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Primary Blues in Michigan

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Michiganders will be treated to a presidential primary on Tuesday and to tell you the truth, people here are really glum about it for many reasons.

First, the Democratic ticket lists only Clinton and Kucinich. Party leaders are encouraging people favoring other candidates to mark the "uncommitted" spot on their ballots or to "do mischief" in the Republican primary.

Second, Mitt Romney is predicted to win Michigan probably because his father, George, was governor here in the prosperous 1960s.

Third, our state party chiefs tried to move our primary closer the beginning of the year in order to put Michigan in a more influential position for selecting a general election nominee. Instead they managed to have the candidates and the media practically ignore us.

Fourth, Michigan citizens have many issues the candidates are not addressing.

For example, racked by a 7.4 percent and rising unemployment rate, our state lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs since mid-2000 with more to come through 2009. October housing starts were down 46.4 percent from the peak two years ago and home values plummeted 18 percent. A record 70,000 homes face foreclosure.

Last year 30,500 more residents left the state making us Number One in the nation for out-migration. This rate even outdistances the 1981 auto recession exodus.

Graduates from our colleges and universities are leaving the state because they can't find work. More than half of the graduates from the prestigious University of Michigan leave. Seventy-five percent of our new teachers leave. That's a brain drain at a time when we need all the creative power and youthful energy we can get.

However, it gets worse when you consider what has happened to us politically.

Our former governor, a Republican, passed 26 tax cuts over his three terms in office (1991-2003) and the results of his work have plunged the state into hopelessness. For example, he cut off social services to the very poor. He hated and hassled teachers and their unions. He demonized the environmental protection agencies and made them powerless against corporate interests intent on plundering our natural resources. He defaced Lake Michigan with slant drilling operations in order to capture the small amounts of oil and natural gas that lay there.

Now we have our first woman governor, a Democrat and a dynamic, charismatic and hope-filled enthusiast for the state. However, like so many politicians who only want to be elected, she has played it safe since she was first elected in 2002 and offers few solutions and many excuses.

Last fall our state registered a billion-dollar deficit and that came after cutting government to the bone.

Our state legislature is comprised of a bunch of bumbling amateurs who protect their $80,000/year paychecks and lifetime health care benefits as they attack our public school teachers' pensions and health care plans. They also squabble over the crumbs of our state economy and they do it rather anonymously because their six and eight-year term limits barely give them time to know their jobs let alone become acquainted with their constituents.

Michigan has been whipsawed by one-issue groups who pound out their ideology with a vengeance. Right to Life has been able to edge out moderate pro-choice candidates in favor of tax-cutting extremists for a couple decades. In a 2004 ballot initiative, the Roman Catholic Church spent $750,000 to campaign against gay marriage.

Economics and politics aren't the only things troubling Michigan. We are beholden to the power and influence of the automobile industry, which is dependent on the nation's ability to acquire cheap oil. Michigan politicians are therefore afraid to touch any oil or environmental issues lest they lose their financial backing from the auto industry.

However, Michigan is not alone in this "catch-22" oil quagmire. The whole nation is affected.

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Olga Bonfiglio is a Huffington Post contributor and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several magazines and newspapers on the subjects of food, social justice and religion. She (more...)
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