This column originally appeared in the Detroit News.
There’s a new buzzword in Lansing. Bipartisanship.
You can be forgiven if you’re skeptical. It’s the same buzzword that pops up in Lansing every fourth January. Politicians take the oath of office, and they begin giving voice to dreams they’ve fostered for months — dreams of a tranquil and harmonious state capital, where everyone gets along — because everyone agrees with them.
Like most jargon, “bipartisanship” doesn’t mean anything. It isn’t something anyone really wants. Elected officials want to see their worldview enacted. So do most voters. However, there are a pivotal few who just want to get things done. They want solutions.
Achieving solutions, regardless of the partisan makeup of a government, requires consensus building. It requires leadership.
There are no fewer than four places Republicans and Democrats should be able to find common ground and get things done.
First, let’s flood state government with sunshine and finally reform the FOIA laws. Michigan is one of only two states in the nation that exempts the legislature and governor’s offices from the Freedom of Information Act.
Lansing insiders hate the idea of expanding FOIA because freedom of information reminds them who is really in charge — the people, not politicians.
Michigan has a serious government transparency crisis, but we can fix it. Members of the Republican House majority have spoken publicly about their support for FOIA expansion. The new Republican Senate majority leader once introduced legislation to improve FOIA, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, campaigned on a pledge to expand FOIA to cover her office and the legislature.
Let’s get it done.
Second, it’s time for tougher rules to avoid conflicts of interest in the legislature and in the executive office. (Any rule would be stricter. Today there are none.) Just last week reporters learned that the Governor’s appointee to lead the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is married to a lobbyist with clients that regularly have business before LARA. The appointee has a sterling reputation as a dedicated and honorable public servant, but the state’s lax conflict of interest laws leave her open to public scrutiny, and her hiring open to criticism.
She’s not the only one. Seven of Whitmer’s first appointees to head offices and state departments were lobbyists until just days before their appointments. Many of these individuals will be interacting as representatives of the people with friends, former colleagues, and clients who just last month paid their bills.
The legislature could also do with a big dose of sunshine when it comes to financial conflicts of interest. There’s no reason Republicans and Democrats can’t work together to deliver transparency.
Third, let’s fix the roads. The devil, of course, is in the details. Republicans are going to have to bend on spending, finding places to cut — pet projects, perhaps — to fund the kind of infrastructure projects that will work. Democrats, led by Whitmer, will have to put results over union politics, find the best prices, and invest without raising taxes.
It won’t be easy, but little worth doing ever is.
Fourth, Republicans and Democrats can stand together against crony capitalism. Mega tax breaks and incentives for big business are the costliest and most unreliable form of economic development. The government is also historically bad at it.
Just look at the state’s failed Hollywood film incentives, and the heartache other communities are experiencing as Amazon and Foxconn “investments” fail.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich offered an intriguing piece of the solution last week when he announced a bill to recover tax credits granted to corporations that don’t keep their promises. Even better — let’s agree to stop crony capitalism altogether.
Four steps Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on. When it comes to solutions, Lansing’s full of big talkers. Is it also full of leaders?
Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.