American families and taxpayers may be just three weeks from going over the “fiscal cliff,” a move economists predict will shrink the nation’s economy and dramatically increase unemployment, but you wouldn’t know it by the way President Obama has been approaching negotiations with Congress.
Reasonable observers who have taken a look at the president’s latest proposals have come to the same conclusion: The president is more interested in winning a political victory of higher tax rates on higher-income earners than in making tough decisions to cut the deficit, kick-start the economy and empower job providers.
For an example of real, effective, no-holds-barred leadership in tough times, Mr. Obama (and Republican congressional leaders, for that matter) would be wise to look to Michigan. The quintessential Rust Belt dinosaur has undergone an amazing transformation, thanks to Gov. Rick Snyder and local legislative leaders who have shown a willingness these past two years — and in the past two weeks — to make difficult decisions and fight brutal political battles at significant risk not only to their careers but to their physical safety.
The Great Lakes State recently emerged from a “lost decade.” Michigan preceded the nation into recession, a victim of disastrous economic policies and a refusal by state leaders to make difficult decisions, especially those opposed by organized labor.
Two years ago, residents voted for a change, electing businessman and self-proclaimed political novice Rick Snyder as governor while sending a Republican, pro-business and pro-worker majority to the state House and a supermajority to the state Senate. The “reinvention of Michigan” has been nothing short of remarkable. Leaders made tough decisions and stood up to union bosses who long dominated the state decision-making. As a result, they rebuilt the state’s business climate and empowered local governments and public school districts to balance their books more precisely than at any time in recent memory.
Indiana’s decision earlier this year to become a right-to-work state presented new challenges for Lansing. Job-makers, who only recently had begun re-examining Michigan as a serious option, were lured a few miles southwest to a neighbor with a dramatically healthier labor climate.
Labor leaders like United Auto Workers President Bob King, who for two years enjoyed a working relationship with the Republican Mr. Snyder, compounded the challenge Indiana presented by pushing a constitutional amendment to give unions de facto veto power over state law.
Voters resoundingly defeated the measure, but job-makers took notice of Big Labor’s power grab and willingness to spend more than $30 million to overturn state policy. Why run the risk in Michigan when Indiana offered such a different alternative?
Indiana’s labor reform and Big Labor’s power grab got Mr. Snyder’s attention. That’s why, in an earth-shattering move most observers thought would — and could — never happen, the Michigan Legislature last week approved freedom-to-work reforms, and Mr. Snyder signed them into law on Tuesday. The birthplace of Big Labor became the nation’s 24th right-to-work state.
Mr. Snyder, as well as state House Speaker Jase Bolger and state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, say freedom-to-work will help Michigan attract the new businesses and industries the state needs to compete in the 21st century. This not only will help the local economy recover faster — it puts Michigan on a path to have a healthy economy for years to come.
Mr. Snyder recognizes it is not enough for Michigan to survive. He wants Michigan to thrive and believes deeply that workplace fairness and equality legislation is an essential building block for Michigan’s long-term success.
The move was not popular among labor activists, who “occupied” Lansing. The UAW, AFL-CIO and others bused in hundreds — perhaps thousands — of union members from as far away as Chicago, Ohio, Alabama and even Ontario. Last Thursday, as lawmakers in labor’s backyard prepared to cast the most difficult votes of their careers, thousands of union activists stormed the Capitol building, while nearly a dozen broke through sealed doors into the Senate chamber.
Police were forced to use pepper spray to protect lawmakers and made eight arrests as union activists continued to threaten legislators, physically assaulted freedom-to-work reformers outside on the steps of the Capitol and did significant damage to the building itself.
Like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and legislative leaders in both states, Mr. Snyder and Michigan lawmakers are focused on doing the right thing, undeterred by union violence. They have demonstrated a remarkable willingness to put Michigan residents and the state’s economy above even their own personal safety.
That’s real leadership.
Jeb Bush, former Republican governor of Florida, is chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.