More trouble over un-bridged waters
By Jack Lessenberry
Contrary to what you might think, I have friends whose politics are different from mine. Last week, I got an angry and indignant letter from a longtime woman friend, now a rising star in the corporate world. She is Republican to her very core.
For many years, she worked for GOP causes and campaigns, and held positions in state government. I suspect we cancel each other out in most meaningful state and national elections.
She is a happy and easygoing person, with a far sunnier disposition than mine. But this time, she was angrier than I’ve ever seen her, and not at President Obama or the liberals.
My friend was raging at the “misinformation and outright lies,” spread by Matty Moroun, his wife and son, and all the Permian-era creatures on their Ambassador Bridge payroll.
“Lies! Loads of misinformation and outright lies,” she wrote, enclosing a flier sent to her home by one of Matty Moroun’s front organizations, Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the infamous Koch brothers. “They deliberately use messaging that will get GOP voters in an uproar. They are intimidating public officials by telling them that they will all have primaries. They are papering over the truth with money,” she wrote heatedly.
I looked at the flier. I’ve been covering campaigns of all sorts since the 1970s. Virtually all of them exaggerate, stretch the truth, demonize the opposition, etc. But I’ve never seen anything like this.
The flier urged voters to call their state senator and make sure he stays in line opposing any new bridge.
Why? Well, it claims that the bridge would mean $550 million in new debt to Canada (a lie; this is money they’d recoup from toll revenues when the new bridge generates them).
It claims the bridge would cost “$2.2 billion hard-earned tax dollars,” which is an amazing and double lie, since A) the bridge would cost Michigan nothing and B) would actually mean we get $2.2 billion from Washington in matching highway money to fix our roads.
Finally, the Americans for Prosperity flier claims the new bridge would mean “$100 million in welfare-style community benefits giveaways,” on which my Republican friend had scrawled “LIES!”
By the way, I cannot identify my source because she now works in the private sector, in a job that requires her not to take any public political position whatsoever. But I can say she has never steered me wrong in all the years I’ve known her.
“Community benefits aren’t swimming pools,” she said, something else Americans for Prosperity has been claiming. This woman is in a position to know; she has worked in high-level state positions and is familiar with what happens with major projects.
“In fact,” she explained, “community benefits are things that would be negotiated by the bridge concessionaire [whoever gets the contract to build the New International Trade Crossing] and the community — Michigan taxpayers would not foot the bill.
“Many of these are items which are already federally required — Washington requires certain things when projects of this magnitude are done, to help mitigate impacts on a community — things like air quality monitoring, etc.,” she added.
The reason the Morouns are using the term “community benefits” stems back to last month, when a bill to bring the new bridge to the full Senate unexpectedly failed to get out of committee when two Democratic state senators refused to vote either way.
Last week, I said they “also pulled the rug out from under us by not voting at the last moment.”
Turns out that may have been a little harsh. Here’s what actually happened. The Democrats, Tupac Hunter, the minority floor leader, and Virgil Smith, both of Detroit, were seen as yes votes.
But at the last minute, they presented a substitute bill calling for community benefits for the people of the impoverished Delray area.
State Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Township), the committee chair, said he was totally blindsided, and refused to consider the amendment. The idea that he was surprised is hard to believe. Gov. Snyder toured Delray July 26 and pledged that any new bridge would include a benefits package for the community.
In fact, the Democrats believed they had an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) to support the language. But he denied this, and so they refused to vote.
Kowall’s refusal makes more sense when you realize he has been in Moroun’s pocket from the start. He takes the billionaire’s money for his campaigns, and opposes a new bridge.
But why did the Democrats play into Moroun’s hands? Why not vote to get it out of committee, and then continue the fight on the full Senate floor? Last week I sat down at a Starbucks with Tupac Hunter.
Hunter has been in the Legislature for nine years, though he is only 38. He has a track record of doing what he thinks is right; when the Democratic establishment was rigging the primary for Hillary Clinton three years ago, Tupac held out stubbornly for a guy who wasn’t even on the Michigan ballot: Barack Obama.
This time, he told me the issue came down to a few hundred poor people, and one broken promise. “The people who have been forgotten are those who live in the area,” he said.
“It’s easy to look at those people and say, what’s the big deal, until someday,” something like this happens in your neighborhood.
Hunter doesn’t even represent Delray, and since he is term-limited, can’t run again for the Legislature anyway. But he thinks someone should speak up for the 800 mainly black and Hispanic folks who live in what was once a bustling Hungarian area.
What he and the other Democrats want for them is no more than “a seat at the table” for the local residents’ group, the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition. Hunter insists that the Democrats did have an agreement with the Senate majority leader, but that Richardville couldn’t sell it to his Moroun-addled caucus.
Speaking without bitterness, he said, “I imagine he found it more expedient to throw us under the bus than to risk his standing with them.” He said Richardville suggested he vote the bill out anyway, and continue his fight before the full Senate. Why didn’t he?
“In this process, your vote is the only leverage you have.” The only time his vote really mattered was in the committee.
If he couldn’t trust the Senate majority leader then, he reasoned, why trust him when the bill reaches the entire Senate?
This process isn’t over. The governor says he is still “relentlessly” determined to get a new bridge, and says he’ll win approval within months. We all need to hope he is right.
The real question for all of us is how long are we willing to let a decrepit billionaire buy our politicians and fill our airwaves with lies? After Matty was found in contempt of court in another case last week, he sent his son (Matthew, aka Moroun the Lesser) out to try to slime Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards, saying his ruling was an effort to get Snyder to appoint Edwards’ son to the bench.
Michigan needs to show that we are a government of, by and for the people, not a wholly owned subsidiary of a rich creep who owns a broken-down bridge. One day, Matty Moroun, now 84, probably will lie dying in a hospital bed. Wouldn’t it be lovely if they found him one with a magnificent view of the new bridge?