Mainly that government is not a business. Oh, it obviously uses many techniques and devices like a business does, such as accounting, but it is not a business, it has a different function and purpose, and it operates under different rules.
Which would be wise for anyone in the, ahem, business of government to recall. And which may in some measure help explain some of the problems that have arisen in the administration of Governor Rick Snyder.
In recent weeks, Mr. Snyder has been battered by two scandals involving top officials. First, there was the matter of Scott Woosley, former head of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, who racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses. Then there was Rich Baird, one of Mr. Snyder’s closest advisors, who was getting primary homeowner tax breaks on a house here and another in the Chicago suburbs. Mr. Woosley has resigned his post, and Mr. Baird has paid the taxes he owes here.
One often hears the comment that government should be run like a business (ignoring the fact that a business can pretty much change prices, usually increasing them, at will or whenever it feels it must because of cost factors) and there is much to envy in the relative efficiency businesses can demonstrate in making marketing and product decisions, hiring and generally firing staff, and taking steps to boost profitability.
Businesses also tend to reward and sometimes look the other way when top performing executives run up some expenses or get unusual perks. If the executive delivers on business, then the companies tend to reward them and the executives tend to expect those perks in return.
Once as a business scribe I was on the sidelines of reporting on stories involving a well-known lawyer who was in the middle of a bankruptcy case who fiercely argued that he had to have a chauffeured limo because he could generate business on the cell phone if he was not driving.
Government does things more slowly, there are more rules and regulations to follow largely because all parties and all sides want to be sure that taxpayer dollars are protected, theoretically anyway, that all points of view are considered and that the decisions are in the best interest of the greater public.
When a business executive takes a government post it is admittedly hard for them, often, to remember that things are done differently on the public side than on the private side. The execs see they are to provide results for the public, and no one would dispute that, but they have to be reminded that the results have to come while living in the flea-bag hotel instead of the presidential suite. It doesn’t matter really matter how hard one works and what results one gets, it’s pretty clear the public wants top government service on the cheap as much as possible. When they don’t keep that in mind, well, then the public pays for lobster thermidor rather than Big Macs. And the public will only pay for Big Macs, and even then grudgingly.
Which is understandable. Nobody has to buy a business’s services or product, such a purchase is voluntary. The public accepts to some large degree the perks an exec in private life gets because they voluntarily have paid for it in return for something directly benefitting them. Taxes are compulsory, by contrast, one has to pay them and the benefits to the taxpayer are more indirect. So, the public is very unforgiving of any perks paid for with their tax dollars.
So, here is the conundrum all public executives need to remember: people want government run like a business, but it is not a business, and anything nice and deluxe and expensive that a business would approve the government can’t.
Candidates for public office have taken advantage of a politically good name for years, especially when it comes to judgeships, and why not.
Take Court of Appeals Judge Kirsten Frank Kelly, for example. When she became a Wayne Circuit judge in 1994, Kirsten Kelly would have been an excellent ballot name, but Kirsten Frank Kelly was the stuff of ballot legend for it echoed the name of Michigan’s longtime then-Attorney General and political juggernaut, Frank Kelley, who already had held office for more than 30 years. She had practiced law under her maiden name, Kirsten Frank, but when she ran for judge added her married name, Kelly, for the ballot.
In 2014, the tradition continues. One of the Republican nominees for the Michigan Supreme Court, Kent Circuit Judge James Redford, has for years used his full name on the ballot and in his campaign committee name – James Robert Redford.
Hey, in politics, when you can evoke the name of one of America’s most beloved actors and directors of the past 50 years – Robert Redford of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Sting,” “All the President’s Men” et al – you do it, right?
So maybe Judge Redford’s campaign strategists will pay for the rights to the majestic theme from “The Natural,” in which Mr. Redford plays a sublime baseball player, as background music to Judge Redford’s ads?
Should Judge Redford win, however, let’s hope he does not react as Robert Redford’s “Bill McKay” character did upon winning a U.S. Senate seat in “The Candidate.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer would have moved ahead of Mr. Snyder in the governor’s race. The prospect of a likely Democratic victory at the top of the ticket would have put the House Republican majority into full-scale crisis mode in what would have become a much more difficult fight to keep the majority. And Mr. Calley’s once-promising political career would be in ruins.
Mr. Calley winning renomination and stopping the specter of a Snyder-Nakagiri ticket does not ensure Mr. Snyder will beat Mr. Schauer, far from it. That race by all measures is up for grabs. And it does not ensure House Republicans will keep their majority.
But it does prevent complete chaos in the Michigan Republican Party that would have threatened to make very real the prospect of not just a Democratic win, but a sweeping Democratic win.
As much as Mr. Nakagiri insisted the presence of a tea party conservative on the ticket would galvanize conservatives to vote, the data just does not back that up. Mr. Snyder has long enjoyed near unanimous support in the polls from Republicans. Yes, there are some Republican activists who have never warmed to him and are upset with him on some issues, but nowhere near a critical mass that could put his re-election in jeopardy by sitting out the race.
Had Mr. Nakagiri made the ticket, Democrats would have affixed every single position he has ever taken to Mr. Snyder.
Yes, voters vote for the governor, not the lieutenant governor. But a mess with the running mate can greatly hurt a gubernatorial candidate. Ask former Governor Jim Blanchard whether his handling of taking Lt. Governor Martha Griffiths off the ticket in 1990 helped or hurt his campaign. This situation would have made that one seem small by comparison because it would have served as a constant distraction throughout the fall from what messages Mr. Snyder wants to emphasize.
So at last the “loot guv” battle royale in the Michigan Republican Party is over. Let the real race begin.
A few days before the Michigan Republicans are expected to re-nominate him for what is a non-partisan ballot position for the Supreme Court, Justice Brian Zahra has taken to the airwaves.
Actually, he’s taken to YouTube, but “taken to the airwaves” sounds more dramatic as he has launched a series of weekly videos called “Ask Justice Zahra.”
Every Wednesday until probably the election, Mr. Zahra and his campaign will post the videos, answering questions emailed to him.
In a white shirt and tie, sitting at what we presume is his desk, Mr. Zahra handled the first question which came from “Michelle” in Bad Axe, and it had to do with the differences between the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice and the chief justice in Michigan. Besides being chief justice for life at the federal level, Mr. Zahra said after several years of administering Michigan courts, most chief justices are ready to step down.
These are campaign pieces, in that there is a logo of “Zahra for Supreme Court” in the upper right corner and closes on a sign saying Zahra for Supreme Court. But in the first video, at least, Mr. Zahra does not make any pitch to the voters.
(There is not a similar weekly video at this point for Justice David Viviano, although the two of them have appeared together on a video.)
And at this moment, the video has not exactly gone viral. As of this writing, it’s had 120 views. Ah, but the campaign still has several months to go.
Should you have any thoughts on production values, plot structure, dialogue, developing dramatic tension and the like that you may have, you can probably email them to #AskJusticeZahra.