GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In the race for the Michigan governor’s job, the choice is simple. The Republican is a former corporate executive who oversaw moving jobs out of the country while the state’s economy tanked.

The Democrat, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, presided over new economic growth in the past year that saw the creation of 3,100 manufacturing jobs in mid-Michigan.

According to state government data, the return of mostly unionized manufacturing jobs to mid-Michigan outpaced job growth in all sectors. Industry analysts have been pleasantly surprised by the new jobs creation and link it directly to new growth in the auto sector. Right now, Bernero’s city trails only Detroit in manufacturing jobs growth.

In the state as a whole, since the implementation of President Obama’s recovery act, Michigan’s high unemployment rate has fallen by more than 2 percentage points. Michigan Republicans uniformly opposed the recovery act, and other job-creating measures, claiming a “do nothing” approach would be better.

After a significant federally-financed bailout of two of the big three auto companies and the wildly popular “cash for clunkers” program last summer, Ford, GM and Chrysler have reported new profits in the billions. GM even has announced plans for a new stock sale to repay the government funds.

Clearly, however, the hard work and sacrifices Michigan working families have been most responsible for the turn around.

While some Michigan Republicans supported the auto bailout, most did not. As a potential candidate for the Republican nomination for governor last year, corporate executive Rick Snyder kept mum. In fact, he still has little to say, a stance that risks alienating the anti-bailout hysteria of the angry Tea Party base of the Michigan GOP.

On the other hand, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero earned a national reputation for his consistent defense of autoworkers and Michigan from attacks by the national mainstream media and the hacks who blamed workers for the collapse of the industry and Michigan’s economy. Bernero criticized parts of the bailout plan that asked working families to take wage and benefit cuts to pay for bad corporate decisions that led to problem in the first place.

For this, the right-wing, big business media labeled him “America’s Angriest Mayor,” a nickname he now wears proudly.

In a recent interview on mid-Michigan talk radio, Bernero said, “What I was angry about was how the national pundits in news media were treating Michigan autoworkers.”

“It really did get under my skin, they way they talked about autoworkers, the auto companies, and even the UAW,” the son of a retired autoworker said. “I think there was just an unfair portrayal of our state.”

Bernero pointed out also that during the crisis he helped organize a trip to Washington with other mayors whose towns and cities need a strong auto industry to fight for its revitalization.

Even as auto recovers, experts have noted that new job growth in Michigan hasn’t been confined to auto. New jobs are being created in significant numbers in the bio-medical and renewable energy fields, both a special focus of outgoing Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D), who cannot run for reelection.

New economic growth has become increasingly diverse, reported Mark Bashore of East Lansing’s WKAR radio. He cited the opening of plants in mid-Michigan that are making medical devices and wind energy products.

Meanwhile, GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder’s record on jobs is less than appealing to Michigan workers still concerned about high unemployment. Michigan Democrats recently slammed Snyder for his role in sending jobs out of the country in the midst of Michigan’s economic crisis. While an executive at Gateway Computers based in Ann Arbor, Mich., Snyder’s company reportedly outsourced 20,000 jobs out of the country.

Even a report in the conservative Wall Street Journal recently questioned Snyder’s own claims about his achievements in business, saying he didn’t really create jobs as a venture capitalist and noting the “jury is still out” on the success of some of his business investments.

While Snyder correctly claims he can’t be held responsible for every single one of the jobs outsourced by Gateway, he offered no criticism of his company for doing so. He has refused to provide a serious plan to recover those jobs, except to reward his old company, and others like it, with new tax breaks for killing jobs at the expense of an already overstretched state budget.

In fact, companies like Gateway Computers may have led the way in slowing economic growth on a national scale since the recession began. A new study out this week from the Commerce Department revealed that since the recession began in 2007, outsourcing companies have reduced the number of jobs in their U.S. operations by 2.1 percent while increasing their workforces in other countries by 1.1 percent. These small percentages add up to millions of lost jobs.

Fortunately, some of the loopholes in tax law that rewarded companies for moving jobs out of the country are being closed. As part of the recently passed state aid and teacher jobs bill – a bill opposed by every single Michigan Republican member of Congress – corporations will no longer be given tax breaks in the U.S. for creating jobs in other parts of the world.

While Michigan’s working families aren’t ready to sing “Happy Days are Here Again,” the economy is pointed in the right direction, and they can ill afford to risk that future by voting for Snyder the outsourcer.



Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of "Mythologies: A Political Economy of U.S. Literature, Settler Colonialism, and Racial Capitalism in the Long Nineteenth Century" (International Publishers) and "The Collectivity of Life" (Lexington Books).