Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 9, 2009

Op-Ed: Not first time history's shuffled

By GEORGE WEEKS

Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, a low-key, can-do officeholder now as she was as Kent County clerk in the 1990s, is one of the Big Four statewide politicians in Lansing.

Like Democratic Lt. Gov. John Cherry and Republican Attorney General Mike Cox, Land is in the mix of 2010 contenders to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Land, at this early stage, has not been as visible on the campaign and publicity-hyping trail as Cherry and Cox. But she told me last week: "I'm in -- no doubt about that," and will go into campaign mode within "the next couple of months."

Land is in a bit of a bureaucratic tiff with Granholm on an issue that relates to the current budget crunch, and to the all-too-frequent shuffling of state departments by governors.

In her State of the State message, Granholm proposed saving about $2 million by eliminating the Department of History, Arts and Libraries (HAL). It had been created by Gov. John Engler, drawing in part on some of the historical functions long and effectively handled under secretaries of state.

Engler also split up the Department of Natural Resources to create the Department of Environmental Quality. Granholm, wisely, has talked of a re-joining. She has asked Cherry to make recommendations on government reorganization.

Granholm suggested that organizations outside of government might pick up some of HAL's functions. Michigan State University is among prospects.

On Feb. 11, Land wrote Granholm saying her department "is a logical agency for all current HAL functions." On March 4, Granholm thanked Land for her "generous" offer and said, "we will certainly give it every consideration as plans are being developed."

But last week, Granholm's office told me, "Not all functions were once housed in the Department of State. Rather than assigning new responsibilities to the Secretary of State, in a time of declining revenue, the administration believes that the Secretary of State should focus instead on the department's core mission, not on assuming new services neither the state nor the department can afford."

"Assuming new services?"

The Bureau of History, including the state archives, was a part of the Department of State well before the Engler and Granholm administrations. Woe is a governor who rules that the state cannot afford to preserve its own archives.

Land has an impressive record on crafting the kind of partnerships that Granholm says should pick up HAL's pieces. Land's Organ Donation project is an example: More than 1.5 million people signed up in the last five years, thanks to such folks as the Lions Club of Michigan, and such hospitals as Alpena General, Marquette General, and Northern Michigan in Petoskey.

A good move was made in the Legislature last week when Sen. Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, unveiled a 25-bill, bipartisan package to eliminate HAL as a department and move its programs to State.

"As Michigan faces a staggering budget deficit, we must be good stewards of taxpayer dollars," said Allen. "But we also must be good stewards of our historical gems."

Allen, chairman of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, correctly says cultural tourism is integral to Michigan's economy.

Pathetic turnout, good result

"Disgraceful," is how the Rev. Jesse Jackson described projections that only 15 percent of voters would turn out last week for Detroit's special election for mayor. Disgraceful it was.

"People are just fed up with everybody," said savvy Bob Berg of last week's historically low, dismal turnout. After being communications director for Republican Gov. Bill Milliken, Berg was press secretary to the late Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young and then to disgraced ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Former state House Speaker Paul Hillegonds, who subsequently was president of Detroit Renaissance and now is vice president of corporate affairs at DTE Energy and still heavily involved in Detroit issues, was "saddened" by the low turnout.

But he's encouraged by the victory of Dave Bing, as well he should be.

It works

Michigan's $10 million national television ad campaign promoting tourism is "off to a great start," according to President Steven Yencich, of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association.

In a letter to legislators, he said that during the campaign's first four weeks, visitors to Travel Michigan's Web site, www.michigan.org, are up 16 percent and page views are up 30 percent compared to the same four weeks in 2008. Visitors from the states of Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky are up by more than 100 percent.

He said the classy Pure Michigan national advertising "is designed to bring more distant visitors to Michigan this summer and beyond. As such, these trips would tend to be both longer and more expensive than in-state and regional trips."

In helping Granholm get the program through the Legislature, Sen. Allen argued that for every dollar Michigan spends on out-of-state advertising, $2.82 is generated for state coffers.

But, of course, it remains to be seen how many visitors to the site become visitors to the state.

George Weeks retired in 2006 after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.