What four old pals can teach Gov. Whitmer, the Legislature
There was nearly 100 years in political experience sitting around the Off the Record table in Studio C the other day as four former state Senate leaders demonstrated how the system is supposed to work. They laughed, they did a little pontificating, they were a living witness to their friendship, trust and desire to serve, and it was great to watch.
And the takeaway was crystal-clear: Because of term limits, current, well-intentioned lawmakers have a heavy — if not impossible — lift, to emulate what John Cherry, Bob Emerson, Danny DeGrow, and Ken Sikkema had and still have.
They all served together and, year by year, they built a relationship that is still providing benefits to the state, even though they are no longer in office. Current lawmakers are not around long enough to construct the same deep and abiding bond.
Misters Cherry, DeGrow and Sikkema got together earlier this year and crafted a road-fix package that included a 47-cents-a-gallon gas tax hike. And, while all the players in town scoffed and dismissed it as folly, several weeks later, official Lansing was stunned when the new governor embraced a 45-cent increase.
Asked what the chances are that she would squeeze that out of a GOP Legislature, the trio gave it low marks, but there was a sense that a smaller amount would be adopted.
The fact that a bipartisan, veteran group of ex-lawmakers felt the calling to do something and found a compromise set into motion the dialogue that laid the foundation for a long-term road fix.
Ex-Sen. DeGrow was not part of the group, but he told the story about how those guys years ago found a way to get the job done based on their long-term relationships. Republican DeGrow and Democrat Emeron had assigned the sticky workers’ compensation reform effort to two of their colleagues.
It was a messy, ugly and confrontational argument between business and labor as business demanded a cut in worker benefits and the unions would not budge. The debate heated over and the two lawmakers assigned by the leaders to get it done stopped talking to each other.
“Bob and I went into a room and in three hours we wrote the workers’ comp bill,” recounts Mr. DeGrow, while quickly adding the salient point: “We could not have done that had we not had that long-term relationship.”
The message that unfolded during the TV exchange was that experience also counts in the political process, but, for some reason, the electorate has demonstrated on numerous occasions it doesn’t give two hoots about hands-on, in-the-trenches knowledge about how to make government solve problems.
Rick Snyder ran against Virg Benero with zero political experience and beat the career politician.
Donald Trump ran against a career politician and won.
But those former lawmakers gathered in Stuido C make the case for having experience, and they are hopeful that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with 14 years in the state House and state Senate on her resume, can help to guide “her partners” in the Legislature to feasible compromises on roads, no-fault auto insurance reform, and the budget.
Whitmer and the GOP-controlled Legislature aren’t there, yet, but their relationship-building effort is only three months old, compared to the decades the former senators enjoyed.
Maybe if the governor and Republican state House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey watched those four former friends in action, it might provide some inspiration to go where the ex-lawmakers have been and where the new folks should go for the betterment of all of you.