The Political Agenda of the Michigan GOP Has Created Economic Apartheid, Not Jobs

by Rob Smith

On December 12, 2012 Governor Rick Snyder was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying that “Michigan is well-positioned for a comeback.” A few days later, for the third year, Forbes Magazine ranked Michigan 47th in Forbes’ Best States for Business and Careers list. In a piece accompanying the ranking Governor Snyder offered up a mess of excuses for why the legislative agenda of which he is so very proud isn’t working. Snyder predicted that the law will improve Michigan’s business climate. We want a comeback. We need a comeback. Folks are praying for a comeback. The lame ducks in Lansing sent, literally, dozens of bills to Snyder during the final week of the 2012 session. Included was a revised emergency manager bill that replaces a similar law rejected last month by voters. Over the past two years he has been in office, Snyder has practiced what he refers to as “positive relentless action.” Some, I’m sure, refer to it as a perpetual psychotic break with reality. Michigan became the 24th state in the U.S. to become a right-to-work state. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Snyder claimed that Big Bidness was on the phone with Michigan Economic Development Authority head Michael Finney asking about bringing their jobs to our fair state. Snyder told reporters: “The phone’s already been ringing at the MEDC since we passed that legislation. People are starting to look at Michigan. It would be premature to name particular companies and stuff, but they are getting more inquiries from people we hadn’t heard of and weren’t looking at us. I spoke with (MEDC President and CEO) Mike Finney yesterday, and he said there’s at least one major opportunity that didn’t have us on the list to say Michigan’s on the list now.”

Mike Finney, if I remember my Ann Arbor SPARK history correctly, is the same guy who stood by while Snyder put out a 2009 annual report that claimed SPARK, under his leadership, had created or retained over 12,000 jobs in Washtenaw County between 2007 and 2009. The Detroit Free Press popped that bubble in 2010 with an investigative piece that revealed $149,000,000 in MEDC funds, including money given to Ann Arbor SPARK, had created fewer than 900 actual jobs between 2007 and 2009. Ann Arbor SPARK, perhaps tired of being spanked by A2Politico, the Free Press and other investigative news sources, last reported in its 2011 Annual Report that it had created 400 jobs. SPARK reported spending over $63 million dollars in public funding, and another $35 million dollars paying for SPARK staff, between 2006-2011 to creating or retaining 10,905 jobs in Washtenaw County.

Adding up the number of “jobs” created in SPARK various annual reports is like trying to piece together slivers of the True Cross. The math is fuzzy beyond belief, and SPARK refuses to release its tax returns to the public, or its audits. According to the latest Annual Report, SPARK got 38 percent of its money from public sources, Ann Arbor’s General Fund, you, me, the local school district, as well as the folks in the county eating cat food this holiday season in order to make the rent. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I don’t have a lot of confidence that anyone from any “major opportunity” called Mike Finney right after Michigan became a right-to-work state. Mike Finney and Rick Snyder have a shared history of misleading the public in order to protect their own hides, and justify the use of public money for crony capitalism.

It has been two years since Governor Snyder was elected on the hope that he would create jobs. How’s that going for us? Unemployment in Michigan is down, so say the data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says in 2010, unemployment in our state was 11.1 percent. Today that figure is 8.9 percent. While fewer people are reporting they’re unemployed, U.S. labor experts believe it’s because hundreds of thousands of chronically under-employed and unemployed people have fled the state, or stopped looking for work. Certainly, Governor Snyder’s move to bounce the state’s poor folks from state-funded social safety net programs after 48 months, total, has contributed to driving out under-employed and unemployed Michigan residents. The legislative agenda of the Michigan GOP has been the gentrification of Michigan coupled with economic apartheid aimed at the state’s poorest residents.

According to the most recent U.S. Census, Michigan lost population. This also explains why poverty indicators in our state just won’t stop flashing red. Homelessness is up. Childhood poverty is up, since Mr. Snyder took office. Food insecurity is up, as well. In our state 20 percent of children don’t have enough to eat. The number of Michigan residents whose homes have been foreclosed on is up, as well. While unemployment is down from 14 percent in 2009 to 8.9 percent, Michigan currently has the sixth highest rate of unemployment among the states. In 2011, Michigan was number eight on the list of highest rates of unemployment among the states, at 9.3 percent. In 2010, when Mr. Snyder was elected, Michigan had the fifth highest rate of unemployment among the states at 11.7 percent. In two years, our state has gone from having the fifth highest rate of unemployment in the nation down to having the sixth highest rate of unemployment. We also went from having a civilian labor force of 4.8 million to 4.4 million.

There has been job growth in Michigan, but it’s in low-paying industries—leisure and hospitality. Right-to-work, which adversely impacts average pay rates, is sure to push down the already low average salaries and hourly rates paid to Michigan residents, and widen the pay gap between men and women—the largest in America. I want to see Michigan make a comeback and I don’t care who gets the credit. If Mr. Snyder was sitting in Lansing creating good-paying jobs, I still wouldn’t vote for him in 2014, but I would congratulate him on easing what has become chronic poverty and suffering in our state.

Saying Michigan is “poised for a comeback” is just more of the same political spin from the same nerd who signed a 2009 Ann Arbor SPARK Annual Report that claimed he’d helped create and retain a whopping 12,000 jobs in Washtenaw County in a two year period. SPARK’s latest Annual Report makes clear that the 2009 Annual Report was a fabrication, a deceit to make a bunch of rich, white, politically-connected folks on the SPARK board look important—like they were doing something positive for their community. In reality, those white folks are helping rob taxpayers blind, taking money from schools and libraries and giving it to their political friends and business associates. Michigan has turned into one huge Sherwood Forest.

Could our state and its residents have seen a different outcome had Democrat Virg Bernero been elected in 2010? That’s speculation that will take us right off track and into the La Brea Tarpit of Partisan Politics. On the other hand, looking at neighboring states, I see progress on job creation that is enviable. In 2009, Ohio’s unemployment rate was 10.9 percent. In October 2012, it was 6.9 percent. In 2009, Wisconsin’s unemployment was 8.7 percent. In October 2012, it was 6.9 percent.

What have Michigan’s GOP and its Republinerd Governor accomplished since 2010? I’m sure they’ll find something to brag about when they next run for office in 2014. The truth is, however, that our state’s elected officials in Lansing succeeded in doing little more than pushing through a “trickle-down-economics,” conservative political agenda that has been the pride of the Right since Reagan was president. However, they done little to tackle the education, economic and social woes that have hammered our state for a decade. The Michigan GOP and Mr. Snyder have exacerbated the problems, opened a wider chasm between the haves and the many have nots in Michigan. MLive writer Susan J. Demas published a December 20, 2012 opinion piece that is all at once insightful and irritating (no doubt to Dems and Indies who voted for “moderate” Rick Snyder). Demas writes: “It’s true that Rick Snyder has a perfectly pleasant, moderate demeanor. He’s not a firebrand like Herman Cain or Sarah Palin. He’s also not a clown. But he’s not a moderate in politics, and has never claimed to be. Having interviewed the former Gateway CEO extensively on the campaign trail, I never once heard him describe himself as a moderate or centrist. That was a label assigned to him by hopeful editorial boards and assorted self-styled political observers. Now as I noted in the summer of 2010, Snyder was smart enough to deploy the endorsements of former Gov. Bill Milliken and former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz as dog whistles to independents, moderates and Democrats. See, I’m a reasonable Republican. Why, I even live in Ann Arbor (or close enough).”

Governing Magazine published a piece in 2010, during the primary election, that contradicts Demas and, I think, identifies the real reason that Michigan voters (Dems and Indies) thought Snyder would never pursue the destructive political agenda he has. Josh Goodman writes:

Ed Kilgore of 538 has a post pointing out what I think is one of the most notable questions in tomorrow’s primaries: Can a moderate win the Republican nomination for governor in Michigan?

Rick Snyder, former CEO of Gateway computers, is the candidate I’m talking about. If Snyder simply had a reputation or a history as a moderate, the story wouldn’t be all that interesting. Plenty of Republican candidates with moderate histories are running well in primaries this year — Meg Whitman in California, Karen Handel in Georgia, Bill Haslam in Tennessee — it’s just that they’re running well by campaigning as conservatives. Snyder is different.

He’s running a mostly non-ideological campaign, touting his competence, business acumen and outsider status. What’s more, he’s affirmatively associating himself with some of Michigan’s most well-known moderate Republicans — Republicans who haven’t demonstrated much loyalty to their party lately. That includes former Gov. William Milliken, who’s made a habit of criticizing Republican nominees for president, and former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, who supported a Democrat for his old congressional seat in 2008 over the Republican who had ousted him in a 2006 primary.

Then, Goodman hits a hole-in-one. In 2010 he wrote this: “Snyder, thanks to his personal wealth, has spent the most campaign cash. As Meg Whitman proved, money can do a great job hiding an ideological mismatch between a candidate and voters.”


In April 2011, A2Politico posted a piece about Ann Arbor Dems who had supported Snyder. In that piece, A2Politico reveals exactly how much Snyder spent to hide the “ideological mismatch”: “Rick Snyder ran a ‘feel good’ campaign. He shelled out over $1,000,000 to a Hollywood advertising firm that specializes in helping Republican candidates such as George W. BushChristine O’DonnellArnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain shape campaign messages. Snyder spent millions, some might argue, misleading voters.”

These are just a few of the real “accomplishments” of Michigan’s GOP and Mr. Snyder:

  • A study from the Economic Policy Institute shows that the African-American unemployment rate in Michigan in 2010 was 47 percent higher than the 15.9 percent national average of unemployment for African-Americans.
  • While blacks comprise 15 percent of Michigan’s population, blacks represent 55 percent of those imprisoned in our state.
  • According to research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, half of all of Michigan’s black children live in poverty.
  • In September 2012 the Michigan League for Human Services released a study that concluded Michigan has the highest rate in the Midwest for working families living in poverty.

“Michigan is well-positioned for a comeback.” These are the words of a rich white man disconnected from reality—a man who has shown he will say just about anything to further his own ambitions. Over the past two years, studies conducted by academics, well-respected nonprofits and state agencies have revealed that Michigan is tottering on the edge of a cliff. In response, our state’s GOP has rammed through a political agenda of economic apartheid that is contributing to the destruction of the lives of a generation of men, women and children.


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