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Can our political system in Michigan be saved?

Jack Lessenberry

They used to say that the definition of chutzpah was the boy who killed his parents and then asked the court for mercy since he was an orphan. But that was improved on twice this week.

First, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan began talking about making a bid for the Democratic National Convention two years from now.

That’s a nice “comeback kid” idea, but there are two major problems.

The entire metro area probably doesn’t have enough hotel space. Detroit could barely host the Republican Convention in 1980, and Democratic conventions have more delegates.

Plus, conventions are expensive.

They are good for parts of the private sector, but they cost cities many millions, and I would bet there isn’t any money in the Detroit emergency manager’s “Plan of Adjustment” for that.

However, Detroit’s chutzpah was out-chutzpahed when word came that riot-torn Ukraine intends to make a bid for the Winter Olympics eight years from now. Ukrainian officials argued that this was in fact logical, and that the bloody violence is bound to be over by then. (Sure.)

What is troubling here in Michigan is a nagging fear that maybe the system is incapable of working anymore, for all sorts of structural and ideological reasons. Think of our incomprehensible failure to fix the state’s roads.

Every survey shows whopping majorities in favor of paying higher taxes for fewer potholes, but that seems to be irrelevant to legislators who seem worried only about primary challenges from even more irrational Tea Party supporters.

The state isn't meeting its basic responsibilities in a number of areas ... Nevertheless, the Legislature is talking about a tax cut.

The state isn’t meeting its basic responsibilities in a number of areas. We have systematically starved higher education for years, weakening it and pricing many kids out of the market just when it is clear that Michigan needs higher education more than ever.

Nevertheless, the Legislature is talking about a tax cut. Earlier this week I was asked to lunch by two powerful behind-the-scenes movers and shakers. One is a Republican, the other a Democrat.

They have been in politics and run large enterprises for a long time. Both were dismayed by what appears to be the collapse of any real possibility of meaningful mass transit in the Detroit metropolitan area.

Last month, John Hertel, who was to have run the new regional Rapid Transit Authority, resigned in frustration after the Legislature refused to appropriate money for him to hire the needed staff.

Both these men said they thought the time might be ripe for a new common-sense based political party that would completely ignore social issues, and concern itself only with public sector needs – education, transportation, police, and defense.

My reaction was while that sounds appealing, it would be hard to imagine launching a new party. It would need, right from the start, to have competitive candidates for everything from school boards to state legislatures to Congress.

Launching a campaign to eliminate term limits and standing up for rational behavior sounded more doable to me.

We’ve done hard things before, after all, and there is a lot that isn’t broken in Michigan, and even Detroit. Maybe, just maybe, someone will unite us around a simple desire to spend money where needed to make things work.

All I know is that we better hope so.

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