Back then, she was the state attorney general, successfully running the state’s largest law firm, with an annual budget of $65 million and a staff of 600 – all while running for governor.
She won that race, and was re-elected in 2006 to continue driving the state that “put the world on wheels,” to use her words, representing and governing 10 million residents.
Few state leaders in America have faced tougher challenges during that time. With 300,000 manufacturing jobs lost since 2000 and starting with a state deficit in the billions, Granholm faced what is now expected to be nationwide recession early on. For the fiscally responsible Democrat, rebalancing the state’s budget has always been a top priority. But it’s a battle that turned ugly.
Last September, Michigan’s government actually shut down for several hours, as lawmakers resisted passing reforms and budget cuts – along with two tax increases – that would bring Michigan close to a balanced budget.
“Too often the notion in the past was about one-time fixes,” she says. “[The idea was], ‘if I kick the can down the road, I won’t be here to have to clean it up.’ This time we said ‘none of that’ – we have got to get this done.”
As a result, state lawmakers had to face “the toughest vote of their political careers,” she adds. “Their unwillingness took us right up to the deadline.” And beyond it – by six hours. But Granholm held firm, and she prevailed.
Now, as Michigan begins a new fiscal year, Granholm is trying to keep the momentum going. “This is not a time for procrastination or for partisan nonsense,” she said in her recent State of the State speech, referring to last fall’s budget battle. “It's a time for just one thing: for us to fight for Michigan's future.… If there's one thing we showed the people of Michigan in the last year, it's that we know how to fight. Now we need to show them that we can fight for them. Together.”
Among her initiatives for 2008 are the Michigan Job Creation Tax Credit – a one-time offer for businesses in the 50 fastest-growing industries in the country – and the Michigan Invests! Fund, which will give young growth companies the incentives to grow and stay in Michigan. She’s also backing government reform and streamlined services to companies via internet. And, she aims to make the state a leader in creating alternative energy technologies.
“No other state – indeed, few places in the world – have what we have to offer,” she points out: “Our wind, our water, our woods and, thanks to the working men and women of Michigan, our skilled workforce.”
In her speeches on helping Michigan become more sustainable through alternative energies, she often mentions the success of Sweden in this area. It’s a region comparable in size to Michigan that has fared well in the face of the global loss of manufacturing jobs by diversifying and creating new industries in the renewable energy sector.
“We want to replace the lost manufacturing automotive jobs with jobs in renewable energy,” she says. “We put the world on wheels, and that technology has created a lot of the climate change. We now want Michigan to lead the nation in reducing global warming by increasing the reliance on renewable resources, and the technologies associated with that…. We almost feel we have a moral obligation to do that.”
Granholm seems to personify the more responsible leadership style that many are craving from Washington these days. And the second-generation Scandinavian-American, who early on endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, has certainly shown an ability to steer clear of bipartisan politics and get the job done. She’s one to watch in her own right.
Written by: Ulf Mårtensson
Photography: Henrik Olund
Governor Jennifer Mulhern Granholm of Michigan, photographed by Henrik Olund in October 2007 on the roof of the former GM Headquarters in downtown Detroit. For more on the background of Granholm, see www.nordicreach.com
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