Republicans, Pursue Your Agenda with Gusto

Advice for the Legislative majority

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in The Detroit News on March 9, 2017.

Michigan Republicans own a unique moment in this state’s political history. If you are a member of the GOP, your party controls the White House, Congress, the governor’s office and the state legislature. The last time this occurred? The Hoover administration. Given this opportunity, policymakers should pursue their agenda with gusto.

Gov. Rick Snyder will finish his second term with the luxury of single-party control in the Legislature for his entire administration. During that time, he and lawmakers contributed to an impressive economic recovery, pulling the state out of a 10-year nosedive.

But the last two years have tested Republicans’ ability to achieve significant reforms. The Flint water crisis disrupted the governor’s plans and it rightfully requires his attention. In the Legislature, internecine fights over Detroit education, infrastructure spending and energy reform have at times stymied a free-market agenda.

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Looking ahead to the next two years, I humbly offer this advice:

Govern boldly. The governing party must create the future and not merely react to it. Playing not to lose is a risky proposition — just ask the Atlanta Falcons, who coughed up a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. When a party governs only to not lose a majority, it results in milquetoast achievements. If Donald Trump’s election teaches us anything, it is that one who discards political norms may give himself the best chance to win.

Governing with boldness may require lawmakers to defy political convention, as House Speaker Tom Leonard showed recently. The new speaker put a modest tax cut up for a vote, knowing he lacked the necessary votes within his own caucus. Political commentators labeled the move divisive, but time may reveal that voters appreciated the clarity the vote gave. Let’s hope the House reconsiders a tax cut for Michigan families.

Govern for all people. Too much legislation carves out special privileges that benefit small groups of people. A more appropriate approach is to serve people broadly. Policymakers are debating bills that would give well-connected developers a generous slice of tax revenue if they develop certain blighted properties. This benefit to a few will be paid for by many. Not only are corporate giveaways unfair, they rarely work. Subsidies like this represent the triumph of hope over experience, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson.

One method of governing for all people is to build alliances with those who are troubled by the current political environment. Go to them; listen to their concerns. Many policymakers, to their credit, are doing so this year in their town hall meetings with constituents. If you go to people with an open mind, you may find priorities you can advance together. Another modest suggestion to keep politicians grounded: Serve people in a hands-on way. Hard work has a way of centering us; find opportunities to break a sweat and get dirty while serving others.

Embrace constitutional exegesis. It is never out of season to explain what makes America great. The rule of law, opportunity, separation of powers, liberty and responsibility — each person involved in the political process should pass these values on to the next generation. An example: The right to free speech is enshrined in the First Amendment. But the right to speak is best exercised with courtesy and engagement. It does not mean that a person can expect to be free from being offended or from hearing divergent views. Are we modeling this?

Govern for the long term. One of the consequences of partisan politics is that elected officials focus only on the next election. Laws are enacted for the immediate benefit — a press release, a headline — but not with the next decade in mind. Tackling the state’s unfunded pension liabilities would be a good start for lawmakers. Such a priority won’t earn much short-term praise but could divert the state’s course away from a pending fiscal calamity.

Govern boldly. Do so for the benefit of all people. Explain our constitutional values. And be mindful of the long-term effects of policy.

The next two years provide a perishable opportunity. What will you do with it?


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