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In Granholm: Basic Values, Solid Things

After productive first year, Democrat moves to act two

March 7, 2004 |

  After a decade of producing some of Michigan’s best reporting and commentary on state government and public policy, Deputy Director Keith Schneider met last month with Jennifer M. Granholm, his first formal interview with a sitting Michigan governor.

How much have things changed in Lansing since Democratic Governor Jennifer M. Granholm’s inauguration 14 months ago? The Legislature approved a spate of laws that should improve the economic competitiveness of Michigan’s cities and simultaneously begin to curb suburban sprawl. The Department of Environmental Quality is filing enforcement cases against polluters. The Department of Transportation is directed by Gloria Jeff, an African American woman who is both a nationally renowned expert in her field and a leader secure enough to actually invite citizens to help decide where Michigan spends money for transportation.

In the nine-year history of the Michigan Land Use Institute we’ve never seen the doors of state government opened wider to public participation. So earlier this year we asked Gov. Granholm for an interview in her office, on the second floor of the Romney Building, the one place of influence in Lansing that no Institute staff member had ever visited. Former Republican Governor John Engler and his senior aides, arguably the most remote administration in half a century, repeatedly denied our requests for interviews.

Last month Gov. Granholm approved the request, invited us to her office, and spent almost an hour on February 26 responding to questions from the Institute’s Lansing Policy Specialist, Charlene Crowell, and Deputy Director Keith Schneider.

Ms. Granholm disclosed that she’s determined to keep natural gas developers out of the Jordan Valley in northern Michigan, and has taken no position on whether a coal-burning power plant should be built in Manistee. She unveiled the basic form of a new competitive program to direct state investments to spurring downtown development in 12 qualified cities. She confirmed her commitment to protect the state’s clean water and her intent to make sure Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry understands water politics in the Great Lakes region. Governor Granholm commended Senate Republican Majority Leader Ken Sikkema and Republican Attorney General Mike Cox, asserting their working relationship was sound. Lastly, she talked about racial segregation and how it damages Michigan’s economic well being and makes sprawl worse. “These old biases are counterproductive to growing our cities and to growing our economy,” Ms. Granholm said.

A complete transcript follows:

Institute: Thank you for giving us this time. We have some specific place and issue questions. One is the Jordan Valley. Your administration is now considering proposals to drill two wells in the Jordan Valley, within the protected area. What, if anything, might you do about that?

Gov. Granholm: The DEQ is aggressively seeing if they can trade or swap mineral rights so that there won’t be drilling out there. That’s our hope and goal.

Institute: Another major issue in our area is a proposal for a 425 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Manistee. There has been tremendous citizen opposition to this plant for two reasons. One is the low economic return to the city. The other issue is emissions, especially of mercury. What is the administration doing about this proposal? We are particularly interested, given your pledge to phase out mercury emissions by 2020.

Gov. Granholm: Well, let me be very clear. We would like to see the phase-out of mercury. Obviously mercury emissions are a concern. If there is an ability for a new and cleaner plant that might take out the necessity for some dirty plants, that’s not a bad thing.

However, we have not taken any position on this at all. In fact, I believe there was an MEDC [Michigan Economic Development Corporation] person who testified at a public hearing in Manistee. That person was not speaking on my behalf and was off of authorization to indicate one way or the other what our position was.

We would not intervene normally in a local planning decision like that. And we would want in any event to see local support. It’s got to be direct from them. You know, if there were that local support and if it could be shown that a new plant was going to produce cleaner emissions than others in the area, then we would certainly take a look at it.

Institute: Did you check out why a state employee said what she said? That was a pretty big moment in that hearing when this official representing themselves as a sort of advisor…

Gov. Granholm: …to the MEDC… 

Institute:  …representing David Hollister [director of the state Department of Labor and Economic Growth]. Did she speak for Mr. Hollister?

Gov. Granholm: It was my understanding that she had a script that she was supposed to follow and that she was off script.

Clean Water -- A Michigan Public Trust
Institute: Now to water. Can you give us an idea what’s in your water protection bill?

Granholm: We started this when I was attorney general. We talked about what might be included in a water protection statute. What would be a good model to use? We talked about how something might be achievable with this Legislature.

At some point I’d like to ask you what you think that might contain. We appreciate the role that you play in journalism. We appreciated your role on the Land Use Leadership Council, the very positive role that the Institute played there. I’d love for the Institute to help play a positive role in this as well.

Institute: The two principles that we’re anxious to see in this proposal is one, the principle that the state’s waters are a public trust, clearly delineated, clearly stated and that it’s not a private interest. And secondly, to try to work through the idea that a regulatory scheme benefits Michigan businesses. It has to have incentives. It’s got to be flexible. It’s got to be efficient.

Gov. Granholm: Let me ask you just as an intellectual matter: If in the public trust argument, if there is some sort of national interest in our water, does the public trust argument end up being dangerous? What if the feds decided it was in the public interest to send our water to some other part of the country?

I just worry about that. Somehow it could be twisted against us even though I totally and fundamentally in my heart agree with you. We would have to devise a way to demonstrate very clearly that it’s in the public trust of Michigan. 

We clearly don’t want to see a harming of the resource. That’s an obvious aspect of it. And we want to have as strong a statement as possible about protecting this water resource as well that is consistent with having that balance of incentives and making sure we’re still able to wisely use and put back the resource. It’s going to be an interesting few months. I hope we get it passed.

Institute: Governor, to what extent are you personally going to be involved in marketing this campaign, promoting it, getting it done?

Gov. Granholm: The same way as land use was the number one issue last year. From the environmental side and the quality-of-life side, this is the very, very top of the list.

Institute: So will you be out personally?
Gov. Granholm: You bet I will. This is something that we have been pushing for. I think this is something the citizens want. I think it is good, obviously, for our legacy. And I say our legacy. I don’t mean this administration’s legacy but Michigan’s legacy to its children and grandchildren. It’s very, very important.

Institute: We’ve noted that how you’re rolling this out is different from how you rolled out the land use piece.

Gov. Granholm: Initially I had talked about putting together a water use council in the same way we had done the land use council. But because of the urgency related to the Nestle decision and the negotiations over the annex, I felt we had to put it on a much shorter time frame.

To put a groundwater advisory council into place would have taken far too long. I think there is a sense of urgency to this. And I think it must be done and it must be done soon. The Nestle case was the propulsion to make us move much faster than we did on land use.

The land use council is a great model if you have the time for deliberation. But I think the Nestle case made this much more urgent.  So the debate may be a little bit more caustic because we haven’t had the initial buy-in. But on the other hand, one of the reasons we did it this way was that I pulled ideas from the Senate Great Lakes Task Force report [in 2002] that was headed by Sen. Ken Sikkema [Republican senate majority leader]. So that road map was already there.

Institute: Have you talked to him at all about this or done any kind of bridge building?

Gov. Granholm: Oh, yes. He knows that I pulled much of that from the bipartisan task force. So my assumption is that the task force work was similar to the work done by the land use council. So the groundwork had already been laid. We didn’t need to have another commission on it. We all know we need a water protection statute. And so we just have to get it out there and start the debate.

New Program For Cities
Institute: We are interested in statewide land use goals. Will you be taking any action on those?

Gov. Granholm: Well, that’s obviously one of the Land Use Leadership Council’s recommendations and we want to make sure that is done. We’ve talked about it a number of places. It’s on the list to begin the planning.

A part of it was that we had to get some legislation that would allow joint planning [among townships, counties, and municipalities]. Having a few regionalism conferences around the state is the beginning of getting consensus on what we might be looking at globally. The recommendations from the Land Use Leadership Council report — including statewide goals — is on the list of things to do. And we’ll just continue to work down the list.  For me right now the thing that’s at the top, frankly, is reinvigorating our older communities.

Institute: Commerce centers?

Gov. Granholm: Yes.

Institute: What would you like to see in a commerce center?

Gov. Granholm: Well, actually what we are going to do is this: Every state department has sent in their “tools” for a toolbox for centers of commerce. I asked the departments to describe what service or resource it provide to a community that has put together a good plan. Initially we are going to do 12 cities in the first year as pilots and Saginaw is already designated.

For instance, the Department of Community Health could decide that if a community comes up with a good plan it could open health centers in urban schools. The Family Independence Agency could open family resource centers in schools that have made progress. The Department of History, Arts, and Libraries could designate schools for historic preservation grants instead of encouraging schools to be open somewhere else.

Or steering brownfield credits — which I continue to get a little grief about — to older communities, which is what they were intended for to begin with. The transportation department has economic development dollars as well.

All 19 departments of state government have said, "This is what we can offer." We will put this toolbox on the Web site and give cities an opportunity to bid on being designated. Whoever comes up with the best plan for how they would use these tools will get the initial designations. They have to show they have all of the pieces in place to make a success of it, and they must clearly demonstrate regional cooperation.

Institute: How soon do you think that ‘toolbox’ will be ready?

Gov. Granholm: Well, we’ve collected all the tools. The communities will be designated in the first half of this year. We have to give them some time to plan in light of whatever the tools are. We just got the information back from the departments. We have to now combine it in a presentable way to the communities. It’ll be done certainly within this year.

Institute: Do you have any idea what the total investment might be? What’s available?

Gov. Granholm: I don’t know at this moment because departments were supposed to turn in all of their stuff on Friday. For example, MSHDA [Michigan State Housing Development Authority] is going to give a million dollars per year for designating lofts in downtown revitalization.

Institute: Are any of your "fix-it-first" initiatives in there?

Gov. Granholm: Oh, yes. 

Institute: Will there be transportation and road money?

Gov. Granholm: Transportation and economic development money, yes. I was speaking with the concrete pavers at lunch today as a matter of fact. We are committed to fix-it-first.

Institute: Let’s talk about other recommendations in the Land Use Leadership Council report, like the public transit recommendations. In light of the state budget stress are those achievable this year?

Gov. Granholm: This year? I’m hopeful that we can get some movement on it. But there are some in the budgetary process who do not like transit, who are not in favor of transit options. So, we want to "sand them down" a little bit.

It is a priority of mine, which is why we intervened to try to get DARTA [Detroit Area Regional Transit Authority] off the ground in Southeast Michigan even though a court has held it up. We’re working on an agreement that addresses the court’s concerns and moves us forward. I’m not sure that all of the transit options will be met this year. But we are going to continue to work on them.

I hope I have the privilege; I hope I earn the right to be elected for two terms in which case this land use council report and recommendations will be the blueprint for this administration in terms of land use.

Institute: It seems to be the blueprint for this administration as an economic development strategy too?

Gov. Granholm: It is. Woven in a mutual garment of destiny.

Institute: Do you think that jobs are going to be the focal point of the presidential election?

Gov. Granholm: Yes, I do.

Institute: What plans do you have to be involved in the national campaign?

Gov. Granholm: Well, certainly I will do my best to make sure that John Kerry carries Michigan, since I endorsed him. The heads of the campaign will tell us what they need  us to do here.

Institute: Did they ask you to participate?

Gov. Granholm: Oh, yes.

Institute: And to what extent will you be out there campaigning?

Gov. Granholm: Oh, certainly I’ll be out there campaigning every time he comes here. And I’m certain that I’ll raise money for him.

One of the things we wanted to make sure is that he understands the importance of water in this state. That he makes no statements that even hint that there is a balance of national interest. No way, no how will we allow the siphoning off of the Great Lakes.

Relationship With Republican Leaders 
Let’s ask about your relationship with the Republican leadership here in Lansing. How’s it going?

Gov. Granholm: Great. We meet every week and we have very good meetings. I think we get along as people. We have differences over certain things. Right now, Ken Sikkema and I are having a tug of war over NPDES [water discharge permit] fees and a desire on his part to take away enforcement from DEQ. But I think eventually we will get that resolved.

Institute: What do you think is behind that? It’s not where Sen. Sikkema has been in his career.

Gov. Granholm: I just think it’s a question of a Democratic governor.

Institute: To what extent is Sen. Sikkema going to be involved in the water protection statute?

Gov. Granholm: I think he can and he should be. He has exercised great leadership on it. It is something he’s been passionate about. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to work together. To me, this is a 100 percent win-win for bipartisanship and for really putting aside those kinds of issues for the betterment of Michigan.

Since he’s done a lot of work on it, and since these are recommendations evolved from his Senate Great Lakes Task Force, I don’t see any reason why we won’t work together on it.

Institute: What do you make of the fact that both Mike Cox [Republican attorney general] and Ken Sikkema publicly announced they won’t challenge you in 2006?

Governor: Mike Cox has got a great job himself. I always thought, until I became governor, that being attorney general was the greatest job around. So I don’t really know why. But I can tell you that it makes for a much better working relationship. We are working together. Mike Cox’s relationship with this office has dramatically improved. I do work well with Senator Sikkema even though we disagree on some matters.

Race and Land Use
Institute: Let’s talk about race and sprawl. What do you think you can do as governor to contribute to racial accord, harmony, and inclusion? We noticed that you have a very diverse staff. But when you get past your staff, in terms of helping other communities to see that diversity is good for everyone, what do you think you can do?

Gov. Granholm: Where do we begin? Well, first of all I ran on a platform of one Michigan. We are not divided east versus west, or north versus south, or city versus suburb. We are made of two peninsulas but we are one Michigan.

And that means that when I say "turfism is an anachronism," a lot of that goes to that city versus suburb conflict, which a lot of times falls along racial lines. In southeast Michigan, we are the most racially segregated community in the country. And I think that segregation does contribute to sprawl. This is why we must encourage people to invest and to stay in cities.

Chicago is such a great example of how celebrating an integrated community, celebrating different ethnicities, creates such enormous vibrancy.

To pull that all back together is really critical. I really want us to be — if we are to be a magnet state — we have to be a world class state. We live in a global world. These old biases are counterproductive to growing our cities and to growing our economy. 

So you can start on the ground level. You can walk the talk. We have the most diverse cabinet of any administration in the history of Michigan. Obviously, we will continue to push that. We have the first African American and first woman to lead the Department of Transportation, the first African American to be head of the Michigan State Police, the first Arab American woman to be over the Liquor Commission, the first Asian American to be head of the Department of Information and Technology. I could just keep going down the list. To me the only way to have a good product is to have different perspectives around the table.

Institute: Is that what you tried to share with Benton Harbor last year? 

Gov. Granholm: We pushed this idea of one Michigan in Benton Harbor and in St. Joe. If ever there was a classic metaphor  — that river divides those two communities.

The message was constantly emphasized. We must look forward because if you’re looking behind you’re making no progress. So to consistently spread this message of one Michigan is a piece. That’s using the bully pulpit. I do that wherever I can. It’s so critical.

In a speech last night I said that there’s no reason why a beautiful little eight-year-old girl in Detroit who has dreams of going to college and dreams of being in a safe and secure home can’t have the same dreams as a beautiful little 8-year-old girl growing up in Grosse Pointe. We all want the best for these kids. We cannot achieve that if we are shooting at one another or if people in Grosse Point or anywhere else are turning to a child and saying, "You’re not my children." They’re all our children.

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