The governor’s race in Michigan is shaping up as a classic style vs. substance confrontation.
In the style corner is Democrat incumbent Jennifer Granholm, a charismatic and attractive former aspiring actress who can deliver a speech and charm a crowd with the best of them.
She’s fervently hoping that these qualities will suffice to make voters overlook the fact that her four years in office are all but universally acknowledged to have been a disaster of mammoth proportions.
At a time when most other states are sharing in the economic boom that the country as a whole is experiencing, Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, has been the only state to lose jobs over the past two prosperous years, and ranks nearly dead last in overall economic climate.
Representing substance is Republican challenger Dick DeVos, who, despite a noticeable lack of the governor’s flashier qualities, has a business background (as head of international operations for Alticor, formerly Amway) that ideally suits him to address the state’s most vexing economic issues.
Those issues are as obvious as Pinnochio’s nose after a series of particularly outlandish whoppers.
The state’s onerous tax burden was long symbolized by the Single Business Tax that was unique to Michigan. Even though unreformed economic dinosaurs defend the tax on the grounds that it raised nearly $2 billion annually in state revenue, it was also considered perhaps the prime culprit in preventing new businesses from coming to Michigan.
Naturally, the taxes that would have been paid by those who would have had jobs otherwise—not to mention the corporate taxes that would have been paid by the would-have-been employers—would have largely offset (or even exceeded) the revenue the tax managed to raise.
(Perhaps Granholm’s legacy will be that of the “would have” governor.)
Though this concept of creating jobs and increasing tax revenue through lower tax rates has been demonstrated time and again—most prominently at present by the tremendously successful Bush tax cuts—the governor of Michigan still doesn’t get it.
Her predictable response was to scramble for the nearest fence to straddle.
She said she favored repealing the tax—but only if yet another business tax could be implemented to take its place!
Sensing that Her Eminence just may be missing the point, the Republican-led legislature went ahead and abolished the tax on its own.
The governor’s response? To accuse the legislature of “cowardice.”
Dick DeVos, however, sees it otherwise.
“It’s a clear indication of the difference between us,” he says. “The issue is the attitude toward job creation in this state on my part that she doesn’t have. I’ve been on the front lines creating jobs in Michigan, while she is too weak to move the state forward and start creating opportunity.”
In addition to taxes, other failings such as excessive business regulation, skyrocketing health care costs, and an over-abundance of frivolous lawsuits have all combined to make Michigan perhaps the least business-friendly state in the country.
However, similar to her reaction to the scrapping of the Single Business Tax, Granholm again rewrites Harry Truman—by seeking to pass the buck.
Blaming the state’s clearly self-inflicted economic suffering on free trade (another of the usual suspects), she claims that Michigan jobs have “gone on a slow boat to China and on the Internet to India,” and recites this clever little ditty: “NAFTA and CAFTA have given us the shaft-a.”
But Dick DeVos says this is really nothing more than an attempt at a clever dodge.
“Michigan jobs have not gone to China and India. They’ve gone to Ohio, Indiana, and other states with less punitive tax policies, and this governor fails to recognize that,” he says. “Michigan right now has a tax and regulatory climate that kills jobs, and that’s bad for job makers, and bad for Michigan families.”
Aside from the all-pervasive economic issues, DeVos has come out on the side of conservatism on most of the contentious social issues, including opposition to abortion and gay marriage, support for the teaching of intelligent design in schools, and support for the 2nd Amendment.
One prominent exception is his opposition to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative that would ban preferential treatment in employment, education and contracting.
In this, DeVos is certainly not alone, as both parties, as well as most newspapers and business leaders have opposed it as well (though such circumstances failed to prevent similar measures from passing in liberal Washington and California).
Unfortunately, this appears to be a missed opportunity for DeVos who, in taking a position contrary to basic conservative values, has placed himself at loggerheads with a measure that has been leading despite its lack of high-visibility endorsements, and being heavily outspent by the other side.
Thus, his opposition to the initiative could cost him valuable support from voters who believe in sex-and-colorblind government.
Still, for those favoring the measure to reject DeVos on that basis would be tantamount to giving a free pass to probably to most vulnerable—and clearly undeserving—Democrat incumbent in the nation.
Though the race is currently rated a toss-up, a less than convincing performance by the political neophyte DeVos in a head-to-head debate—in which he inexplicably failed to attack Granholm on several of her most yawning failures, and himself failed to forcefully debunk a spurious Granholm intimation of unethical conduct—has many in Michigan wondering whether he has what it takes to lead the state out of a fiscal crisis.
However, the alternative – to reward Granholm with a second term for putting the state in this mess—must appear unpalatable, despite her prepossessing style.
The question is: will the voters overlook DeVos’ rough edges and focus on his undeniable substance?
The answer will reveal a lot about the mindset of the Michigan electorate.