Mark Murray has seen government from more perspectives than almost anybody else in Michigan. Though he has been president of Grand Valley State University for the last five years, he’s spent most of his adult life in state government, including stints as budget director and treasurer.
Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry spoke with him.
Everything I hear indicates that Mark Murray has had a successful five-year run as president of Grand Valley State University.
He is stepping down now to begin a new career as head of the 175-store Meijer chain, Michigan‘s largest private retailer.
But without ever having been on Grand Valley’s campus, I can tell you that there were some unhappy campers back in 2001 when Murray was chosen for the job. I know this because I know how most university people think. They firmly believe they should be led by someone like themselves, who has been a professor and who has a Ph.D. Most think anyone who doesn’t have a doctorate is legitimate.
Fact is, that’s often wrong. That’s not to say that professors don’t often make good university presidents. That’s certainly the case with Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, which, I should note, is the parent institution of Michigan Radio.
She was trained as a scientist and earned a doctorate before essentially switching to a career in university administration.
But there have been brilliant academics who were howling failures at university administration. And there have been successful leaders in higher education who, like Murray or Peter McPherson, who led Michigan State till last year, didn’t have doctorates at all.
Instead, they were men and women who were talented experts in organization and management.
Frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised. To assume that a brilliant scholar will automatically make a great university president is silly. It is as if the Detroit Tigers were to say to their best pitcher: “Okay. You’ve proven you can play baseball. So starting Monday, we are taking you off the field and putting you in charge of ticket sales.”
The skill sets are vastly different. That doesn’t mean that colleges should be run by former execs of widget companies. University presidents have to have great sensitivity for scholarship and learning. But they also have to be businessmen who may have to regretfully recognize that their shop can’t do everything, and the doctoral program in medieval poetry may have to go.
Few people have seen state government, and the financial underpinnings of public education, from as many vantage points as Mark Murray. He went to work for the state department of Labor and Economic Growth soon after graduating from MSU.
He later spent years in the department of social services before becoming budget director and state treasurer. Along the way, he had stints as vice president for finance at Michigan State, and as a member of the reform school board that tried to fix Detroit’s schools.
Now, he is moving to the private sector for what he has jokingly called his first “real job.” Whether he will stay there is anyone‘s guess. But if not, he ought to be even more valuable five years from now. In today‘s multitasking world, we should want our leaders to have as much cross training and as many skill sets as possible.
If there is any place in America where 1950s nostalgia should rule, it is in the world headquarters of General Motors and the Ford Motor Co. Back then, Detroit had two million people, and the Big Three had no worries about foreign cars stealing market share.
They didn’t just totally dominate the domestic market; they made half of all the cars made in the whole world.
Nor did they have to worry about Washington. President Eisenhower appointed a man known as “Engine Charlie” Wilson secretary of defense. He is best known for saying “I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”
Times have changed.
So has the auto industry, and so has Michigan. There is no question that the Bush Administration isn’t particularly interested in doing much to help Detroit these days, and small wonder.
The top four best-selling cars in the United States today are Japanese. George W. Bush campaigned hard three times to try and win Michigan, in a presidential primary and two general elections.
The voters gave him the big thumbs-down, every time.
The city of Detroit, symbol of the auto industry, gave him exactly six percent of its vote two years ago. That was up, by the way, from 2000 when he got five percent. We didn’t want him then, and since he can’t run again, he doesn’t need us any more.
That’s one interpretation. But what about Congress? They aren’t term-limited. Aren’t the auto firms courting them?
Yes, they are. And they have long had a junkyard dog of a defender, U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who arrived in 1955 and has been the auto industry’s champion for decades.
When he was chair of the Energy and Commerce committee, automotive Detroit had a safe harbor on Capitol Hill.
But Democrats lost the House in 1994. And the newer generation of congressmen and presidents of both parties have increasingly looked less towards the rust belt and more and more to the Sunbelt.
And many of them have no qualms about cars from the land of the Rising Sun. The brutal fact is Michigan sells fewer cars and have fewer congressmen, electoral votes and clout than we used to.
There is, however, considerable evidence that Michigan could use the influence we have better than we do.
Congressman Mike Rogers, a Republican from Livingston County near Lansing, told Free Press Washington reporter Justin Hyde that he has always been a little bit amazed at the lack of sophistication on the part of the Big Three.
“They need to be more creative,” he said. They need to flex their muscles more effectively. Without a doubt, the men running the auto industry are still too often men who have learned too little, and perhaps have also forgotten too much.
Once, they built empires on fossil fuels. Now, the sad irony is that they risk becoming fossils themselves.
For years, automotive interests were one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. But while they still spend millions every year courting congressmen, indications are that they aren’t as powerful as they once were.
Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry spoke with Justin Hyde. He’s a Washington-based reporter for the Detroit Free Press.
Last month, former newspaper publisher Phil Power went off to the Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference on Mackinac Island. “The enduring memory I have from it was the widespread scorn for the Michigan Legislature,“ he said afterwards.
“The kindest thing I heard was ‘uninformed and inexperienced.” Others called it “unbelievably incompetent. The institution is broken, he concluded, and not because of anything having to do with policy or political orientation. The main fault, of course, is term limits.
Governing is a delicate and difficult art. Yet the top man in our state House of Representatives is 35 years old, and got the job after being in Lansing less than three years.
That’s not nearly enough time to learn the ropes, much less the complexity of the state
government and budget. Yet lawmakers have little choice, since they can’t serve any more than six years. What would you think about a system that said a brain surgeon could only practice for six years, and then had to find some other kind of job?
That would be nuts. But that’s what we now have. Which means our lawmakers all have one eye looking for their next position. That means they don’t want to make any really hard decisions.
Accordingly, we will probably have to decide at least six major ballot issues when we go to vote this fall. Having a statewide vote on a major issue isn’t always bad; I think we probably should have one on the affirmative action question. But … dove hunting?
Mechanisms for school financing? Single Business Tax repeal? Those aren’t things the harried voter should have to try and sort out in the booth on her way home from work. That’s the sort of thing we pay our legislators $80,000 a year to figure out for us.
But they are not doing it. The way in which our state budget is financed is structurally defective, and badly needs rebuilding. But the legislature is not tackling that. Instead, they are passing resolutions in support of cherry week, and frittering their time away repealing the law requiring motorcycle bikers to wear helmets. The governor vetoed that last week.
Whatever your politics, we aren’t getting our money’s worth out of our boys in the Capitol Dome. Nolan Finley, of the Detroit News, and Phil Power, who now has a think tank called the Center for Michigan, have an idea.
They think we should try repealing term limits, and move to a part-time legislature. The theory is that we’d get lawmakers who know more and have less time to do damage.
There are problems with that, namely, that much of the time, they’d be working for someone else, who might continue to own them. This much, however, is clear. The present system is expensive, ineffective, and broke. And we voters need to do something to fix it.
It’s only June -- but Michigan’s 93 rd Legislature is starting to wind down. Next week they are taking a break for the July 4th holiday. Then the legislature is expected to switch to a reduced schedule in order to give members time to, in most cases, campaign for re-election. Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry spoke with Gongwer News Services’s John Lindstrom about what they’ve done so far this term.
During the Vietnam War, the great novelist Norman Mailer said that peace was an issue that every politician had gone to bed with, but which somehow remained a virgin. I think campaign finance reform is a lot like that. Everyone is in favor of it, in theory.
In favor, that is, of their version of it. Periodically some reform does get passed, at the state or the national level, but the boys in the backroom are busy ferreting out the loopholes even before the bill is signed.
And even when reforms are meaningful, things never seem to stay reformed for very long. That‘s not to say it isn‘t worthwhile making an effort. There are some good things about the package of bills State Rep. Chris Ward has introduced. I especially like the provisions requiring more frequent disclosure of campaign fundraising and spending.
I also think requiring random audits of campaign committees is a good thing. But next you have to ask, what is the penalty for violating the laws?
What this is really all about is money. Crusaders for campaign finance reform commonly aim at the way we finance elections. Thanks to earlier rounds of reform, it is no longer legal for me to write Jennifer Granholm’s re-election campaign a check for $ 5 million dollars.
Thanks to poverty, I couldn’t do that anyway. However, if I were rich, and felt like it, I could give $5 million to a group which would buy TV commercials that would say that “Jennifer Granholm is the most brilliant person who has ever existed.
“Dick DeVos, on the other hand, would turn Michigan into the Sahara Desert.” As long as I didn’t add who to vote for, this would be just fine.
However, while I can’t give DeVos all my money, he can spend all of his if he wants to. He seems to be closing in on a new record for spending on a gubernatorial campaign. Who owns the old one?
Granholm, who won last time. When it comes to winning elections, is it better to self-finance your campaign, meaning, effectively, that only multi-millionaires can play? Or is it better to be beholden to different groups and individuals for your campaign cash? That’s hard to say.
But it is easy to see that money influences particular lawmakers. Four years ago, the legislators quietly raised the “paperwork charge” car dealers are allowed to charge you from $40 to $160, giving the dealers a big windfall. Turns out the dealers gave money to the campaigns of virtually every legislator who voted for that bill. That‘s why we need journalists watching our elected representatives, by the way.
There is only one way to get real reform. Put a strict cap on campaign spending, and give every candidate the same amount of publicly financed television time. And prevent the interests from donating to lawmakers.
Never happen? Maybe not. But it might be worth trying for. Better, that is, than the worst government money can buy.
The State House Oversight, Elections and Ethics Committee is expected to hold a series of hearings to examine changing the campaign finance system in Michigan. House Majority Floor Leader Chris Ward will be leading the hearings. He is a republican from Brighton. Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry spoke with him.
You might want to keep an eye on the congressional primary race between Joe Schwarz and challenger Tim Walberg. It could be highly significant, even if you don’t live in the Seventh District, which stretches along Michigan’s southern border from Ann Arbor to Battle Creek, taking in Jackson and Eaton County.
Freshman Congressman Joe Schwarz would have been thought of as an old-fashioned Republican a generation ago. Hawkish on defense, moderate on spending and social issues.
But today there is an attempt to paint him as an out-of-touch liberal, because he doesn’t pass the twin tests of ideological purity. He thinks abortion should be “safe, legal and rare,” and doesn’t think cutting taxes is the most important thing any government can do.
How this race plays out in August may give us a significant clue to the future of the Republican Party, and may even hint at the battle lines for the next presidential nomination struggle.
If Schwarz can’t win, that will mean there is no place for moderate conservatives in the Michigan GOP.
But if he does, it may be a sign that Senator John McCain is more likely to be the next Republican presidential nominee. Six years ago, Schwarz angered conservatives by agreeing to run McCain’s presidential primary campaign in Michigan.
Then he humiliated then-Gov. John Engler by engineering a huge victory for McCain over George Bush. Conservatives grumbled that Democrats crossed over and voted for McCain, which did happen. A win, however, is a win. And George W. Bush has never carried Michigan in any race, a fact moderates like to point out. McCain has come back to campaign for Schwarz in his various races, and the two men have become personally and politically close.
The Seventh District is not, by the way, all that conservative. It usually votes Republican, but Bill Clinton carried it twice. President Bush won it both times, but with only 51 and 54 percent.
Hard to imagine that folks who voted for Al Gore and John Kerry will be tempted by Tim Walberg’s Christian right agenda.
And while voters in Republican primaries are more conservative than the general population, it would be a mistake to assume that they will automatically turn against their congressman. True, he won last time with only 28 percent of the vote. And true, Joe Schwarz’s opponents were more conservative than he was. But that doesn’t mean they’ll automatically vote for Tim Walberg this time. A lot of subjective factors come into play in any election, and people often vote for personality as much as ideology.
Also, the second place finisher in that race was the son of the outgoing congressman Nick Smith, whose name drew a lot of support. How those people will now vote is anyone’s guess.
In my experience, it is awfully hard to beat any incumbent not caught up in scandal, particularly when he has been endorsed by the President of the United States. However, all political pundits must always remember the most sacred text of our profession. You never can tell.
Two years ago, former State Senator Joe Schwarz of Battle Creek beat five other rivals to win the GOP nomination for Congress in the heavily Republican seventh district. All of those runners-up were more conservative than the winner. One of them was Tim Walberg from Lenawee County, who this year is the congressman’s only opponent. Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry spoke with Walberg about his attempt to unseat congressman Schwarz.