Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Notably Silent Gretchen Whitmer

cross posted at Right Michigan

Despite some of my better efforts as a child, it was hard for me to avoid looking at the collection plate in church as it passed from hand to hand. I loved to take wadded bills from my parents so that I could be the one that dropped the crumpled green. Later, when I was a teen and had just gotten my first job, I felt it an important right of passage to do what the adults did and present my tithe--it was even cheaper than smoking!

Some offerings were given beneath furtively cupped hands as if to conceal the transactions. (Who could be really sure...maybe that was a wad of ones.) Other more distracted givers would plop that money in without a concern over who might be watching--and believe me, I knew who was holding out. More established church veterans had specially printed envelopes provided to them by the church in which to stuff their tithes and offerings, making it easier for both the church and churchgoer to track charitable contributions. I hated those things.

As I remember it, there were no high fives or chest bumps as the plate got a bit heavier. The usher didn't ring a bell every time a particularly generous effort was made. There were no chants of "We're number one!" or "Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!" Big givers were not issued a plaque and given a special seat in the front pew, besides everyone knows that the choice seats are in the very back. On the contrary, offerings were collected while hymns were sung or special music was played as if the offertory process itself needed shrouding within a larger distraction.

Much philanthropy these days, however, is not quite so personal.

Viable political candidates not only have to be in the news, but they must also be seen as motivated, caring, wise, and good stewards of the people's money. This combination of attributes is a tough pose to present on any given day, and the opportunity to strike them all at one moment is too good an opportunity to let go unspent.

In October of last year, Michigan Sen. Gretchen Whitmer was running for Attorney General. She had a lot to gain by being in the public spotlight, and what better way to garner some positive attention than donating her October expense account stipend to a worthy charity?

“I will continue to donate my expense account each month until we finally get some action on common-sense reforms in Lansing,” said Whitmer. “Hopefully my colleagues will do the same so we can start restoring some public confidence and begin fixing what’s seriously broken in this town.”
Amen to all of that. We needed some serious reform in Lansing.

Whitmer's generous donation to the East Lansing Education Foundation was more than welcome to that organization. Few areas of our state's assumed responsibilities have suffered more dynamic drops in state supported revenue than has public education.

True to her word, when there was insufficient reform in Lansing during Whitmer's candidacy over the next couple of months, November's stipend was donated to the YWCA of Greater Flint SafeHouse.
“Despite my efforts, the Senate Republicans continue to ignore any reforms to help offset their devastating budget cuts,” said Sen. Whitmer. “Our neighborhoods and communities throughout Michigan have taken huge hits over the years and I cannot in good conscience sit back while police officers and fire fighters are pulled off our streets.”
December's was directed to Home Repair Services of Grand Rapids.
With this donation, Gretchen Whitmer continues her push for a wide-ranging government reform plan that includes cutting legislative perks and pay, ending automatic lifetime health benefits for lawmakers, closing the ‘bonuses for politicians’ loophole, and demanding that candidates and lawmakers disclose their income and assets.

“It’s about time lawmakers share in the sacrifice and hopefully actions like mine will help people hang on to their homes and make other politicians take notice,” Whitmer said. “It’s a shame that Lansing isn’t moving faster to help real people.”
Ms. Whitmer was still dissatisfied with the pace of reforms in January.
LANSING – Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) today released the following statement in response to Sen. Mike Bishop’s proposals to end lifetime health care benefits that only impact future legislators, not current ones:

“Apparently for Mike Bishop, ‘reform Michigan government’ means ‘reform everybody but me.’ If Sen. Bishop is serious about reforming government, he must make sure that these reforms also impact himself and all current legislators. The Senate must lead by example and we must not give ourselves a free pass on this important issue. I urge the people of Michigan to hold Sen. Bishop accountable and demand that he include himself in any government reform.”
The next day and for reasons that we all can respect, Whitmer dropped out of the race for Attorney General. At the time she ended her candidacy she was considered one of the front runners for the democrat nomination.

I do not begrudge politicians for collecting reasonable expense accounts--working on behalf of the state, like working on behalf of any business, can cost money and it adds up quickly. We have citizens from all over our state who, once elected to the legislature, must travel to Lansing to work. For most people serving, that means a lot of overnight travel, a lot of restaurants, and either a lot of hotel rooms or the maintenance of a second residence. That would be a lot to ask of someone if they did so without compensation.

For Whitmer, this wasn't a big issue. She lives in East Lansing but a few minutes from the state capitol. While senators representing the UP, northern lower Michigan, the thumb, Detroit and downriver, southwest and west Michigan were all being upstaged by a conspicuously loud and generous AG candidate, Gretchen Whitmer could afford to effectively donate her monthly expense account to her own AG campaign and still eat breakfast, lunch and dinner within the confines of home sweet home.

Please understand, I do not criticize Whitmer for her donations, just for the self serving way in which she promoted them. Normally an individual's charity would be none of our business, but in this case Ms. Whitmer made her charitable giving the business of every potential voter within Michigan by tooting a horn whenever she dropped something in the plate. In my opinion, regardless of what good came from the donations, they were not donated for a selfless reason; these monies were, for all intents and purposes, spent on her campaign for higher office.

Now we are in March and the state legislature has still passed no meaningful reform. We are still dead last in employment, dead first in citizen flight, and dead set against tackling the tough economic issues that got us into this mess in the first place. In Whitmer's absence, the attorney general's contest is still up in the air with the new democratic favorite being an ambulance chaser from metro Detroit.

All of which makes me miss you, Gretchen Whitmer. Where have you gone? I've come to expect the monthly press releases from you that document your disgust with Republican obstructionism while you also highlight your selfless benevolence. Oddly, these things seem to have disappeared at the same time that you abandoned your AG campaign.

While I'm certain that the expense account you've demonstrated that you don't really need is still, absent of meaningful reform in Lansing, being given to a worthy charity every month, it seems to be finding a much quieter fate.

Private giving is the best kind, even though it makes it tough to keep score.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After all Whitmer's sanctamonious blaming the Republicans for their inhuman budget cuts, how did did she vote on putting a hold on the 3% raise for unionized state employees? I can guess.