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Politics & Government

Commentary: The week that was


 When this week began, it looked as if the legislature and governor had finally found a compromise formula that would allow Medicaid to be expanded to nearly half a million poor Michiganders. It also looked as if the race for the next mayor of Detroit would come down to a contest between Mike Duggan, a man of many past political jobs, and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

But the week ended with the Medicaid compromise falling apart; Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr taking steps that probably moved the city closer to a bankruptcy filing, and with  Duggan tossed off the ballot and out of the mayor’s race. On the plus side for Detroit, the Ilitch family announced that a long-rumored six hundred and fifty million dollar new hockey arena would be built on the edge of downtown.

So it was quite a week. Of all these things, the sudden demise of the Duggan campaign is the most baffling. Most of the smart money, and most of those in a position to donate campaign money, were betting on Mike Duggan to be Detroit’s next mayor.

When a local district judge ruled him off the ballot on a minor technicality, I expected the Michigan Court of Appeals to speedily reverse that ruling. Instead, they sustained it, two to one.

Bafflingly, Duggan then refused to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, even though he might well have succeeded there. That would appear to mean Benny Napoleon has a clear shot at being Detroit’s next mayor, a job that might mean something if and when the Emergency Manager leaves. What gives cause for concern is that Napoleon has so far been unable to talk about very much other than fighting crime.

The buzz now is over what Mike Duggan will do next. Running for governor would appear to make little sense, given that the party has coalesced around former congressman Mike Schauer.

A divisive and expensive primary is the last thing Democrats need or want. But there is a logical next step for Duggan: Running for Wayne County Executive next year. The incumbent, Robert Ficano, is totally discredited. Wayne County needs reform almost as much as Detroit does.  And, here is an intriguing thought. For years, some urbanologists have said the best thing for Detroit would be to merge it with Wayne County. Imagine a politically savvy Mike Duggan engineering this once he has cleaned up Wayne County and Detroit has gone through its agonies.

We might finally have a viable urban core. And we also have to ask ourselves whether Governor Snyder finally learned his lesson this week about trying to appease the far right. Despite his pleas, the state senate essentially humiliated him by refusing to vote on Medicaid expansion, because too many Republicans were afraid of the Tea Party.

The governor might want to take a lesson from history. Forty-nine years ago, another business-oriented governor, George Romney refused to appease the Tea Party of his day, the Goldwater Republicans. When they captured the GOP, he refused to support his party’s candidate for president. They vowed to defeat him.

But Romney won in a tremendous ticket-splitting landslide. Sometimes, doing the right thing is more than its own reward.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry 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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