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History in the Making

In her inaugural address, Michigan’s 47th governor paid homage “to the brave women and to the just men who blazed the trail” to the governor’s door. “In particular,” she said, “I bow to those women who showed me how to rap upon its aged wood, who inch by inch cracked the door ajar, who looked in but were denied admittance.”

Behind that door, history is still being made, as Granholm begins to shape the future of Michigan. Prior to her election, the governor-elect shared with us how Grand Rapids — which she refers to as “the model of a beautiful city in this state” — fits into that future.

By Cara M. Kissling

“Jennifer Granholm: Brainy, Blond and Ready to Rumble.” So read a Jan. 6 Newsweek headline atop writer Eleanor Clift’s article, which opined: “One of the few bright spots for Democrats in the past year was the election of Jennifer Granholm as governor of Michigan.”

The buzz surrounding Granholm’s election has reverberated far beyond the Great Lakes. Yes, she is Michigan’s first female governor, and she’s already in the history books for being that “first.” But what she does as the first is how the people of Michigan, how the people of Grand Rapids, will evaluate her time in office.

And make no mistake that the people of West Michigan are watching … one could argue that it can’t be avoided. This former Detroit-based prosecutor has already logged many westerly miles. Granholm welcomed at least 1,200 supporters during a Jan. 3 inauguration gala at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Later that month, she stopped at Northeast Middle School to present federal grant money to the Grand Rapids Public Schools. On Feb. 6, she was scheduled to address the 115th annual meeting of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce — the first time in the chamber’s history that a sitting governor has accepted such an invitation.

Prior to her inauguration, Grand Rapids Magazine had the opportunity to briefly interview then Gov.-elect Granholm. The discussion began with a question about Grand Rapids’ strengths (and specifically its urban revitalization movement) and what in Grand Rapids the governor would like to see replicated statewide.

Gov. Granholm: I think that Grand Rapids can be a role model for the entire state with the way it has reached out to different units of government to encourage them to work together. You know it’s so ironic that centuries ago, the way that a county was decided was how far somebody could travel on horseback in a day. Well that’s a bit of an anachronism, and so units of government should be operating on a much more logical, and therefore regional, approach. We should be managing our flow of water by watershed rather than by these jurisdictions that sometimes seem to be obsolete. Not that you don’t want to have local units of government, because of course they’re very important and it’s very important for people to have a say in their governance. But to encourage people to work together, to encourage units of government to work together, makes a great deal of sense, and Grand Rapids has certainly been a model for that. Mayor Logie, I know has been a real advocate for that, and in fact in the southeast portion of the state they have named the chamber of commerce there as a Detroit regional chamber to try to move in that direction as well, because Grand Rapids has proven to be a great success in that regard.
And then you also had mentioned urban revitalization, and … Grand Rapids is the model of a beautiful city in this state. Many of our other urban areas, our large, urban areas, are in decay and people are moving out, and yet in Grand Rapids we see a great energy and there’s a wonderful commitment to the downtown area by corporate philanthropists and others who have a commitment to making it work, and therefore you don’t see the “brain drain” as much in Grand Rapids as you might see it in other areas of the state. We would love to say that Detroit or Saginaw or Flint has taken the model of Grand Rapids and brought in a desire to revitalize downtown, to create lofts, to bring in small businesses, to really encourage the community leaders, the education leaders, the governmental leaders and the business leaders to work together on a unified plan to revitalize, because we all have to realize that without vibrant urban centers we will not have a vibrant state.

Grand Rapids Magazine: That brings me to a question of sprawl. Your “Plan for Securing Michigan’s Future” highlights the need to redevelop cities and older suburbs and curtail the sprawl. As governor, how do you hope to do it?

Granholm: Well, several things. One is I think we ought to adopt, as part of state law, policies that would give local units of government the tools to decide where they want their open space and where they want their densities, tools like the purchase of development rights or the transfer of development rights to preserve open space, preserve farmland and encourage development using market-based incentives for developers to develop “in” where we’ve already got the infrastructure rather than gobbling up the green space of our state. It’s appalling the amount of land that is gobbled up each hour in our state, and we’re just going to, we’re going to stop that. It is this sort of random sprawl that has consumed so much of the beautiful areas of our state and our farmland. It’s got to be managed in a much smarter way. So that’s one thing.

But also the decision about infrastructure, paving and repair, I think that we’ve got to adopt a “fix it first, fix it right” policy. The 90 percent of our dollars have got to go first toward repair and repaving rather than in growing infrastructure, in growing the roads elsewhere, unless there’s a safety question. Obviously there are some exceptions to that, but for the most part the emphasis should be upon repair and repaving so that you encourage that growth in rather than out, and that’s the same with under-the-ground infrastructure as well.

Grand Rapids Magazine: As you pursue to bridge the state — and you talked a lot about that in your campaign, about unifying — is there anyone distinctly who comes to mind either in a legislative role or leadership role who you think you’re really going to have to partner with to accomplish your goals?

Granholm: Yes, I think Ken Sikkema will absolutely have to be a partner. He’s the Republican leader of the Senate and he and I have very similar ideas with respect to water. He has had a great emphasis in his career on the environment … and I look forward to working with him to get a water protection statute in place in this state.

We are one of the only states in the Great Lakes Basin that does not have a statute that protects our water from being diverted to the southwest or any other part of the United States and yet we’ve got the most to lose: We have the most miles of shoreline of any other state, except for Alaska. We clearly have got to develop policies in the legislative process that will protect both the quantity and the quality of our waters, so I look forward to working with him on that.

Grand Rapids Magazine: I speak with you now in December, but Grand Rapids Magazine readers won’t read this until March, which does happen to be Women’s History Month. Although I look forward to the day when we won’t need to say “first female” anymore …

Granholm: Me, too. We hope it becomes a boring statement. It should be no big deal.

Grand Rapids Magazine: As a woman who has made history, where does this fit it? What does (the governorship) mean to you?

Granholm: Oh, it’s enormous for me, personally, but even more important than that it’s enormous for my daughters and for my husband and our son; it’s a great symbol for the next generation that there is nothing that should hold you back. It shouldn’t be about your “plumbing,” it shouldn’t be about your skin color, it should just be about your excellence, and that’s really a great message I think for anybody.
… I want to have a Cabinet that reflects all of Michigan, there’s no doubt about it, and that means geographic diversity and gender diversity and racial and ethnic diversity, but principally I want a Cabinet that’s excellent and the byproduct, hopefully, will be a diverse Cabinet as well.

Grand Rapids Magazine: Finally, what do you think your legacy should be? What, when you look back, do you think they’ll say about Jennifer Granholm?

Granholm: I want them to say that she was a governor who protected our families, who educated our children and made us proud of government again, who caused young people to want to go into service, serving either government or the people or one another. I want them to say, yeah, our great cities in this state came back and our environment was protected — because the environment is not something we inherit from our parents, it’s something we borrow from our children — and I want them to say she was able to work across the aisle, she was able to include a whole array of people in this state and she made us feel enormously proud of being citizens in Michigan. GR

Cara M. Kissling is the managing editor of Grand Rapids Magazine.

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