her State of the State address, spent time in GR promoting technology, the economy, and, maybe more importantly, goodwill.

About 1,500 people packed into the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting to hear the new governor's views on a variety of topics. And attendees had plenty of views of their own.

"I didn't vote for her, but I like her," said noted philanthropist PeterCook

Hopefully, the same sentiments would be forthcoming from Van Andel Institute Chairman DaveVanAndel, who spent most of the event at Granholm's right elbow and, presumably, her ear.

The governor's tough budget battle already has pinpointed the Life Sciences Corridor as a possible funding casualty, but Van Andel had plenty of time to put forth his powers of persuasion in the other direction.

As Michigan's first female governor, Granholm represents a change in operation at the top. For the GRACC, that should be a change that is wholeheartedly embraced.

Former chamber executive director MiltRohwer started a cultural diversity drive during his tenure that current chief JohnBrown has continued with vigor. But it's more than just race and gender.

The initiative, to borrow an often-used phrase by Granholm, is about partnerships.

The GRACC has been forming alliances with the Lakeshore chambers and its counterpart in Detroit, and Granholm used that as an example of what she wants her gubernatorial stint to envelope.

And judging by the looks of Thursday's lunch crowd, another bit of diversity has entered into the picture: age.

The chamber's sound and light show, while admittedly a little over the top, featured music that was somewhat (OK, a lot) hipper than in years past. But the music was appropriate because many of the faces in the crowd were 20-somethings. Part of that might be the appeal of Granholm herself, but Brown and Co. were wise to take advantage of the situation.

But that doesn't mean the old guard was left with nothing to cheer. PeterWege, longtime environmentalist who has spread his message from Costa Rica to Europe and all points in between, had reason to smile at Granholm's mention of fuel cell research. For a man who has spent a lifetime traveling the world and promoting environmental awareness, it must be nice that the governor of his home state finally gets it, too.

As for the governor herself, Granholm seemed a little taken aback by all the noise and hoopla. Getting 1,500 to turn out from a Republican stronghold for a speech by a Democratic governor is, after all, somewhat overwhelming.

Upon taking the stage following the raucous introduction, Granholm remarked that she had never seen a chamber of commerce annual meeting quite like the one Thursday.

"I knew Grand Rapids was a happening place," she said.

  • One of the warmer scenes at the luncheon included Eastern Floral & Gift owner BingGoei walking through the crowd with a bouquet of flowers for the new governor.

Goei, it should be noted, is quietly putting out feelers regarding a campaign for mayor of Grand Rapids. GeorgeHeartwell is the early frontrunner, but Goei brings plenty to the table.

He's a big advocate for diversity issues and has helped the chamber and other groups with which he's been involved to examine those issues. Goei, political trackers might remember, got his feet wet with a failed Grand Rapids City Commission bid four years ago.

But it seems his desire to see this city become the best it can be just won't go away.

  • Speaking of going away, Granholm exited the chamber luncheon to the Motown standard "My Girl."

While instances such as this are cute, it would be unwise to underestimate the political prowess of the new governor, especially following her State of the State address that preached unity and touched on a number of issues ranging from education to health care to technology.

The line about being elected as Democrats and Republicans, but serving as Michiganians and Americans, pretty much blunted any sort of political backbiting that may have been lurking.

Here's the early response from the Republican camp.

"For more than a decade Michigan Republicans have made significant strides to improve the lives of residents. We stand ready to work with the governor to build on our successes. We need to set priorities like education, safety, health care and economic development, all while being fiscally responsible," said Rep. JerryKooiman, R-Grand Rapids.

"The governor shared an optimistic view of Michigan's future. It was good to hear we share many common goals. I look forward to working with the new administration to do what is right for the people of Michigan," said Rep. JoanneVoorhees, R-Wyoming.

"Our tough fiscal situation presents many problems and there are no easy solutions. I am ready to listen to the governor's proposals and make sure all decisions are based on fairness for the people of West Michigan," said Rep. Glenn Steil Jr., R-Grand Rapids.

"In the last 10 years Republicans have fought hard to make education our No. 1 priority. As chair of the Senate Education Committee, I will help ensure that Michigan students and families receive the best education possible. I look forward to working with the governor's administration on this issue for the betterment of our children and our state," said Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland.

So far, it sounds like the choir is singing the same tune.

But that wonderful honeymoon period between State of the State and submission of a balanced budget is just beginning.

We'll see how much harmony there is in Lansing in a few weeks.        

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