One day this fall, I was listening to the news while driving to Lansing. The announcer, in a manner-of-fact tone, talked about the tweets the President of the United States had sent in the wee hours of the morning attacking his own secretary of state. It seems the two men differed on what approach to take in handling the dictator with nuclear weapons our chief executive was calling "Little Rocket Man."
What struck me was the degree to which this all seems normal now — the degree to which late night comedy, so-called reality TV, and the affairs of state have all merged into one giant infotainment center. There are days when I even think that I’m getting used to this, and to me, that’s the most worrisome of all.
Remarkably, there’s less of this in Michigan politics and government. We have plenty of silliness and irrational behavior, but there is still a sense in both parties that jobs and the economy, education, and health care are important things, even if we have radically different ideas about how to best accomplish them. Governor Rick Snyder, whatever you think of him, is not out there making fun of the governor of Indiana's face.
Politics in Michigan have changed, I think, less than nationally. We are still largely facing the same problems now as a year ago. Detroit is still struggling, but slowly improving. We haven’t been talking about the roads as much, but they are still just as bad.
Unemployment has fallen dramatically from the Great Recession, now almost a decade ago, but there are still not enough of the kinds of jobs that keep educated young people in the state. On top of that, we make it steadily harder for them to get an education.
That’s the backdrop, as this transitional year ends, to what seems certain to be one of the most crucial election years Michigan has in a long time. We don’t know who the candidates for the various state offices will be, but we do know we’ll have an all new crop of leaders.
A year from today, we’ll be getting ready for a new governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. Two-thirds of the state senators will be new, as will a significant proportion of the state House of Representatives.
The governor and state senators we elect next year will be the ones in power when the state next goes through redistricting, and they will draw the lines. That's unless the group called Voters Not Politicians gets their proposal for nonpartisan redistricting on the ballot and we approve it.
Michigan is still a vitally important state. Our population of nearly ten million is almost three times that of all America at the time of the founding fathers. We could easily be a country of our own, with a thriving and diverse economy.
Last month, a woman asked me what my politics were and how I thought she should vote. I told her I believed it was better to be informed than ignorant, and that we should vote for politicians who believe our children’s futures are more important than our own.
That’s my bottom line. What I know is that next year is bound to be fascinating, and I look forward to sharing what happens and my thoughts with you.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.
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