Last night I was in Grand Rapids to cover a townhall meeting put on by Michigan’s Lt. Gov. John Cherry. You see, Cherry is the presumptive Democratic nominee for the 2010 gubernatorial election but he has a problem: No one here knows who he is. He’s been completely in Gov. Granholm’s shadow for the last 7 years and only political junkies remember his career in the state legislature.
I’d be willing to bet that if you took a poll of Michigan voters and asked if they could name the lieutenant governor, the result would be less than 1/3. Maybe less than 1/4. To remedy this, Granholm put him in charge of a task force to streamline the state government and now he’s doing these townhall meetings around the state to “get public input” – i.e. make it look like he’s actually doing something.
So last night I had to go to one of these events. And lest you think that I have a glamorous job, let me disabuse you of that notion. That’s 2 1/2 hours of my life I will never have back and this event took tediousness to an entirely new level. It is staggering that someone in the state government and/or the Democratic party in Michigan thinks these things are a good idea.
Here’s how it worked. Cherry brought with him a list of what his task force/work group has determined to be the seven “core functions” of the state government. Everyone in the audience got little clickers. Cherry would read these functions off one by one and then everyone would get to vote yes or no on whether they think that is a core function of state government. Here’s the first one:
1. Public safety. The citizens of the state of Michigan expect their daily lives, their residences and their workplaces to be safe; and that they should enjoy the unfettered freedom to come and go within their residences and their communities, and that protection of their personal safety and pursuit of freedom in their private and public lives is paramount. The state of michigan should protect the citizens of the state in good times as well as during times of crisis or disaster. Do you think this is a core function of government?
There was only one thought in my mind as I read this: DUH. Who would vote no? Well, 5% of the people in attendance – that is, two people – voted no. The other 95% voted yes. And then they would open up the floor to those bearing clickers so they could express their views on that “core function” of government.
And boy were those comments enlightening. One guy got up to bitch about the state police writing too many tickets. A second guy railed for a moment against seat belt and helmet laws. We were only 15 minutes into this thing and I was already going stir crazy.
Here’s another one of the list of seven:
4. Well-being: The citizens of the state of Michigan expect they will be free from hunger and have access to medical care and safe shelter.
The state of Michigan, in partnership with federal, local and non-governmental organizations, will promote the health and well-being of the citizens of the state. The state should strive to maintain a health care system that serves all citizens, is available at reasonable cost, is of excellent quality and preserves privacy. Additionally, the state of Michigan should provide support systems for those who, because of age or circumstance, are in need of attention, support or supervision.
That got a whole 23% opposition. One guy got up and declared that we shouldn’t give any of this to those damn illegal aliens. And a woman spent several minutes complaining that rest stops in the state had condom machines but not tampon machines. No, seriously.
6. Economic opportunity and prosperity: The citizens of the state of Michigan expect state government is working to advance the economic opportunity and prosperity of all its residents, communities and business interests, and is providing evenhanded regulation of consumer affairs, occupations and commercial activity.
79% said yes, 21% said no. But what the hell does this even mean? Of course the government should help foster economic opportunity and transparency, but what does that require? Some would say that means getting rid of all business taxes. Others would say we should pass single payer healthcare to help achieve that goal. But as a general statement, this is utterly meaningless. They might as well have asked, “Are you in favor of good things or bad things?”
But #7 was my favorite:
7. Efficiency and effectiveness. The citizens of the state of Michigan expect the timely levy of taxes, transparency in decision making and spending, and the effective delivery of services. State government shall track expenditures and match revenues with expenses, provide accurate annual reporting, and maintain internal control mechanisms to ensure an honest and accurate accounting.
The state of Michigan should provide the citizens of the state with efficient and fair administration of general government and the legislative, judicial and executive branches, along with efficient and effective administration of taxes and spending to avoid deficit spending and exorbitant indebtedness. The citizens of the state expect the building and maintenance of a modern, state of the art information system.
Translation: Do you think we should do our job well or badly? Vote yes or no.
This whole thing was a giant wankathon. “Do you think the government should do all these good things/positive buzzwords for us and none of the bad things?” Well duh. There wasn’t a single specific proposal made, either by Cherry or anyone in the audience. Nothing but vagueries. This was a pure dog and pony show that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with changing any particular policies. I give Cherry credit for managing to stay awake. And for pretending to give a shit about any of this.
I’ll see your ambiguous buzzwords and raise you two vague catchphrases and a half a dozen tired cliches. If I ever have to go to one of these again I’m dropping acid first.