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The Detroit Free Press endorsement shows our system of government is broken

Oct 27, 2014

Yesterday, the most widely read newspaper in Michigan wrote this about Rick Snyder:

“The governor’s record of protecting Michigan’s natural assets is pretty sorry, and represents a misguided attempt to placate free-market forces at any cost.”

The Detroit Free Press added:

“When it comes to education, Snyder just doesn’t seem to get it,” and added “Michigan, during Snyder’s tenure, has become a less tolerant state, with more restrictions on reproductive rights and fewer labor protections.”

They said that the governor’s “self-fashioned profile as a champion of transparency has become a joke,” and that Snyder resists taking principled stances, something that the newspaper said “spoke volumes about his character.”

Harsh words. But now here’s the shocking part: The newspaper then endorsed Snyder’s reelection!

They did this because they said in spite of all that, the governor had shown leadership skills, and felt Democrat Mark Schauer had failed to show he could lead anywhere.

What the paper is saying, whether it realizes it or not, is that our system just isn't working.

What’s most stunning about that is not who the newspaper is supporting. Anyone reading their full endorsement article might be more inclined to apply for asylum in Canada than vote at all. What the paper is saying, whether it realizes it or not, is that our system just isn’t working. Not for you; not for me. Not for our state.

And that may just be the biggest story of all. Nor am I talking about just our race for governor. Citizens I talk with seem to feel an increasing sense of helplessness to do anything about it.

Voters who want the roads fixed, for example, elect politicians who vow to fix the roads. Then they don’t do it.

According to our classic American myth, what’s supposed to happen then is that Mr. or Ms. Smith rallies their neighbors and gets sent to Washington, or in this case Lansing, to fix things.

That may have happened once upon a time, but today Mr. Smith couldn’t do it without impoverishing his neighbors. Ellen Cogen Lipton, a state representative who lives in my neighborhood, ran in a primary for state Senator this year.

She raised and spent more than a quarter of a million dollars and finished third.

Eight years ago, Congressman Sandy Levin’s son spent nearly a million dollars to run for a state Senate seat. He too lost.

So, how can normal, decent, non-wealthy people run for office without selling their souls to special interests? Increasingly they can't, and don't.

So, how can normal, decent, non-wealthy people run for office without selling their souls to special interests?

Increasingly they can’t, and don’t.

Nor is this only our state’s problem.

Fifty miles to the south, the Toledo Blade editorial board assessed Ohio’s race for governor and told the citizens it could not in good conscience recommend voting for either candidate.

Term limits are clearly part of the problem. Bob Latta, a very conservative Ohio congressman, told me when he was in the Ohio Legislature one bureaucrat told him he didn’t care much what Latta thought because “you’ll be gone in a couple years.”

Eight days from now, we’ll have a national election in which a majority of those eligible to vote won’t even bother.

History has many examples of societies where citizens felt helpless before a system they felt powerless to change.

Usually, what eventually happens isn’t pretty.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.