ERIC BAERREN: Protect your monopoly; buy the Senate

OPINION

The Morning Sun

There’s an old saw in politics that if you don’t have the law, you pound the facts; that if you don’t have the facts, you pound the law; and, if you have neither you pound the table.

A reclusive, and by all accounts mostly evil, billionaire down in Detroit found a third way. He went out and purchased himself the very cheapest Senate he could find. Luckily for him, it was in his own state.

The billionaire’s name is Manuel “Matty” Moroun. He got wealthy the old fashioned way, which is to say that he squeezed out all the competition and created himself a monopoly. What is his racket, you ask? He owns the Ambassador Bridge, the main crossing between the United States and Canada.

Moroun’s monopoly has made him very wealthy for a couple of reasons – it is in Detroit and it’s been going on for a very long, long time. So long, in fact, that people question how the bridge can remain erect without the need for the sorts of weight restrictions. The answer to that is that nobody knows because since the bridge is privately owned, no state or federal (U.S. or Canadian) authorities can inspect the thing.

People have been talking for decades about the need for another crossing, and the form it would take is today something of a heresy. They’ve been talking about making the next crossing a publicly-owned one. And, by they, I mean everyone – the Detroit-area business community, Detroit-area governments and especially the Canadians. The Canadians, in fact, aren’t in the slightest bit interested in a privately-owned bridge and in the past have said that if the choice is between allowing a second bridge owned by Moroun or nothing that they’d go with nothing. Put short, either we build a public bridge or we don’t build one at all.

Not building a bridge isn’t really a very good option. Although crossing traffic is down, once the economy once again starts rolling along, it’s expected to once again swamp the existing bridge and create long, long delays, which business owners say is bad for their bottom line (turns out that business owners really like reliable, efficient border crossings). Building a bridge, on the other hand, would immediately create thousands of jobs. The number that is out there is 10,000, although if it’s like every other promise of job creation you can probably cut that number in half.

The Canadians, knowing that we’re broke, have offered to cover our costs. They’ll get their money back in future toll receipts. Just to make things more rosy, the governor got the feds to count the Canadian money as a Michigan match for road funding. So, if we take up the Canadians on their offer, we get both a bridge but also a few roads not so cratered with potholes that driving down them evokes images of flying a B-25 through a thick cloud of flak.

Who could possibly be against all this? Ahem, says the billionaire. There’s a monopoly to be protected.

Moroun has, over the years, generously spread around the political cash. His contributions to Detroit Democrat and now ex-Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick helped him get favorable treatment in D.C., and Alan Cropsey, the barking madman who until this year represented Isabella County in the state Senate, once told Canadian officials who expressed concern over border security to shut up and butt out. He also managed to buy off the last Senate Majority Leader, corrupt Neanderthal Mike Bishop, who spiked a vote on a public bridge in the last Legislature after promising to allow it to go through.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as it were. Bishop and Cropsey were both term limited out of office, but what has remained the same is the cash Moroun has spread around the Senate, which is expected to be the major sticking point to a new bridge. The latest word is that there is exactly one Republican willing to go along with the Canadians and the Detroit-area business community (not to mention Detroit area politicians like Oakland executive L. Brooks Patterson, who generally runs as pragmatic as he does conservative).

His spreading of cash hasn’t ended with the Senate, mind you, or even politicians. About a third of Michiganders, according to a poll released this week, think we ought to go with a private span. You know, the one the Canadians oppose (we could always invade to punish Canada for its insolence). The reason for that is that Moroun has expanded his reach and is trying to buy the citizenry outright through an ad campaign that includes junk mail delivered directly to your doorstep.

If you haven’t already made up your mind on the topic, you can safely discard this stuff. It’s mostly just a pack of lies, the table pounding of a man who likes where his monopoly has gotten him.