Bridge proposal benefits only one family, and it’s not yours

Company’s ads for Proposal 6 are masterful but a far cry from reality

The Detroit News

Neal Rubin

Matty Moroun wants to buy a slice of the Michigan constitution. The question is, are we willing to sell it to him?

Moroun and his Detroit International Bridge Co., or DIBC to its nonexistent friends, have spent upward of $19 million to create and try to pass Proposal 6. That’s the amendment designed to eliminate competition for the Ambassador Bridge, now and forevermore.

They’ve cloaked their campaign in phony populism, using the slogan “The People Should Decide” even as they play the people for suckers. A yes vote on Proposal 6 benefits exactly one family, and it’s not yours.

It’s an approach so boldly devious that University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor Michael Bernacchi can’t help but admire it. He’s spent his career studying and quantifying persuasion, and he gives the campaign high marks for making the self-interest of an unpopular billionaire come off as a workingman’s crusade.

“It has to do with how you can present your argument to be as inclusive as you possibly can,” he says. A campaign that said, “We have a near-monopoly and we’d like to keep it” would be significantly more honest, but considerably less effective.

Instead, Moroun & Co. have flooded the airwaves with commercials so far removed from reality that the neutral fact-checkers are running out of new ways to ridicule them. A mailing last week actually used a photo of an adorable toddler holding an apple. What, no puppy?

Costs inflated

The bridge company’s torrent of nonsense has come in response to the proposed New International Trade Crossing, which would span the Detroit River a few miles south of Moroun’s Ambassador Bridge.

Canada is so eager to build the NITC that it will advance Michigan’s estimated $550 million in costs and accept repayment through tolls. If the tab for the bridge runs higher than expected, no problem; the terms of the deal say Canada will still pay.

Despite that, ads in favor of Proposal 6 keep inventing and inflating the amount of money the bridge will cost us. A recent commercial features a laid-off Inkster police officer, implying that the bridge — which is thus far imaginary, and like most imaginary things cost-free — somehow put him out of work.

Proposal 6, it should be noted, would not specifically ban the new bridge. Instead, it would embed in the constitution a personally tailored requirement that any publicly owned bridge or tunnel to Canada would need to be approved by voters.

Privately owned bridges like Moroun’s would be excluded, of course, even though public infrastructure would be needed to support them. What’s even more important for the Moroun family is that any time the state thought a bridge seemed like a good idea, they could spend truckloads of cash on ludicrous ads to get it voted down.

Loads of support

Aside from being a convenience and a nice hedge against disaster, a new bridge would be a connection to the future. Larger ships will be bringing bigger containers to deeper harbors, and their cargo can either cross here or use competing bridges in New York.

Most everyone not named Moroun — the governor, the Big Three, assorted business groups and chambers of commerce — acknowledges the need and supports the bridge. As for “the people,” they must be stunned that the Morouns finally noticed they’re around.

The people elected Rashida Tlaib to the state Legislature, and when she dared suggest the Morouns would need an environmental impact statement before they tried to build a replacement for the Ambassador Bridge, they tried to have her recalled.

Matty Moroun and one of his executives so disdained the rulings of the people’s judge in an infrastructure dispute that they were jailed for contempt.

Now, when they want to rewrite the constitution, they’re the people’s pal. With $19 million, they can fool some of us — but not the professor.

“I think the proposal is ridiculous,” Bernacchi says. “I’m voting against it.” Or in marketing terms:

No sale.