Deliberating Michigan's future
Results of new poll surprising
June 26, 2008
The Midwest Democracy Institute has taken a new poll of 400 Michiganders, and it predictably strikes a dismal note — but one that contains some surprising grounds for optimism.
First, the grim news:
Only about one out of six of us (16 percent) think the state is "on the right track."
Distrust in state government has risen over the last two years; Nearly three out of four of us (73 percent) say they only trust state government some of the time ... or almost never.
Barely one in five (21 percent) think Gov. Jennifer Granholm is doing a good job, while a mere tenth of us (11 percent) think the legislature is doing well.
None of this will surprise anyone who has been following state affairs for the last few years, and is familiar with the usual drumbeat of doubt and depression from all sides.
But embedded in the survey is this remarkable finding: "At the same time, many continue to have an abiding faith in the ability to change state government to be less influenced by moneyed interests and more responsive and accountable to constituents.
"A large majority (77 percent) expresses personal interest in an organization that works toward making state government work better by being more honest and accountable, and over half of Michigan residents (54 percent) say they are extremely interested."
That fits well with what the Michigan's Defining Moment (MDM) campaign has discovered over the last six months. In that time, it has held nearly 200 community conversations, small group "deliberative democracy" gatherings all over the state. (Full disclosure here: I founded the non-profit, non-partisan sponsoring organization, The Center for Michigan, and I'm a co-chair of the campaign.)
Attitudes expressed in these meetings are decidedly not a scientific poll. Nor are they top-down ideological statements of revealed truth (if any such things exist.) Instead, they're the thoughtful reflections of nearly 2,000 Michiganders, who attempted to define their hopeful vision for the state, as well, as share their thoughts about how best to achieve that vision.
The results have just been released in a report, "Michigan's Defining Moment: A Common Ground Vision for Michigan's Transformation." In the main, the findings are pretty straightforward:
People want a talented and globally competitive work force; a thriving economy and a great quality of life attracting talented people to Michigan; and a state government that is effective, efficient and accountable. (You can find the full report on The Center's Web site, www.thecenterformichigan.)
Incidentally, the Midwest Democracy Network is an outfit advocating campaign finance reform and transparency in government. Among the proposals that got top marks in their poll:
Requiring judges to publicly disclose campaign contributions as well as requiring them to step aside when cases before them involve parties who contributed to their campaigns. (This will likely be a big issue this fall, when Chief Justice Clifford Taylor of the Michigan Supreme Court — recently rated as among the worst in the country — is up for election. Democrats have vowed to try to defeat him.)
Establish non-partisan commissions to draw new district boundaries when needed, normally following the U.S. Census every decade. (Along with lengthening or abolishing term limits, fixing our redistricting system comes out high in MDM community conversations. The vast majority of Michigan legislative districts are gerrymandered to favor one party or the other.)
Six out of 10 Michiganders felt a package of reforms will make a "big difference" in how their government works. Interestingly, many legislators feel the same way. Over the past few months, I've had six small, confidential, off the record dinners with lawmakers from both parties. To a person, they are hard-working, interested in doing the right things, frustrated with a political system that tends to push them into scoring partisan political points rather than governing wisely.
True enough, this poll, like many others, looks grim on the surface. But if you look a bit below the surface, lots of folks are interested in reforming the system and willing to work hard to do it.
Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics, and a former chairman of the Michigan chapter of the Nature Conservancy. He is also the founder and president of The Center for Michigan, a centrist think-and-do tank which publishes the Michigan Scorecard. The opinions expressed here are Power's own and do not represent the official views of The Center. He welcomes your comments at .
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