You Did A Lot of Good, Jen: A Farewell to Gov. Granholm

First Lady Abigail Bartlet is chatting with her husband, Jed, as the Sun rises on the day he is to leave office. After wondering out loud why an outdoor inauguration is held in the middle of January, the outgoing First Couple pause for a moment before Abby says to the President, "You did a lot of good, Jed."

"A lot of good."

That, of course, is from the opening scene of the series finale of The West Wing. But that scene could easily be played out this morning in Michigan's Governor's Residence, with Dan Mulhern telling his wife that "You did a lot of good, Jen. A lot of good."

The circumstances are different, and unlike Bartlet making way for a fellow Democrat, Granholm is succeeded by a Republican (although one who claims to be a moderate - the proof will be in the pudding). But in her eight years guiding this state through some of its most challenging times, Jennifer Mulhern Granholm has great reason to be proud of all the good that she has done. I know I am proud of her, as I was before and always will be. So as she leaves office at noon today, I would like to introduce you to one of the most visionary leaders Michigan has had.

A Rising Star

October 5, 2000.

Mom and I waited several hours to see the Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, energize a crowd of supporters in traditionally Republican West Michigan. Fresh off his first of three debates with George W. Bush, Gore did not disappoint those of us who crowded into Calder Plaza.

But while he may have been the star of the show, someone else played a supporting role that proved her to be a rising star in politics and the Democratic Party. A rising star who energized the crowd by presenting a "top 10" list of reasons why she was proud to support Gore. That star was the state's Attorney General, Jennifer Granholm.

In early 2001, Granholm announced that she would run for Governor. Running on the slogan of "Protecting Our Families, Educating Our Kids," Granholm faced off against a field of Democratic candidates that included David Bonior, the longtiome congressman and (important in Michigan) friend of labor, and Jim Blanchard, the two-term Governor from the 1980s who served as President Clinton's first Ambassador to Canada. (Two other candidates garnered too little support to get on the ballot.)

Behind in the early polls, she won the primary by a convincing 20 points. Despite her early lead in the general-election polls against Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, Posthumus closed the gap considerably. Thankfully, on Election Day 2002 - a day that would otherwise turn out less than ideal for Democrats - Jennifer Granholm was elected the state's first female governor.

On January 1, 2003, at noon, US Appeals Court Judge Damon Keith swore in his former Clerk, Jennifer Granholm, as the 47th Governor of the State of Michigan. I remember being in my basement, watching as Granholm repeated the oath from Judge Keith, concluding with Keith saying, "So Help Me..." followed by Granholm's "So help me..." and then, both of them together, exclaiming, "God!"

In front of a cheering crowd at the State Capitol, a great leader took her place in Michigan history and began eight years of dedication and service to the most wonderful state in the union. And I, a high school sophomore at the time, couldn't be happier to meet her, along with First Gentleman (and author) Dan Mulhern and Lt. Gov. John Cherry at a family celebration two days after she took office.

An Accomplished Leader

Granholm's eight years as Governor of Michigan could be best described as "Greatness through Challenge" - the title of one of her early State of the State addresses. To say the least, her tenure has been one of enormous challenge - high unemployment, massive structural budget deficits, and a legislature that was at least partially in Republican hands throughout her tenure.

And yet, what she has accomplished is astounding.

(The above link is the source for many of the following facts and figures.)

It's no secret that Michigan has been one of the most economically ravaged states in the nation - thanks in part to the state's dependence on manufacturing. Through such efforts as the 21st Century Jobs Fund, the creation of which Granholm spearheaded, Michigan has saved more than 650,000 jobs. She has also created the No Worker Left Behind program, which has helped to retrain workers who have been laid off. While Michigan's unemployment rate is now around 12%, one can hardly imagine how much worse it would have been without her leadership. What would have happened if we'd had a governor who did not think government could do anything for the economy?

But what to do about diversifying our economy to make it less dependent on a sector that has not done well? And what about the many environmental issues that we as humans face, but that many politicians choose to ignore? Thankfully, Granholm has made diversifying Michigan's economy a top priority. Her chief focus has been establishing a solid footing for an emerging alternative industry in Michigan.

She was also responsible for helping to grow such industries as medicine and tourism. In the past eight years, thanks in part to Granholm's leadership, Grand Rapids has become home to the Medical Mile, where research in health and medicine has found a home. Granholm also oversaw the creation of the Pure Michigan campaign, rated one of the best and most successful tourism campaigns in the nation.

Then there's the issue of education. While the national conversation on education often focuses on bureaucratic matters, Granholm has instead focused on students. Understanding that a sound education system is a must for 21st-century America, Granholm shepherded into law legislation that has raised the standards in our schools so that students will be better prepared for college. As a result, dropout rates are on the decline, while college enrollment is at a record high. She has also shown leadership in supporting higher education, with the Michigan Promise Scholarship (now defunct, but no less loved by students) and the Cherry Commission on Higher Education, of which Lt. Gov. John Cherry played a leading role.

While other states have cut their budgets on the backs of the less fortunate, Granholm has left the safety net untouched. She reached a deal in 2007 to address the state's structural deficit by raising the state's income tax rate from 3.9% to 4.35%. She understands that government does have a role to play in the quality of life of our citizens, so she chose the route that was more difficult. For her courage, I will always be thankful.

It's worth noting that Michigan is now ranked as having the 17th best business climate in the nation, up from 27th place at the end of the supposedly 'pro-business' John Engler's 12-year tenure. Ours is also the third best state when it comes to bringing new businesses. In the past few months, our unemployment rate has dropped three times as fast as the national rate.

But how successful has she really been as a leader? Consider this: Despite a Legislature where the Senate has been in Republican hands since 1983 and remained so throughout her tenure, and despite the state House being in Republican hands in her first term, 80% of the proposals she laid out in State of the State addresses became policy.

The Comeback Kid

Still, not much more tells the story of how tough Granholm is than the difficult campaign she faced in 2006.

In the spring of 2005, the Democratic Party was in shambles. George W. Bush - yes, George W. Bush - had just been given a second term. Michigan did not appear to be recovering from the 2001 recession as quickly as the rest of the country. Granholm, once immensely popular, faced the very real possibility of a decisive defeat at the polls in November 2006.

Heir to the Amway fortune, the wealthy Dick DeVos announced his campaign in June of 2005. DeVos started airing ads in February of 2006 - after all of his Republican opponents had dropped out of the race, and nearly a year before the general election itself. By April, the race was a dead heat.

But this Governor had willpower on her side.

Interesting side note: One of my favorite memories of my college years at Central Michigan University occurred on my final night of my first semester as a freshman at CMU. All but done with the semester, save for an in-class freshman composition essay for which we really couldn't study, I decided to head out into the cold and snow to the house of Dr. Charles Novitski. Dr. Novitski was faculty advisor for the College Democrats at CMU, a group with which I became involved soon after coming to campus that fall. Dr. Novitski was hosting a social gathering to assist Granholm's re-election campaign the following year. She spoke through a live stream to social gatherings around the state that were similar to this one. That night was a catalyst of sorts for my involvement in the Isabella County Democratic Party, with which I have made many great memories and met many great friends.

Anyway, as the campaign progressed, the summer showed signs that Granholm could be in for a trouncing at the polls. But after she and the state Democrats started airing ads and getting their message across, she started to come back. After her dominating performance in a debate in early October, she took the lead, never to look back.

On Election Night 2006, as a number of CMU and Isabella Democrats gathered at the Bird, perhaps Mt. Pleasant's most popular bar, we watched as the returns from around the nation came in. Down went Santorum. Down went DeWine. Republican control of the House was in peril, and the Senate looked like it could flip. Then, after 9PM (when the polls had closed in the western UP), I looked at CNN's election results ticker.

Michigan. Governor. Checkmark by Granholm's name. "There's Jenny! She won!" I declared, the comeback complete. Granholm cruised to a 56-42% re-election victory. The only thing that would beat that is what happened two years later.

A Bright Future

On that cool day at Calder Plaza in 2000, I saw in Jennifer Granholm a leader with a bright future. Now that her time as Governor is over, I still see a leader whose future is just as bright as ever. Speculation abounds that President Obama has a spot for her in the Cabinet, at least in his second term (if he wins, of course). Her name was mentioned for a Supreme Court appointment. She has said that she does have a job lined up for after she leaves office, but that she won't announce that until later this month. Before that happens, she and her family will take a vacation in a warmer climate.

These have obviously been very difficult years here in Michigan. And I won't pretend she was perfect. But Jennifer M. Granholm has shown all of us how to lead with dignity, grace, and levelheadedness. The woman who promised to protect or families and educate our kids, has done so. A leader of character, Granholm leaves a legacy of which we can all be proud.

So as I recall that Gore rally in 2000, as I recall her election and inauguration in 2002 and 2003, as I recall the times I met her, the social gathering at Dr. Novitski's house, her 2006 triumph, and other great times, I recall a visionary leader whose time as Governor has concluded, but whose legacy will last for decades to come.

Thank you, Ms. Granholm, for all you have done for Michigan. We will miss you very much. All the best to you and your family!

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