A New Bridge Across the Detroit River: Conflict of Interest?

Michigan Radio

By Jack Lessenberry

Here’s something you may not know about journalists: We have a pretty high standard of integrity, especially when it comes to conflicts of interest. We normally don’t cover any events in which we have any kind of personal interest — especially economic interest.

Any time we even suspect we may have any conflict, we are obliged to tell our bosses, and our public. There are some gray areas, but I can tell you this. If I did a commentary urging you to support someone who gave me thousands of dollars, I’d be fired.

But a version of that is going on in the Michigan Legislature, where today, the state senate’s economic development committee is scheduled to vote on whether to send two bills authorizing a new Detroit River bridge to the full senate.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who supports the new bridge, thinks he can get enough votes. Others aren’t so sure.

But here’s something I am sure about:  At least four of the seven members of this committee have a big conflict of interest.

They took campaign money from the only real force opposing the New International Trade Crossing: Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, who desperately wants to preserve his monopoly control of this nation’s most economically important trade crossing.

Take Senator Geoff Hansen, for example, a Republican from the town of Hart on the west side of the state, who was elected in a tight race last year. He told Crain’s Detroit Business he “thinks” members of the Moroun family gave his campaign four thousand dollars, but denied this had influenced him in any way.

Senator Mike Nofs said the same, while admitting that he won his job in a special election during which he says he got “a couple thousand from the Moroun family.” Committee Chair Mike Kowall took Moroun’s money too, and so did Senator Judy Emmons.

Well, they may all be above being influenced. But that’s not what Matty Moroun thinks. He wants a return on his investment. Specifically, he wants to kill any new bridge, by any means necessary. And he has been very successful at getting lawmakers who’ve taken his money to stop the bridge.

If they stop it for good, however, Michigan will be the biggest loser. We’ll miss out on more than two billion dollars in federal highway funds. A new bridge will be built somewhere else, and we’ll lose more jobs.

I have never in my life seen an issue like this. Democrats say we need a new bridge; so do Republicans. The conservative Michigan Chamber of Commerce wants a bridge.

The CEOs of Ford, GM and Chrysler say this bridge is essential. William Ford Jr. said yesterday that the aged Ambassador Bridge is “becoming capacity strained, which is costing our region money and, ultimately, jobs.”

There is virtually no one outside the Michigan legislature opposed to a new bridge, except for those who work for the Morouns.

If any of these lawmakers on that committee vote against the bridge today, they will have been guilty of taking money to vote for a special interest. And they will have voted against what politicians on the right and on the left agree is the good of the people.

If that’s not shocking, I don’t know what is.

Legislature to continue hearings on second international bridge

Michigan Radio

A state Senate panel is expected to continue hearings soon on a proposed second bridge between Detroit and Canada. Lawmakers say they still have a lot of testimony they need to hear before they can make a decision.

State Senator Geoff Hansen is from Oceana County. He says people ask him every day about the Detroit bridge proposal, even on the west side of the state.

“It’s been brought up to a really high profile thing with all the advertising on the TV and all the fliers that have come out,” Hansen said.

Hansen was one of a handful of targets for negative campaigns from a conservative group supported by the owners of the existing Ambassador Bridge in Detroit. The group went after Republican lawmakers who had yet to make a decision on the bridge. Hansen says he tells people who ask him about the project that there is too much information to gather and too much at stake to make a quick decision one way or the other.

The last time the panel met was on a tour ofthe proposed bridge site. Committee Chairman Senator Mike Kowall says it’s important for lawmakers to understand what the state would be getting into by building another bridge.

“How you’re affecting a community, where the proposed bridge is going to land. Until you get down and really put your hands on it, it’s really difficult,” Kowall said.

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration hopes lawmakers make the decision to approve the long-talked-about bridge project before the end of the year.

Lawmakers to tour bridge

The Windsor Star

A group of Michigan and Canadian lawmakers will join representatives from the Ambassador Bridge on Monday to tour the bridge as well as the proposed site of a second Detroit River crossing.

The tour, organized by Republican Senator Mike Kowall, chairman of the state senate’s economic development committee, will be an effort to understand the impact a new bridge would have on both countries.

Instead of trying to persuade the politicians on the tour to either support or oppose a new bridge, Mike Murray, Kowall’s chief of staff, says the tour is simply a way to provide more education on the issue.

“In short, it’s one thing to hear one side in a closed room when you’re 90 miles away from the site,” said Murray. “This tour is just a way to visit the areas that would be impacted, to help both sides get more information on the issue.”

Throughout the day, the tour group will hear presentations from individuals who support building a second bridge, as well as their opponents.

The committee is considering legislation that could allow Michigan to become involved in a project to build what is being called the New International Trade Crossing.

Gov. Rick Snyder favors building a new Detroit-Windsor bridge to improve the flow of passenger and commercial traffic.