Michigan voters spoke, but Morouns don’t seem to listen

Jack Lessenberry | November 16, 2012

DETROIT — Suppose the day after the presidential election, Mitt Romney had his spokesman announce that he didn’t accept the verdict, that he now believed President Obama wasn’t a legitimate president because he was born in Kenya, or maybe on Pluto, and that he might sue to prevent Mr. Obama from staying in office.

Sound farfetched? Well, no more so than the latest antics from Michigan’s least-beloved billionaire, Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun. After months of trying to preserve his monopoly with a shameless and misleading ballot proposal campaign called “Let the People Decide,” the people did, indeed, decide.

The Morouns didn’t like the verdict one bit.

On Election Day. Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposal 6, a state constitutional amendment designed to protect the Moroun family’s monopoly on moving billions of dollars’ worth of goods across the Detroit River.

Mr. Moroun, his wife, Nora, and son Matthew are the sole owners of the Ambassador Bridge, the only place between Buffalo and Port Huron, Mich., where heavy automotive components and other freight can be hauled across the Detroit River.

The Ambassador, which was built in 1929, is showing increasing signs of wear, including holes in the pavement and roadbed. For years, political and business leaders have argued that a new bridge is needed.

This year, they did something about it. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a pro-business Republican, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed a deal in June to build a second bridge, tentatively called the New International Trade Crossing, about two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge.

The deal was an amazing bargain for Michigan. Canada agreed to cover, upfront, all of Michigan’s costs, an estimated $550 million. They would be repaid only when the bridge is built years from now, out of the state’s share of tolls.

Additionally, Washington agreed that the Canadian cash can be used as matching funds for a federal highway grant, meaning Michigan should get $2.2 billion in badly needed money to fix the state’s roads, free of charge.

But if that was a good deal for citizens, it enraged the 85-year-old Mr. Moroun, who is believed to make as much as $140 million a year from tolls and sales of gasoline and items from his duty-free shops. He has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Michigan lawmakers’ campaigns and pet causes, and was able to block any bridge bill from coming to a vote in the Legislature.

However, Governor Snyder found a clause in the state Constitution that enabled him to bypass the Legislature by making an “interlocal” agreement with Canada. The Morouns then spent at least $34 million to try to muscle an amendment protecting their monopoly into the state Constitution.

First, they paid out-of-state firms to collect the needed signatures to put the proposal on the ballot. Next, they flooded the airwaves with incessant commercials that the nonpartisan Michigan Truth Squad said were “flagrantly foul,” as in, false.

Canada’s consul general in Detroit, Roy Norton, was peeved that Michigan business interests, primarily the Detroit Three automakers, didn’t fund an ad campaign to counter Mr. Moroun’s.

It wasn’t needed. The voters didn’t buy Mr. Moroun’s lies.

Those who went to the polls rejected the Moroun amendment by a stunning 844,000 votes. Yet the next morning, Moroun spokesman Mickey Blashfield acted as if the election never had occurred.

“It would be a mistake to assume taxpayers support a flawed government bridge that puts taxpayers at risk,” he said. He then charged the proposed new bridge was going to be built over “unstable salt mine foundations.”

The salt mine charge was dismissed with a laugh by a spokesman for the governor, who said of the bridge project: “It’s full steam ahead.”

But Sandy Baruah, president of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he expects the Moroun family to file more lawsuits to stall the new bridge.

“They use the court system like I use the bathroom,“ Mr. Baruah told Crain’s Detroit Business. Mr. Baruah, a supporter of the new bridge, added that for the Morouns, flinging even hopeless lawsuits makes sense. If they can delay a new bridge even a year, that means millions of dollars more in profit for their monopoly.

Even in a best-case scenario, ground for the new bridge is unlikely to be broken before late next year. The soonest a new bridge could open is 2017.

Meanwhile, the Morouns are attempting to confuse things further by alternatively saying a new bridge isn’t needed, and that they intend to build a second one next to the Ambassador anyway.

Canadian government officials say they never would allow that to happen, because environmental concerns and traffic congestion. They also openly loathe and distrust Mr. Moroun.

What may be most baffling is why an 85-year-old man whose net worth is at least $1.5 billion thinks he needs more money, or whether the thrill is in the power a monopoly brings.

Perhaps not even Mr. Moroun really knows.

Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade’s ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan.

Matty’s money pit

Curtis Guyette | MetroTimes

As the election results arrived last week, few outcomes gave the malcontents here at the Hits more satisfaction than Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s Proposal 6 had been thoroughly rejected by voters.

We don’t care whether that rejection was the result of confusion caused by a surplus of ballot measures and a mass of conflicting advertising that prompted voters to say “no” to all measures.

It’s enough that one billionaire and his family — the owners of the Ambassador Bridge — couldn’t con the people of this state into voting against their own best interest in order to help the Morouns maintain their virtual monopoly over cross-boarder truck traffic between Detroit and Windsor.

Instead, voters, in a roundabout way, provided support to Gov. Rick Snyder and his efforts to build a publicly owned bridge (that would be financed by the Canadian government!) downriver in the Delray area.

By some estimates, the Morouns spent as much as $40 million to have their greedy way with us, and they failed spectacularly.

But anyone who thinks the rebuke is going to stop the Morouns from continuing to fight the new bridge doesn’t know Matty, a guy who apparently never learned the meaning of the word “no.”

Once the election results were in, Mickey Blashfield, director of government affairs for the Moroun’s bridge company and head of the ballot committee that attempted to halt construction of what’s now being called the New International Trade Crossing (NITC), issued a statement that, in part, declared:

“It is clear the voters resisted amending the constitution, but it would be a mistake to assume taxpayers support a flawed government bridge that puts taxpayers at risk. Proposal 6 successfully invited public scrutiny of the $3.5 billion government proposal. We have full confidence that the citizens, legislature, and financial community will continue to hold any bridge to its promises of ‘not one dime of taxpayer money.'”

He concluded by saying:

“If the governmental proposal doesn’t collapse from the weight of legal and congressional scrutiny, the NITC will never be built over unstable salt mine foundations, where land speculators are lining up to get rich on the government’s tab.”

The salt mine issue is, by all appearances, another bridge company red herring.

We’re more interested in the phrase “legal and congressional scrutiny.”

We’re not sure that even Matty and his well-heeled kin have enough cash to purchase a majority of Congress, but we do know that, whether he has any real foundation, he is more than willing to spend his money tying things up in court as long as the courts will let him get away with it.

In the long run, we don’t think this is a battle he can win. But that’s not gong to stop him from fighting on and on and on.

I Don’t Care What Mickey Blashfield Thinks, And Why You Shouldn’t Either

Jeff Wattrick | Deadline Detroit

One of the most positive outcomes of Tuesday’s election is a serious, though probably fleeting, conversation about how politics are covered.

The technocratic polling analysts won the night while the traditional “this is how things played out in 1976” pundits were revealed as, well, as idiots.

This conversation needs to go beyond simply Nate Silver > Dick Morris, even if such an acknowledgement is long overdue.

Morris’ combination of wishful thinking and horse shit is a symptom of a larger media problem. We give well-credentialed individuals far too much leeway to offer baseless, objectively false opinions as though they were credible ideas.

Consider Matty Moroun’s response to the defeat of his $32 million Proposal 6, designed to block the new Detroit-Windsor border crossing.

Here is Moroun lackey Mickey Blashfield bleeting out a talking point in the Detroit News.

“It is clear the voters resisted amending the constitution, but it would be a mistake to assume taxpayers support a flawed government bridge that puts taxpayers at risk,” said Blashfield, director of The People Should Decide.

For one thing, no one supports a “flawed” anything that “puts taxpayers at risk.” It’s one thing to be skeptical of claims from politicians on both sides of the border about the bridge, and one should always be skeptical of political promises. However, the Anderson Economic Group’s independent analysis that the politicians are (this time) telling the truth settles this matter like 2+2=4.

Yet Blashfield was allowed to repeat this “taxpayers at risk” lie in numerous print and broadcast reports this week, leaving readers and viewers with the impression there exists legitimate concerns about the bridge’s impact on future tax bills.

Worse, Blashfield’s premise that voter opposition to their proposal shouldn’t be viewed as a tacit endorsement of the new bridge plan simply isn’t rooted in reality. Blashfield’s own “Let The People Decide” campaign called this shot. They were the people who invented Prop. 6 and made it a quasi-referendum on a bridge plan with broad bi-partisan, bi-national, business-labor support.

So why exactly would it be “a mistake to assume taxpayers” don’t support the bridge plan? Can Team Moroun cite data to back their counterintuitive assumption?

Michigan voters decided Tuesday that they’d prefer leaving infrastructure decisions, like building a new international bridge, to the people we elect and pay to make those decisions. And the people we elected to make this decision believe this bridge is necessary.

Matty Moroun spend $32 million to give the opportunity to say so if we felt otherwise. We didn’t.

At this point, his lackey’s opinions about what Michigan residents believe have as much credibility as Dick Morris’s projections or the street corner lunatic who says Pope Clement III is controlling his thoughts with lasers.

Look, I don’t blame the Detroit News or anyone else for quoting Blashfield here. That’s how the game is played. What I am saying is let’s take this moment to pondering changing the game for the better..

Baseless assertions debunked by objective facts simply aren’t newsworthy, even if they come from a billionaire’s spokesman. Let’s stop printing or airing them.

Michigan Bridge Project Clears Election Day Hurdle

Ryan Holeywell | November 7, 2012

Money can’t always buy elections.

That’s the takeaway after Michiganders rejected a constitutional amendment backed largely by a single family that felt threatened by the prospect for a new international bridge advanced by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Snyder and Canadian officials earlier this year agreed to a plan for a new internatinoal crossing between Detroit and Windsor that offered Michigan a stunning opportunity: The costs of the $950 million tollroad would be fronted entirely by the Canadian government.

Backers of the project, known as the New International Trade Crossing, called it a big victory for both state taxpayers and Snyder, ensuring Michigan would have access to expanded infrastructure integral to its economic future while not saddling them with the financial risks of such an ambitious project.

But the wealthy Moroun family, which controls the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge and would see reduced traffic — and revenue — from a competitng structure, backed a multi-million dollar campaign that threatened to sideline the project.

That campaign, known as The People Should Decide, backed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required a statewide vote on any new international bridge.

The campaign, which took in nearly $28 million according to campaign finance records, was financially backed almost entirely by a Moroun-controlled holding corporation. Voters rejected that amendment by a 60 percent margin, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“People made clear in Tuesday’s election that they believe in Michigan’s future and support the governor’s vision of moving forward so we can grow our economy and create jobs,” Snyder spokesman Ken Silfven said. “It’s a great win for Michigan because we get thousands of short- and long-term jobs, and a modern international crossing, at no cost to our taxpayers thanks to the generosity of our Canadian friends. You can’t beat that.”

Governing was unable to reach Kenneth Dobson, the Ambassador Bridge’s director of governmental affairs, by phone Wednesday morning.

The campaign for the proposal drew strong rebukes from a variety of observers, including many of the state’s top newspapers, which called its advertisements misleading. The effort was “a blatant attempt to bamboozle Michiganders into protecting the selfish interests of a single family,” according to a Lansing State Journal editorial.

Still, the defeat of the amendment doesn’t mean the bridge will open — or even begin construction — anytime soon. A bridge authority charged with soliciting bids must be formed. The structure of a deal with a private partner needs to be determined. Enviromental reviews need to be completed. Land needs to be acquired. And state officials say they fully expect a slew of lawsuits related to the project, which makes it challenging to predict a timeline.

Silfven says state officials are hoping to soon get a federal permit for the bridge, which is required for all new international border crossings. “Once that happens, other pieces can start falling into place.”

New Bridge will be truly free for U.S.

John F. Mcewan | The Windsor Star

During the ’60s, the air pollution over Michigan Downriver communities was terrible.

A huge red cloud of iron oxide hung over the area. Premature deaths were blamed on the dirty air.

Under federal and local funding of the Clean Air Act, the Downriver communities, in co-operation with the Wayne County health department, launched the Downriver Air Pollution Control Project. Following a meeting in the middle of the Detroit River on the first Earth Day, the Canadian communities of Windsor and Sandwich West became full contributing members of the project.

Canadian funds were matched three to one by U.S. federal funds. Because Canadian air pollution was carried by prevailing winds from U.S. sources, U.S. and Canadian air pollution control engineers worked together on both sides of the border.

The project was active for more than 15 years. And now, Canada, our proven friend, will build a new bridge over the Detroit River that will permit heavy traffic from Ford, GM, Chrysler, and others to link up directly with the Canadian highway system.

There will be paycheques for our people working on construction of the bridge. Only American and Canadian steel will be used.

There will be no cost for Michigan taxpayers. Our total cost will be paid by bridge user fares.

This is truly a free bridge.

JOHN F. McEWAN, former mayor, City of River Rouge, Mich.

© Copyright (c) The Windsor Star


Ballot Box: Proposal 6 is flagrant attempt to manipulate Constitution, thwart Michigan’s recovery

By Sandy K. Baruah

The misinformation campaign in support of Proposal 6 has been historic. Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun is running a price check on Michigan’s constitution. The tens of millions he has committed–a record $31 million or more–is fueling a massive blitz intended to confuse and mislead voters into protecting his monopoly on truck traffic between Detroit and Windsor.

With the election just days away, it’s time to push aside the flood of misleading commercials and call Proposal 6 what it is. Proposal 6 is one special interest spending whatever it takes to hijack Michigan’s constitution under the guise of protecting voter sovereignty. Proposal 6 is bad public policy that undermines Michigan’s constitution and will jeopardize Detroit and Michigan’s fragile economic recovery. Voters across Detroit and Michigan need to protect their constitution and support Michigan’s future with a “No” vote on Proposal 6.

This potentially disastrous proposal manipulates the intent of the Michigan Constitution. As the state’s governing document, the constitution is designed to lay the framework for the principles by which our state government serves our citizens. It is intended to serve as the foundation from which governance emanates. Under no circumstances is the constitution intended to be amended on the whims of powerful special interests as is being threatened through Proposal 6. While amendments to the constitution serve an important purpose, they should be approached with caution and only utilized when absolutely necessary. Careless rewriting of the constitution will only lead to poor public policy that does a disservice to citizens and businesses throughout the state.

Legal experts have analyzed the flawed language in Proposal 6 and have determined it could require a statewide and local vote for any bridge, tunnel or overpass built in Michigan after January 1, 2013. Our state could essentially be forced to wait until the next election before being able to build a bridge anywhere in the state. This could potentially force communities that need key infrastructure improvements to wait while the cumbersome and expensive electoral process runs its course.

Proposal 6 could also thwart Michigan’s economic recovery by impeding crucial infrastructure projects like the New International Trade Crossing and Detroit rail tunnel that are poised to create thousands of jobs and millions in investment. Sharing a border with Canada is one of Detroit’s most important economic assets. It positions our region to be a major player in the global economy because Canada is Michigan’s largest trading partner with more than $70.2 billion in trade in 2011. In fact, more than 237,000 Michigan jobs depend on Canada-Michigan trade–1 in 8 jobs in Southeast Michigan alone. Keeping this trade relationship robust is crucial to our economic success.

With truck traffic projected to increase by 128 percent over the next 30 years, Michigan’s current infrastructure is not equipped to accommodate the growing demands of international trade. Over 8,000 trucks cross the Detroit-Canada border daily and 99 percent of those cross the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which has no direct freeway-to-freeway access. Traffic is forced to travel 7 miles on a commercial street with 17 stoplights to reach Highway 401.

In the global market, minutes of delay cost businesses millions of dollars, particularly for the auto industry which depends on just-in time delivery. These frequent delays caused by traffic jams on the Canadian side of the current bridge significantly hinder economic expansion and businesses’ ability to compete. Failure to improve the flow of trade through key infrastructure projects will drive much needed investment elsewhere.

Let’s set the record straight. Proposal 6 is the product of a billionaire’s effort to protect his monopoly over the best interest of an entire state. It is a flagrant attempt to rewrite the constitution and dupe Michigan voters to benefit one special interest. While Proposal 6 may benefit Matty Moroun, it’s bad public policy and bad economics for Detroit and Michigan. Proposal 6 threatens Michigan’s economic recovery and the future of our state. It deserves your vote of “No” on November 6.


Sandy K. Baruah is president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. Baruah joined the Chamber in 2010 after a career in Washington, D.C. He served as President George W. Bush’s last Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Prior to leading the SBA, Baruah served as U.S. assistant secretary of commerce.

Snyder makes final pitch to defeat bridge Proposal 6

By Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Governor Rick Snyder and Steven London, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Bekum America Corporation

Williamston — Gov. Rick Snyder made his closing arguments Monday morning against Proposal 6 at a mid-Michigan manufacturing facility that supports construction of a new publicly owned bridge to Canada for its international business dealings.

Snyder has spent the past week crisscrossing the state in a last-ditch effort to defeat Proposal 6, a ballot initiative sponsored by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and intended to halt or delay Snyder’s plans for the Canadians to finance a $2.1 billion bridge from Windsor to southwest Detroit. Noting the Buffalo, N.Y., area has four bridges, Snyder said there’s enough traffic to support the Ambassador Bridge and a new crossing two miles downriver.

“Shouldn’t we at least have a second crossing to say we’ve got that got that covered so we have opportunity, it allows us to grow, to be more successful?” Snyder asked during an event with supporters of the New International Trade Crossing at Bekum America Corp., a Williamston manufacturer of machines that make plastic bottles. “About everyone is behind this bridge except for the people who have the Ambassador Bridge.”

Canada has offered to front Michigan its $550 million share of the new bridge, which would be paid back to Canada through tolls for cars and commercial truck traffic. Moroun’s the People Should Decide campaign on Proposal 6 has suggested Michigan taxpayers may some day be responsible for billions in debt, despite a contract between Michigan and Canada that calls for Canada to assume all costs, debts and liabilities.

The narrator in a new Moroun radio ad claims, “It’s our money. It should be our choice.”

“It is our money. We are taking a loan from Canada of $550 million,” said Mickey Blashfield, director of the People Should Decide campaign and governmental relations director for Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co.

Snyder denounced Moroun’s ads insisting construction of a new bridge will divert taxpayer dollars away from schools, roads and social services.

“When they talk about taking dollars away from the classroom — that’s absolutely incorrect,” Snyder told reporters.

Snyder was joined at Bekum with the company’s employees and representatives of a coalition opposed to Proposal 6 and in favor of the NITC, including Ford Motor Co. and the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Ford moves 600 trucks a day across the Detroit River shipping cars and parts between Michigan and Ontario, said Charlie Pryde, regional director of governmental affairs for the Dearborn automaker.

“We need world-class infrastructure … and right now we don’t have it,” Pryde said.

Steve London, executive vice president of Bekum, said the company needs “another good passage into Canada” because the Ambassador Bridge is sometimes backed up.

“Sometimes getting into Canada is a challenge to even support a warranty on a machine,” London said.