(James Fassinger/StillScenes used with permission.)
But what do the newly minted college graduates so critical to Snyder's vision see when they look at today's Michigan?Snyder recieved a chilly reception addressing Michigan State University's commencement on Saturday, being greeted with boos and protests.
If they're reading the governor's own website, they see a state that "has the 12th-friendliest tax system in America" and is "encouraging long-term, sustainable economic growth in rural areas by enacting a simple, fair and efficient severance tax for mining operations."
(No, seriously: I'm quoting verbatim from the Friday press release in which the governor congratulated state legislators on the completion of their lame-duck session.)
Welcome to Mich-issippi
But if young people are looking elsewhere -- to newspaper websites, for instance, or cable news, or late-night TV comedians like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, both wildly popular with the 18-30 audience -- they see a different Michigan.
The Great Lakes State being ridiculed on the Daily Show and CNN is a insular, backward-looking place, suspicious of newcomers and new ideas -- a state whose elected officials are busily erecting new obstacles to contraception, same-sex marriage and voting, and new opportunities for people who open for-profit prisons, hunt wolves or pack heat in church.
Really, lawmakers, is there something you're not doing to make young college graduates feel unwelcome? How about raising the age of consent to 35, or booking Lawrence Welk tribute bands at the Palace?
Snyder and Republicans promise theirs is the roadmap to prosperity and young graduates of Michigan's many fine schools will make Michigan their home to thrive.
Except they haven't been doing that -- not even in sufficient numbers to fill the high-skill jobs Michigan already has.I can certainly say this all rings true to me. And I was once part of the Michigan youth exodus.
Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM), a consortium of the state's largest employers, warns that the supply of workers with two- and four-year degrees could fall a million short of the number needed to meet existing employers' needs by 2025. That's right -- a million fewer college graduates than Michigan needs to fill the jobs Snyder expects to create.
Dwindling government support for higher education in Michigan is a major contributor to the shortfall. "At a time when we need to grow our number of college-educated workers, Michigan's policy on higher education discourages enrollment by making it too costly for many to attend college," J. Patrick Doyle, President & CEO of Domino's Pizza, told fellow CEOs at a BLM summit on higher education last May.
Doyle and his peers have urged Snyder to reverse spending priorities in Michigan, which lavishes 76% more taxpayer dollars on prisons than it spends on public universities.
Yet even many of those who manage to obtain degrees here quickly take them elsewhere -- especially to states that haven't muddled their messages of opportunity with official hostility to reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, immigrants and organized labor.
I was born in Michigan and lived there 26 years. I attended college in Michigan and swiftly took my skills and education to New York City and have thrived in business. It will be 20 years ago in another few months.
And this whole week has revealed who are the radicals. The Republicans are the ones seeking in a single week to not only fight the progress made by the labor movement, but also those made by women, racial minorities and the LGBT community. They're trying and succeeding in literally turning back the clock decades. The labor movement once built a strong middle class in Michigan, the historical record is incontrovertible. But the state's political priorities seem focused on crippling them, and beating back the advances of women and racial minorities and the LGBT community, even as other states are moving forward. Radical right wing reactionary are the only words to describe the Michigan political agenda.
When I left in 1993, Michigan was not a progressive state. But it also wasn't a markedly backward state. It isn't only these policies that dismay me—and they do. It's the fact that Michigan has been trending this way for awhile. It's that too many voters apparently support all this backwards, retro nonsense the legislators have been pushing.
I do wish Michigan progressives well in their continued fight. I wish I could say I was optimistic about the prospects for pushback. Wisconsin was at best a mixed bag. And the media outlets are winnowing in the Great Lakes State. For too many people I've encountered in my visits home, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are seen as credible sources for information. I don't even know how to debate a friend or relative that quotes Rush Limbaugh to me. These are college educated people, some even union members.
Unfortunately, the leaders pushing this are empowered because their politics of division is working wonderfully. While many states saw through the radical GOP agenda, and kicked them to the curb, (see Minnesota), somehow Michigan voters were slower to catch on.
Too many in my home state seem to have drunk the Kool-Aid that the state's economic malaise can be blamed on those darn over-paid teachers, and the blacks, and the gays and those slutty irresponsible women, and if only the DeVos family could hold onto more of their bottomless well of money, everything would get better.
Here in New York City, I have found you can't swing a cat and not hit a Michigan transplant. One of my closest friends was born and raised in Troy and is an MSU grad, we met after we both moved here. There's even a bar in Manhattan's lower east side, The Motor City Bar owned by a relocated Michigander. It's decorated with the iconography of Michigan, and if you're a little bit homesick and longing for the taste of a Vernor's, it's there. It's been thriving for years on a clientele of many transplants.
My mom still lives in East Lansing. She was happy for me when an career opportunity presented itself in New York, and she's always happy, even anxious, to visit me, as much for her love of the City as for me, I sometimes suspect.
Still, she used to ask me hopefully, "Think you'll ever move back to Michigan?"
I used to humor her, and say maybe. And maybe a part of me did long to feel reattached to my roots. But watching from a distance, that's changed. Increasingly, the words of Thomas Wolfe ring in my mind, "You can't go home again."
Now, I don't feel like I even recognize this state called Michigan anymore.