The Huffington Posts’ Jonathan Cohn wrote an expose on Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s dilemma of trying to fix the state’s “damn roads” in today’s political climate.
It’s a climate conservatives have owned for decades, thanks in-part to corporate media playing willing accomplices in pushing the conservative “no tax” mantra.
Conservatives have also enjoyed owning the tax-and-spend message without real significant push-back from the national Democratic Party, which ran away from FDR, JFK, and LBJ policies centered on government-backed solutions. That’s why we got President Bill Clinton touting how he was ending “big government” as we know it. That’s why in the middle of the deepest economic crisis in decades, President Obama thought it wise to stake a neoliberal position and attempt to strike a deal with conservatives on slashing Social Security and Medicare funding.
Thankfully, Obama fell short on that gambit, but he and the Democrats seeded the messaging to conservatives on this issue–again.
Some Democrats and progressives are finally trying to fight back and re-take the tax messaging. That includes Governor Whitmer, who has introduced a rather aggressive budget containing a 45-cent gas tax to help fix Michigan’s roads, which are the worst in the country.
You see, Republicans ruled Michigan for decades, they slashed taxes, and spent very little on roads. But while their policies led to pot holed-ridden roads, they simultaneously point to those bad roads and blame government for them!
It’s an amazing playbook which has worked for years.
Whitmer’s trying to turn that narrative around, but as Cohen explains, it’s not going to be easy thanks to years of Republican gerrymandering:
Whitmer’s task is even harder because she is operating inside a political system that leaves her and her party at a structural disadvantage. Democrats won every major statewide contest in November and even managed to flip a pair of long-held Republican congressional seats. But Republicans easily held their majorities in the legislature because the districts are so heavily gerrymandered in their favor, giving more conservative, rural districts extra influence.
As Cohen notes, Republicans don’t want to give her a win, but they also don’t want to completely obstruct, fearing voters could put the blame them.
So, Republicans are hoping to force Whitmer to compromise on her gas tax, which won’t fix the problem. They hope by doing half-measures, Michigan voters will either blame Whitmer and vote Republican in 2020, or drive down voter excitement in 2020.
There’s a way to change this perpetual cycle. To fight for real progressive policies. To explain why reinvesting in our infrastructure actually benefits all of us. To explain why taxing the rich and corporations not only makes sense to help the people, but it would also fix their bottom lines, as well!
If Michigan’s right-wing Republicans refuse to change, then we will make a change in the state legislature. And thanks to Michigan voters backing the progressive anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative in 2018, we could really start to enact some bold, progressive bills to help bring Michigan into the 21th Century.
But until then, we must back Whitmer’s clarion call to change course. A gas tax, combined with an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit and a deal to lower auto insurance rates, will help change the disastrous conservative course we’ve traveled for years.
We progressives have to push for that change! Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure is an indictment of the years of conservatism which ruled the state.
Whitmer is hoping to use that to her advantage to change the narrative. And that’s bold leadership.