How many Michiganders does it take to change a lightbulb?

Detroit Free Press Editor Ron Dzwonkowski wrote a good column for today’s paper about how elected officials are often the last people to “get it.” He wrote:

“Maybe that’s why they continue to bicker and shout and pander to noisy special interest groups while most of the people they are supposed to represent would prefer cooperation, meaningful change and progress.”

I was pleased to see Dzwonkowski quote my friend Becky Johns as a representative of her generation. Becky recently wrote an excellent blog post about Future Midwest — I especially liked the part where she asks, “Now what?”

I commented on her blog, saying it really is important to make sure events like Future Midwest don’t end up just becoming a bunch of people talking to themselves about what should be done. People have to take ideas and act upon them; that’s how you create positive change in a community.

Our elected leaders — at the state and local level — are such a disappointment lately with their petty battles. I was a speaker at a conference in Oklahoma City recently and they are making some amazing, positive improvements to that city. When I asked a colleague there about the changes and whether the mayor who has been championing a lot of them is a Republican or Democrat, he seemed surprised. He said the mayor is a Republican, but noted that in Oklahoma City, that doesn’t really matter. He said the city has a good track record of not worrying about the politics and focusing more on the problem at hand.

It was tough to admit to him that one of the issues we’re facing in Michigan is that politics often is the problem at hand. Hopefully, we’ll see some sensible people elected in November who can bring to Lansing some civility and a desire to do something because it’s a good idea regardless of which party proposed it.  Here are some things I’d like to pursue over the next year:

  • We need to keep hounding people who were at Future Midwest about what they’ve accomplished so far and prod them to keep achieving even more.
  • We need to put term limits back where they belong: in the voting booth.
  • And we need to ban elected officials from running for another office until they’ve completed the term of their current office. That would avoid the scenario of a Senate majority leader running for attorney general and the speaker of the House running for governor while the state they are charged with protecting crumbles around their election campaigns. (Addendum: In all fairness to Mike Bishop and Andy Dillon, they aren’t the only two leaders distracted by their own job searches. We have state representatives running for the state Senate and local office. We have senators running for countywide offices, the Secretary of State’s office and Congress. We have a congressman and an attorney general running for governor. And we have countywide officials running for governor and secretary of state while our secretary of state runs for lieutenant governor. No wonder no one can focus on the job at hand — they’re all too busy trying to land their next one.)

I hope Becky and her peers never lose their desire to do more than just talk about what’s wrong. In the end, they are not only the future of this state, but the catalyst to sweep away the flotsam and jetsam that is bobbing around the state Capitol and the city halls of Southeast Michigan. And those of us in other generations can help them do this. Get involved in the election process. Find out what a person really stands for and don’t vote based on what you see on TV ads or the campaign literature that is filled with half-truths, or worse.

In addition, let’s start working together across generations. People often wring their hands and wonder why young college graduates are leaving Michigan. Maybe that’s because, too often, we’re not giving them a reason to stay. It’s not just about jobs. Sometimes it’s about knowing that there is a bright future in Michigan. The light bulb has dimmed in the Great Lakes State, so it’s time for a new one.

How many Michiganders does it take to change a light bulb? All of us. So let’s get to it.

(Photo courtesy of Armistead Booker’s Flickr stream.)

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