Michigan will recover, despite leadership

For the third time in four years, the Michigan budget came down to the wire. It appears a shutdown will be avoided. Legislators reached a deal with Gov. Granholm on an early retirement package for state workers a week ahead of Friday’s deadline.

There’s plenty to be discussed about the details of the deal and, for that matter, the other budget agreements that have been signed into law in Lansing over the last week or two. But perhaps the more important discussion revolves around Lansing itself, and maybe even Michigan as a whole.

Your government is failing you. That’s probably obvious if you’ve lived here during the last decade. The not-so-obvious part of this discussion is how we fix it or if we even can.

When you tell people outside of the state you’re from Michigan, they usually respond with sympathy, disgust, or surprise you haven’t sunken into the Great Lakes under the weight of impending doom. To most of the country, this state is a wasteland. It’s the Titanic, and we’re the people who couldn’t find room on a lifeboat. The eulogies have been written. They’re just waiting for the funeral.

But, comebacks are possible. This country is built on the backs of people who were written off. If prosperity is the American dream, redemption is the American story. The phrase “It’s never too late” is etched in our identity.

Michigan is no different. The state can recover, just not like this — not without real leadership and honesty.

Distrust has boiled over to the point some, including an Op-Ed column in Sunday’s AnnArbor.com newspaper, are calling for a constitutional convention to rewrite the state charter. It’s clear things need to change in Michigan. Here’s where to start.
The first step is to throw out any and all officials who aren’t serving the state well. This isn’t a Tea Party, anti-incumbent message. It’s not about ideology; it’s about people being bad at their jobs. Governing through a recession requires a lot of hard choices and inventive thinking. Those qualities are lacking in Michigan’s government.

In this regard, New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie should serve as a model. To survive a recession, you have to be bold. You have to do things that make enemies. The Michigan approach has tried to please everyone and therefore, ended up pleasing no one.

The second step is much more difficult, though. It’s something you probably aren’t ready to hear. It’s a collective realization Michigan will never be what it was 60 years ago, when it was the engine of the American century.

The auto industry is Michigan’s past, but not its future. The empires built by our parents and grandparents have crumbled. That doesn’t mean we stop making cars or buying American made automobiles, but we need to realize this part of our identity is fading.

It’s not the way forward. I know people in this state have an emotional, if not religious attachment to the auto industry. It’s who we are. But, more accurately, it’s who we were.

The most important step in Michigan’s recovery is recognizing the recovery will not be a recovery of our old way of life, it will be a new way of life. The standard of living can come back. The population and the importance can come back, just with a new economic model.

It’s the cost of progress. I know it’s difficult to cope with the idea someone else, someone in another country now does your job. Your job was your identity. Losing your job was like losing your spouse. It’s hard to hear, but it’s never coming back. A new one will come along though, just as long as you stop trying to save the old one.

Our energy needs to turn to the next step. The end of an era in Michigan doesn’t mean the end of Michigan.

We need that same approach everywhere. We need to understand schools and businesses will have to adapt and change with the times. Nothing is forever.

But, politicians won’t tell you that because it’s unpopular to tell you your job isn’t coming back. It’s unpopular to say you need to learn to live with that idea. It’s much easier to say evil corporations and greedy executives are sending your job away to make a profit, so that’s what you hear.

Politicians need to show leadership and courage. They need to take the steps necessary to create a new era in Michigan. They need to tell the truth and get you to believe in temporary pains that yield future success.

So while the eulogies are being written by people who’ve never set foot in Michigan, don’t cling to the past because you believe there is no future. There is a future.

It will be difficult and there will be times that look bleak, but America is a place for comebacks. A place for redemption. A place for new beginnings. And Michigan can be, too. Remember nothing lasts forever, including failure.

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