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Howes: Whitmer and Michigan Business

Daniel Howes
Detroit News

On the campaign trail, Governor-elect Whitmer promised she’d repeal Michigan’s right-to-work law, kill the so-called “retirement tax,” and revive the state’s Prevailing Wage Law.

All she’d need to make that happen is a Legislature controlled by her fellow Democrats. That ain’t happening because voters this week delivered divided government to Michigan. That dreamy, organized-labor wish list has pretty much no chance with Republicans controlling the state House and the Senate.

And that raises a question that should interest anyone in Michigan who understands business creates jobs and that one of the key jobs of government is to ensure it helps create the environment for that to happen:

Does the business community have an ally in Whitmer?

It should.

Because continuing the economic reinvention of the state and, especially, its largest city, is as much in the interest of her political future as it is the state’s.

Business leaders buoyed by the enthusiasm of Michigan’s economic improvement and the strong working relationship with Governor Rick Snyder’s Lansing are more interested in maintaining momentum than fighting tired ideological battles. All they do is produce confrontation and few real winners.

It doesn’t matter whether the new governor has an “R” or a “D” next to her name. It doesn’t matter if she’s a former corporate CEO like Snyder, or the one-time Senate minority leader and county prosecutor that Whitmer is. What matters is whether business has a partner at the top of state government, someone who understands that reviving anti-competitive tropes of the past doesn’t help?

It hurts.

It sends the wrong message to would-be investors who have options, lots of them.

Does the partner listen? Does she act? Does she grasp that Michigan is a cog in the global economy, not a fortress walled into the industrial Midwest?

The results of Tuesday’s election mean Whitmer will be limited by the political realities of a Republican House and Senate. And that means she’ll be forced to focus on issues both parties care about to move to the middle – even if that means courting the wrath of ideological purists on both ends of the political spectrum.

Ignore them.

Topping the list are, quote, “the damn roads” of Whitmer’s endless conjuring. She was smart to make them a centerpiece of her campaign.

She understood the sorry state of roads in Michigan affects just about everyone, regardless of party or income. And she’s betting that voters have finally, grudgingly concluded that fixing them isn’t free.

On roads, she’d find powerful allies in business, on education spending and standards on worker training and economic development.

Whitmer is the most experienced legislator elected Michigan governor since John Engler 28 years ago. Given the political reality voters delivered her Tuesday, that should be the right skill set to make some positive things happen in Lansing.

Business leaders will be watching – and will be ready to help. If they’re asked.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.