This column originally appeared in the Detroit News.
Shortly after ascending to the Presidency, Barack Obama, angry at his political opponents and with his eye already on the next election, weaponized the IRS against conservative groups and tea party organizations who opposed him.
Every morning, we wake up to a new spate of tweets from President Donald Trump, whose personal style and approach to governing couldn’t be more intentionally antagonistic or combative, in particular towards for-profit media.
There’s an all-too-human temptation when a new party rises to power for victors to set about punishing defeated opponents. Years in the political wilderness are often spent plotting and planning policy priorities and – sometimes – partisan payback.
That’s an approach that Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer would be wise to reject. The same goes for incoming Attorney General Dana Nessel and the next Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson.
Revenge is an approach that sows division, coarsens the public dialogue, and plants seeds of contempt for our leaders and our institutions. It’s also an approach that stifles growth, with working families paying the biggest price.
Thankfully, that’s an approach we didn’t see 8 years ago when Governor Rick Snyder took office after nearly a decade of Democratic control. Instead of focusing on recriminations and “getting even,” he went to work on the basics and shot Michigan’s economy into the stratosphere.
Relentless Positive Action, as the Governor calls it, really worked. That’s an approach the state’s new Democratic leadership should embrace and emulate. Refusing to do so risks not only their reputation, but the remarkable progress Michigan’s made over the last 8 years.
Focusing on petty recrimination instead of progress would also risk their ability to get anything done. Governor Snyder, further to his credit, chose to forgo partisan punishment despite the fact that his political party held both the state House and state Senate. Governor-elect Whitmer will helm a split government, with Republicans maintaining majority control of both chambers.
In other words, by running to the radical left and throwing bombs at the center-right, Whitmer, Nessel, and Benson will simultaneously enflame an opposition party in position to effectively check many of their more extreme impulses, while simultaneously imperiling their ability to get anything substantial done on behalf of Michigan families. High risk. No reward.
It may be naïve to hope Whitmer won’t govern from her party’s far left fringes. Her legislative track record and her years spent stumping across the state in pursuit of the Governor’s office point to a radical, left wing partisan, with a penchant for making things personal.
What’s still left to determine is whether as governor she’ll focus on progressive policy positions or the age-old Democratic politics of personal destruction and identity division.
Will she fix the damn roads, or declare war on Michigan workers by trying to strip away the freeassociation rights of those who build them?
Will she empower Michigan public school teachers, or push to fire thousands of the public school teachers who work in innovative, high performing public charter schools?
Will Nessel work with Whitmer and Republicans in the legislature to champion long overdue, bipartisan criminal justice reforms, or will she weaponize the Attorney General’s office to set the might of the state’s law enforcement agencies against individuals with whom she has philosophical disagreements?
Will Benson and Whitmer fight for desperately needed government transparency by leading the charge to expand FOIA requirements to the legislature and the Governor’s office, or will they declare war on the 1st amendment rights of the individuals and organizations who work to hold government accountable?
Whitmer, Benson and Nessel won their elections and now they have a choice. Burn their opponents to the ground, or build our communities and our infrastructure up for the decades to come. For Michigan workers and their families, the choice should be simple – results, not revenge.
Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.