If his caucus in the legislature acts accordingly, that will be a powerful and positive change. And one that, in the long run, will be good for the Republican Party. Two years ago, many of our lawmakers -- especially Republicans -- embarrassed themselves all year by engaging in cynical partisan games instead of making an honest bipartisan effort to solve a huge deficit problem.
That’s not to say that the Democrats deserved any prizes for statesmanship -- they didn’t. The governor, who had just been reelected by a landslide and had political capital to spend, wouldn’t spend it. She appeared weak and vacillating, and wasn’t even willing to fight for a tax increase she proposed and which everybody knew was necessary. Much of the time, she even appeared out of sync with her party’s leaders in the legislature.
However, the Republicans were not only defiantly not part of the solution, they were utterly hypocritical. Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop and the man who was then House Minority Leader, Craig DeRoche, insisted the budget be balanced without tax increases, even though they offered no real solution as to how to get there. Privately, many Republicans admitted the state couldn’t survive without a tax increase.
Not, that is, without damaging essential programs. But they wanted Democrats to take all the blame. At the very last minute, just when the state was about to shut down, a few GOP votes were found to raise taxes -- but in an appallingly bad way.
Much of the increase came from a last-minute, half-baked surcharge on the Michigan business tax, something that hurt our ability to compete, damaging it much more than boosting the state income tax a little more would have done.
Republicans, however, reaped no political benefits. They were already a minority in the state house, a body whose districts were supposedly drawn in order to guarantee them a majority. Last year, they lost nine more seats. They are outnumbered 67 to 43.
So what can they do now? Their new leader is smart enough to realize that his party will gain nothing by merely continuing to denounce everything the Democrats propose.
That doesn’t mean the Democrats have any monopoly on wisdom. There certainly have been times when Republicans in Lansing have been both more prudent and more innovative.
We are going to need a lot of prudence, innovation and courage in the next few years. We are facing a national and state financial crisis more severe than anyone under age 75 has seen.
Things are going to get worse before they get better. Today’s voters need leaders who are statesmen. What’s ironic is that if Elsenheimer does fill that role, it won’t matter in two years.
Thanks to term limits, he’ll have to leave office, forever. If you want to fix our constitution, that’s precisely the place to start.