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Commentary: Winding down the year

Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and if you are like me you are thinking, “I really should start shopping pretty soon.“

I was just kidding. After all, some drug stores do stay open past midnight. But whether and however you celebrate the holidays, it has been a fascinating year with a lot of surprises.

For more than ten months, the news was dominated by the presidential campaign. Then suddenly, it was all over.  And then, in Michigan, it seemed like the real news started, especially in Lansing.

When this year began, it seemed possible that President Obama might have to struggle to win Michigan again, especially if native son Mitt Romney were the Republican nominee. He was. But Romney never came close to winning his native state.

The President racked up a victory margin here of almost ten points. If that was a mild surprise, what nobody would have predicted was that following the election the legislature would pass a bill making Michigan a right to work state -- in a single day.

If anybody saw the dramatic restructuring of Blue Cross coming either, I am not aware of it.  Next, the nation was hit with what still seems an unbelievable school shooting tragedy in Connecticut.

Suddenly, people, from the President to our governor to even some staunch defenders of the right to keep and bear arms began talking seriously about gun control in a way they seldom have before.

Where all this goes in the New Year has yet to be seen. But what does seem certain is that an issue everybody had thought was dead will be on the agenda, big time.

This was a year when Michigan’s economy continued to move in the right direction, if too slowly for our wishes. The domestic auto manufacturers led the way in our reviving economy, posting profits unforeseeable just three years ago.

But if the overall economy is improving, we can’t say the same about Detroit. In the coming year, Michigan’s largest city seems almost certain to get an emergency manager, go through a traumatic bankruptcy, or both. The city also has a mayoral election next year, though it isn’t clear how much being Mayor of Detroit will be worth. 

What is clear is that if we want to make things better, people with very different views and ideologies are going to have to work together, in Lansing and in Washington. We seem to prefer divided government.

In national and statewide races, this was a big year for Democrats. They won more than three-quarters of all U.S. senate races. In Michigan, Debbie Stabenow beat a man who was supposed to be a tough opponent by almost a million votes.

But locally, Republicans triumphed. Democrats didn’t retake the state house of representatives. There were two seats in Congress they should have gained, and they failed to win either. If we are going to make progress, it’s going to take constructive compromise.

Which, in a way, what Christmas is all about. So as we wait to see what Congress does about our national economic crisis, I hope we all get through without falling off our own personal fiscal cliffs. And I look forward to keeping tabs on our state with you next year.    

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.