Pretending To Fix Problems

Nov 15, 2018 by

By Tom Watkins –

Michigan will have a new governor come 2019. Gretchen Whitmer is our governor-elect. Major problems await her.

Yes, she may “Fix the damn roads!” Yet, lousy roads are not the only problem being left behind.

In spite of the issues/problems Governor Snyder took on during his tenure, many have yet to be addressed. This column, is not a jab at Governor Snyder, it is about a larger problem: that of inaction beyond that of a single governor, legislative body, political party, or ideology.

This is not a conservative, liberal, or progressive issue. Rather it is about a desire to actually see the problems facing the state and nation addressed, not paper-overed with political pablum. Solutions need to be found and implemented. If they don’t produce the desired outcome, we need to stop, back up, reassess the situation, and find another solution.

The ability to get anything done under the State Capitol dome has become even more complicated. Come 2019, will have a shared government, with the Republicans holding the majority in both the House and Senate, and Governor Whitmer, a Democrat, sitting in the governor’s office.

Fix The Damn Problems

Pretending to fix a hole in your roof doesn’t keep the rain out. As a society, we have failed to confront some of the major social, political, and economic problems of our time: immigration, globalization, healthcare spending, global warming, federal budget deficits, stubborn poverty, and the aging of society, among others.

Problems don’t fix themselves.

Closer to home in Michigan, we have failing schools, (our special education programs, once the envy of the nation have sunk to being the worst) crumbling infrastructure, struggling cities, dangerous roads, poisoned water, insurance rip-offs, failing criminal justice and mental health support systems, disinvestment in higher education, and disintegrating human service safety nets. Add to these: no mass transit system and a hodgepodge of inadequate programs to train and retrain workers who were disenfranchised by automation, technology and globalization.

In short there is no shortage of challenges facing the next governor and legislators who were elected and re-elected earlier this month.

Come Together

What’s needed in the next crop of leaders to occupy space under the Capitol dome? A willingness to listen, lead and address problems for the people of Michigan, rather than pandering to narrow special interests in an attempt to score political points and thwart progress.

Michigan – once a bellwether state for social and political progress in the nation – today is on a delayed maintenance and retrenchment program. Unless we address many of the critical issues outlined above we will continue going down the tubes as political parties play games with our collective future.

A Sense of Urgency!

Nearly two decades have passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but the sign on the wall as you walk in the CIA’s Mission Center for Counterterrorism still reads, Today is September 12, 2001.” The sign represents the real sense of urgency that the officers who work there still bring to the job of protecting the country, every day, from terrorism.

We need this same sense of urgency to attack – on a non/bipartisan way – the numerous problems facing our state and nation.

Developing a Shared Vision

The campaigns are over. We now need our governor and legislature to lead and govern. They need to move quickly to develop a shared vision and common agenda for finding real solutions to the problems facing us.

Why have we allowed political polarization to stymie us from addressing issues that we all agree need to be dealt with? Instead of being resilient and adaptive to a changing world, we instead seem frozen in place, putting ourselves in danger when we stagnate and the world around us changes. We are disinvesting in education, infrastructure and in our people while pretending to care about our standing in the world.

In his book, “The Good Life and it’s Discontents: The American Dream in the Age if Entitlement”, Robert J. Samuelson wrote more than 20 years ago that Americans would solve their most pressing problems through either consensus or crisis. Leaders would debate the country’s controversial issues until we reached agreements that, though not fully satisfying to everyone, would enjoy grudging majority support. If consensus failed, we would wait for some crisis  – ill-defined and disruptive–  to force us to do what we don’t want to do.

Samuelson points out our political leaders have preferred procrastination to action. They create agendas they know are anathema to their adversaries, prompting each side to vilify the other. Politics focuses increasingly on “keeping your base happy,” as opposed to governing. He continues, “Political theater triumphs over policy. Nastiness and polarization increase.”

He concludes, “It’s hard to inflict present pain for uncertain future gain. Our political system makes us vulnerable to distant crises because we don’t try to anticipate and defuse them.”


I encourage bringing together the newly elected governor and legislative bodies early in their new term, stressing the collective value of collaborating across political divides as an essential tool to developing and implementing long-term plans able to meet the challenges confronting our state in this current age of disruption.

I am impressed by incoming House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, who is quoted in a Free Press story saying, “Michiganders expect progress. What frustrates people about Washington is that they can’t work together.” He continues, “Michigan can’t be like Washington. We will work through the process, and Gov.-elect Whitmer is someone who knows the process.”

State Senator Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake is the new Majority Leader. Be clear, he is a staunch conservative Republican. He is also a decent, thoughtful, bright man who truly wants to make Michigan a great place to live, work, play and raise a family. He is a legislative leader Governor Whitmer will be able to work with to find sensible solutions that will add value and make a difference in the lives of our citizens.

Let’s Fix Michigan’s Problems

As Winston Churchill once remarked, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.”

Can we, will we, come together before it is too late to do the right thing in Michigan?

Let’s come together and act. Our inaction is destined to diminish our control over Michigan’s collective future.

Thank you Governor Snyder and your team for fixing many of the problems you found upon entering office eight years ago.

There remain many holes in our Michigan roof. It is up to us to fix them.

Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins has an eclectic career in both the public and private sectors. He served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and director of the department of mental health. He has held leadership positions in higher education, business and behavioral health. Watkins has a interest and passion in all things China and has written hundreds of article on the value of this most important bilateral relationship in the world today.

Source: Pretending To Fix Problems | Dome Magazine

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.