Primaries portend policy not politics reigns

August 9, 2010
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The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce West Michigan Policy Forum next month is particularly well-timed in a year that invites voters of every stripe to make decisions on the leadership of a historic number of Congressional, state House and Senate seats, and the gubernatorial race.

If the past week represented the voices of those who will actually vote in Michigan, the race is on in regard to policies — not politics, and issues — not special interests.

Voters indicated they were sick of the extremist lies and negative campaigning, most especially those of organizations that do not pay taxes in the peninsula state but who exported poison from far-flung states. Its backlash was most obviously noted during a debate of 2nd Congressional District candidates during which Jay Riemersma was heckled with the words “man up” in his non-response to questions of his knowledge of negative campaign ads on his behalf.

The recently introduced Michigan Truth Squad has been the Snopes of campaign truth to keep the electorate correctly informed. The group of fact-finders has been hired by the nonpartisan Center for Michigan, a nonprofit that predicted voter backlash against the political paralysis that has left Michigan mired in economic morass.

The Michigan Business Tax and the fact that every MBT policy change attempted has been stalled is more proof of that paralysis. During the chamber’s first policy conference in 2008, former state Sen. Ken Sikkema led a discussion session focused on state government. When audience members brought up the MBT and necessary changes, Sikkema told them the MBT was a done deal, and he wasn’t going to spend time talking about it. Almost every member of the audience told him he was wrong.

Surely such sentiments further festered these past two years and helped Rick Snyder claim the GOP gubernatorial nomination. It was a major point of opposition to state Sen. Bill Hardiman’s bid for the 3rd District Congressional seat.

The agonizing frustration of political paralysis is now shared … with the politicians.

The Chamber does not anticipate setting any new agenda items during the conference, but will add the education issues discussed two years ago to the list of top five policy concerns. And both gubernatorial candidates are expected to attend and provide answers to those concerns. The MBT tops that list, and is followed by right-to-work status for Michigan, funding for health care providers with prevention practices, state government permit process streamlining, and funding mechanisms for the state’s transportation infrastructure.

Michigan has been further depleted and defeated in the continued loss of federal matching dollars to fund such initiatives, as budget impasses have hamstrung the state’s match for transportation and for health care, among others.

Undoubtedly the most grueling task facing the governor and legislature in 2011 will be structural changes in state budgeting, and there is no shortage of advice or models. The success of that will rest on the shoulders of legislators who concentrate on policy, not politics.

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